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MPs vote unanimously to make journalistic protection the law through Bill S-231

Unifor members at a solidarity rally for Vice Reporter Ben Makuch. Unifor 87-M/File 

Finally, some good news for Canadian media.

On Wednesday, October 4, The House of Commons unanimously passed the Journalistic Source Protection Act, which will shield journalists and their sources from police spying.

Search warrants will only be given out if a superior court judge determines that there is no other way to obtain the information, or if the investigation is deemed so important that it outweighs the public interest of source protection.

In addition, the burden of proof has been reversed, so the onus will now be up to law enforcement to prove they need the material, rather than journalists arguing why their sources should be protected.

Bill S-231 was introduced as a private members bill by a Quebec Senator after it was revealed that Quebec police were spying on journalists in an attempt to discover the source of a leak.

“The case of Patrick Lagacé, in which justices of the peace issued several warrants unbeknownst to the journalist or his organization, exposed an acute threat to freedom of the press and the health of our democracy,” wrote the Toronto Star editorial board. “The new shield law is a welcome and overdue protection.”

The new bill will only cover anonymous sources, and therefore will not help Vice reporter Ben Makuch, who is in a legal battle with the RCMP over communications between himself and suspected terrorist Farah Shirdon.

Unifor Local 87-M President Paul Morse said that it is great news that Canada is finally joining the club of Western democracies that have some sort of press shield law in place.

“To speak truth to power, Canadian journalists need to be able to protect whistleblowers and confidential sources to the greatest extent possible” Morse said.

“This law significantly decreases the ability of police and other law enforcement agencies to use the work of journalists as their own covert investigative tool.”