At­tacks on re­porter free­dom a vi­o­la­tion of ev­ery­one


“Po­lice Ad­mit to Mon­i­tor­ing Re­porters’ Phones.” I’d for­give you for think­ing that head­line was ripped from the front pages of a for­eign coun­try known for the daily, dic­ta­to­rial abuse of power. But this is a head­line we’re see­ing in Canada. In 2016.

The same coun­try where just last year, while cam­paign­ing to be prime min­is­ter, Justin Trudeau boldly chas­tised a room of his own sup­port­ers for boo­ing a jour­nal­ist’s tough ques­tions.

“We re­spect jour­nal­ists in this coun­try, they ask tough ques­tions and they’re sup­posed to,” Trudeau said to up­roar­i­ous ap­plause.

But no­body is cheer­ing about open jour­nal­ism now. Last week, we learned that up to 10 Que­bec jour­nal­ists, and pos­si­bly more, have re­port­edly been spied on by their pro­vin­cial govern­ment or lo­cal po­lice force for the ap­par­ently egre­gious of­fence of do­ing their job.

All jour­nal­ists should be stand­ing with our col­leagues in Que­bec. Un­for­tu­nately, we wel­come these re­porters to the ever-grow­ing club of Cana­dian jour­nal­ists up against the wall of state in­ter­fer­ence in their craft.

In Fe­bru­ary 2015, the RCMP served VICE News jour­nal­ist Ben Makuch with a pro­duc­tion or­der, ask­ing him to give up his sources on a con­sid­er­able story of pub­lic in­ter­est. It was one of the ear­li­est known cracks in what seems to be a spread­ing ero­sion of press free­dom in Canada.

This is a fight we’re still en­gaged in with the courts, and in pub­lic, along­side Cana­dian Jour­nal­ists for Free Ex­pres­sion, The Cana­dian Civil Lib­er­ties As­so­ci­a­tion, Re­porters with­out Bor­ders and the Fahmy Foun­da­tion, among oth­ers. Our ap­peal is set for early 2017.

In the mean­time, we’ve launched an on­line cam­paign ask­ing the Trudeau govern­ment and the RCMP to drop de­mands for Makuch’s pri­vate ma­te­rial and cor­re­spon­dence with sources and in­sti­tute rules that pro­tect the in­de­pen­dence of jour­nal­ists in Canada.

We’re go­ing to keep fight­ing like hell for our re­porter and against the dis­turb­ing prece­dent his case could set for jour­nal­ists ev­ery­where.

All re­porters re­quire the free­dom to push bound­aries. A free press isn’t just a fun­da­men­tal Cana­dian right, it’s a value at the very core of news or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world.

Many young, hun­gry and dogged jour­nal­ists, such as Makuch, are what Canada needs now more than ever.

Our so­ci­ety needs this new gen­er­a­tion of jour­nal­ists to be as bold and dar­ing as the gutsy re­porters who came be­fore them. They need to be en­cour­aged and de­fended in an era where the in­dus­try can seem so in­hos­pitable to orig­i­nal work — the last en­emy we need is our own govern­ment and po­lice.

More than any gen­er­a­tion be­fore them, to­day’s jour­nal­ists lean on an ever-grow­ing set of dig­i­tal tools that re­porters around the world use to di­rectly en­gage with anony­mous sources — from Rus­sian hack­ers to Daesh re­cruits — all in the pur­suit of sto­ries ur­gently in the pub­lic in­ter­est.

All re­porters should be en­cour­aged to re­spon­si­bly chase down this kind of work, know­ing full-well they are op­er­at­ing with­out shield laws in this coun­try, while their U.S. col­leagues in 48 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia do. But more than ever be­fore, the dig­i­tal trail in­her­ent in our work needs to be safe­guarded — whether it is en­crypted data, so­cial me­dia chat, or as we are see­ing in the Que­bec cases, GPS-track­ing.

Re­porters across the coun­try are now at the fore­front of a new bat­tle for cy­ber­se­cu­rity; one with cru­cial im­pli­ca­tions for our democ­racy. And in an era of the global threat of cy­ber leaks and hacks, it is dev­as­tat­ing they now need to rank Cana­dian po­lice as a real-time threat to their work.

News out­lets, such as VICE, have ex­plored the mar­gins of so­ci­ety and have used new dig­i­tal tools to do so. But with at­tacks on press free­dom be­com­ing more fre­quent in Canada, our own case is drag­ging us into an un­com­fort­able main­stream of dig­i­tal sur­veil­lance and lack of source pro­tec­tion.

You can count on us to kick and scream the whole way there.


In Fe­bru­ary 2015, the RCMP served VICE News jour­nal­ist Ben Makuch with a pro­duc­tion or­der, ask­ing him to give up his sources.

Michael Gruzuk is direc­tor, news and dig­i­tal, for VICE Canada.

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