Globe and Mail, Toronto Star editors urge Senate to back Bill S-231

Friday, Feb. 17 editions of The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. The Globe's David Walmsley and Michael Cooke of the Star are both backing proposed changes to legislation that would increase protections for journalists and sources.

Editors from some of the largest news organizations in the country, many of whose newsrooms Unifor Local 87-M represents, are asking the Senate to support a bill that would help protect journalists from police spying.

Representatives from The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and other large media outlets were in Ottawa Wednesday, Feb. 15 to support Bill S-231, otherwise known as the Journalistic Sources Protection Act, introduced by Quebec Sen. Claude Carignan. 

The bill was created last November in response to police obtaining the phone records of journalists in Quebec via search warrants, with some records going back as far as five years.

However, newsroom leaders say the issue is not an isolated one.

“We’re here because [confidential sources] are facing enormous threats,” The Globe and Mail editor-in-chief David Walmsley said in the newspaper he heads up.

“They haven’t walked away from us, but … there is a broader chill and awareness.”

In news reports, Michael Cooke, editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star, said that Canada is behind the times when it comes to this kind of legislation.

“It’s of particular concern to me that Canada is one of a few ... Western democracies without some form of journalist shield law. It’s a very tiny club and we should not be a member,” he told the Star.

The bill would make amendments to the Evidence Act and the Criminal Code. While police would still be able to obtain information from journalists with the aid of a warrant, the bar would be set higher. 

For example, search warrants related to journalists could only be ordered by a superior court judge, and that judge would need to be satisfied that there was no other reasonable way for police to obtain that information.

Unifor Local 87-M president Paul Morse says he is hopeful that the proposed changes will get the support of the Senate and the Liberal government.

“Police should not have the power to co-opt the work of journalists for their own investigative purposes,” Morse said. “We need to protect confidential sources and whistleblowers with better legal shields.”

More information on Bill S-231 can be found here.