The Supreme Court strikes a blow against press freedom: CAJ and CJFE
December 1, 2018
The Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression are deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court for striking a blow against press freedom in Canada.
For three years, VICE reporter Ben Makuch fought an RCMP production order that sought Makuch's communications with an alleged ISIS terrorist. The CAJ and CJFE consistently opposed the production order, arguing the RCMP should not be allowed to co-opt journalists—who enjoy a constitutional right to press freedom—as simply another branch of law enforcement.
In the Supreme Court's ruling, a majority of justices acknowledged that freedom of the press is "essential in a free and democratic society," but disagreed that Makuch's appeal was the proper forum to "formally recognize a distinct and independent constitutional protection" for freedom of the press. In a concurring report, four justices argued that press freedom was distinct from free expression—and the majority didn't explicitly disagree.
"This ruling is a serious setback for press freedom in Canada. It creates a chill for anyone who wants to speak truth to power or expose government wrongdoing," said CAJ president and CJFE board member Karyn Pugliese. "The country's highest court erred significantly in today's decision."
Today's ruling offered several modestly positive steps for press freedom. Justices acknowledged that judges "may well find it desirable" to offer media outlets notice before granting a production order. The court also recognized the potential chilling effect when law enforcement agencies slap production orders on newsrooms—but downplayed the influence of the chilling effect in cases involving sources whose identities are already known.
"We stood alongside Ben Makuch and VICE as they took their own valiant stand for press freedom, and this ruling won't change that," said Pugliese. "That the court offered some small positive steps today is obviously overshadowed by their ultimate decision."
The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with more than 600 members across Canada. The CAJ's primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.
Canadian Association of Journalists