In November of last year, a small act to amend the Canada Evidence Act and the Criminal Code was introduced to the Senate. The purpose of this was to help protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources.
There are two, main situations this would apply in. The first is allowing a journalist testifying in court to refuse to disclose information, except if the information cannot be obtained otherwise and if public interest in justice outweighs public interest in the source’s confidentiality. The second is that search warrants and court orders may only be issued for that information if there is no other way to obtain it or if the tradeoff for public interest in the first case applies.
There are a few other protections and contingencies, but those are the big ones. It is a decent start that has been long overdue. Gord Johns, an MP for the NDP, noted, “We need to follow the examples of countries such as Australia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom in developing a shield law.”
While student newspapers across the country have largely been exempt from major controversy, there is a problem with this bill. How do you define what a journalist is?
This has changed over the months from being too broad to being too narrow. As of June 20, the definition of those protected with this bill is limited to only those whose main occupation is journalism. Freelancers and student journalists are not covered as a result.
While it is unlikely we would need to use anonymous sources in any circumstance in the near future, the inability to do so and the knowledge this is the case continues to put a barrier on what we can cover. If we cannot legally protect a source, why would a source ever come to us with a big story?
It is a rough situation caught up in semantics. My main fear is that we will be unable to be the check and balance McMaster deserves when the students most need it.
The only saving grace is that I, as Editor-in-Chief, should be allowed to take these stories on if these definitions persist. No one else on the Silhouette’s staff could be involved as this definition loophole may require them to reveal your identity.
Until these definitions change, please talk directly to me in-person or through email@example.com if you have a story that warrants anonymity.