Unifor stands with Vice reporter Ben Makuch

Vice Media reporter Ben Makuch addresses media and supporters outside Osgoode Hall on Monday, Feb 6, 2017. Credit: Emina Gamulin/Local 87-M

Unifor Local 87-M representatives were outside Osgoode Hall in Toronto on Monday, Feb. 6 to support a journalist being forced to share information on a source suspected of terrorism.

Vice Media is challenging an earlier Ontario Superior Court ruling that ordered reporter Ben Makuch hand over his correspondence with Farah Mohamed Shirdon to the RCMP.

The rally, put on by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and supported by Unifor Media, Reporters Without Borders, the Centre for Free Expression, and other organizations, took place outside the courthouse after the Appeal Court heard evidence by Vice’s lawyer on why the court should overturn the decision.

In a written statement, Vice founder and CEO Shane Smith explained that this case is bigger than one journalist at one media outlet.

“We will support and defend Ben Makuch with all of our resources and call upon our journalistic brothers and sisters to do the same,” Smith said. “Stand up! An attack on one journalist is an attack on all journalists.”

In early 2016, the RCMP ordered Makuch, a national security reporter with Vice, to give up screenshots of his instant messaging chats between himself and Shirdon, a Calgary man who allegedly left Canada in 2014 to fight with ISIS. Shirdon was charged in absentia with multiple terrorism-related charges.

Unifor recognizes that journalists rely on confidentiality in order to carry out their work. Being seen as extensions of the police hampers their ability to get reliable information, said Paul Morse, president of Local 87-M.

If the decision by the lower courts is upheld, it could create a chill effect. Sources will not want to talk to media if they believe their information could be turned over to a third party. As a result, important stories of public interest may go untold.  CJFE is planning a National Day of Action on Surveillance, Bill C-51 and Press Freedom for Feb. 25.