Does fingerprinting and RCMP registration of journalist sound like a threat against press freedom?
Canadian journalists organized a day of action protesting the proposed expansion of police powers to allow access to online information without warrant.
Journalists called for:
- end to the practices of mass surveillance
- repeal of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015
- creation of new laws protecting advocates, whistleblowers and journalists
The journalists are concerned by reports of:
- rights abuses impacting Muslims who have been profiled, investigated, harassed and deported to torture by the Canadian Government for decades.
- practices of widespread spying by the RCMP on indigenous activists and similar high profile incidents of police spying on journalists in Quebec.
- the case of a VICE Media reporter who faces jail-time for refusing an RCMP demand for chat records with a confidential source.
The new measures the federal government is considering include the RCMP fingerprinting journalists covering stories on Parliament Hill.
Additionally, the journalists are supporting Conservative Senator Claude Carignan’s private member’s bill, Journalistic Sources Protection Act (S-231), which is intended to bolster legal protections for whistle-blowers, journalists and their sources.
Currently Ben Makuch, a Canadian journalist for Vice Media, is resisting a court order to turn over notes, records and background materials he collected for a series of stories on Farah Shirdon, a Calgarian who joined the ranks of overseas ISIS fighters. Makuch’s defence rests on that nowhere in the Information to Obtain – a lengthy document the RCMP produced to secure Makuch’s records – is there a reasonable rationale for why Vice Media materials related to Shirdon would be required as evidence.
Protecting confidential sources must be defended and retained as legal right for journalists. Journalists act as society’s whistleblowers, investigating stories of wrong doing and exploitation by deep journalism. Often, they succeed in obtaining information from sources which would never step forward without the shield of confidentiality and the guarantee of anonymity.
The validity of the journalists’ position not withstanding, people should fear the thrust of what lies behind the story, the erosion of personal freedom of Canadians. The first step in this erosion is to reduce the liberty of the press. Fingerprinting and RCMP registration of journalists opens the door to surveillance and tracking of individual journalists. This was already done in Quebec. Once this initial transgression of citizen’s rights is imposed, the next step to broadening who is included in such police endeavours is a very small step, but a huge leap in loss of freedom.
Senator Carignan’s bill is crucial to the defense of rights of Canadian citizens, beyond just journalists. Everyone’s rights are threatened. Democracy is founded on the bedrock of individual freedom and protection of same. Police monitoring of journalists is a very serious threat to freedom of the press and ultimately personal freedom of all Canadians.
The Toronto Star’s editor, Michael Cooke, defended the press’ position at a committee meeting studying the Carignan proposed bill in Ottawa. “The government should heed the call from newspaper editors across the country and support a Senate bill that would protect freedom of the press.” All citizens would be protected, including journalists and whistleblowers.
What do you think about this ruling regarding press freedom?