US & Canada

Journalists call on Canada to shore up press freedoms

Vice News journalist Ben Makuch Image copyright Vice Canada
Image caption Vice News journalist Ben Makuch is among those calling for strengthened press freedoms

Canadian free speech advocates are calling for a full federal public inquiry into the surveillance of journalists.

They are also urging Canada to shore up legal protections for the media.

The demand comes after revelations that 10 Quebec journalists were spied on by police.

A court order requiring a Vice News journalist to reveal information on sources has also raised concerns that press freedoms are being eroded.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) was joined by VICE News journalist Ben Makuch, La Presse journalist Patrick Lagace and former Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy in Ottawa to make the announcement on Wednesday.

"There is a massive culture problem in our policing and surveillance agencies," said Tom Henheffer with CJFE.

He said the federal government should pass press shield laws that protect reporters against officials requiring them to reveal confidential sources.

He also called for higher standards to be required for issuing warrants on surveillance of journalists, among other recommendations.

Quebec said this month it would hold an inquiry into the surveillance of journalists in the province by both Montreal and Quebec police forces.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Montreal journalist Patrick Lagace's phone was under police surveillance La Presse newspaper reports

Mr Lagace said he was not surprised police tried to spy on reporters but that he was shocked they were issued warrants that allowed them to spy on him and his colleagues.

Those warrants allowed them to know who Mr Lagace called and texted and gave them access to his location through his phone's GPS.

One series of search warrants were obtained against Mr Lagace after he called the mayor's office about a rumour the city leader did not pay a traffic ticket for an expired licence plate.

The rumour proved untrue, but Mayor Denis Coderre admitted to calling the then-police chief to discuss the incident, though he said he never asked police to investigate the journalist.

"I've gotten more paranoid in the last month," Mr Lagace said.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in the House of Commons on Wednesday that the Liberal government is reviewing the directive that provides guidance to federal law enforcement on investigating "sensitive sectors", including the media, to ensure the language is appropriate and sufficient to safeguard press freedoms.

He said the government welcomed input from journalists and others.

Mr Makuch, meanwhile, is fighting an Ontario court order requiring him to hand over Kik messenger app chat logs between him and an alleged Islamic State group fighter to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Vice is appealing the decision and will be back in court February 2017.

"Source protection is crucial to our ability to do our jobs as journalists," Mr Makuch said.

"It's a fundamental tool of the trade that allows us to dig deep and hold the powerful accountable."

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