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Supreme Court of Canada Examines Freedom of Press and Terrorism

Canada’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada, is currently dealing with a prominent case that balances freedom of press and national security interests, as it relates to terrorism threats.

The Background

Vice Media journalist Ben Makuch covers national security issues.  Makuch had followed the rise of the Islamic State following its inception post-911.  Eventually, Makuch was able to make direct contact with a Canadian who had joined the Islamic State and subsequently published a series of articles based on his conversations with his source.  Shortly thereafter, Canada’s federal police force, the RCMP, served Vice Media with a production order, demanding that Makuch hand over his interview notes.  Makuch, with Vice Media’s backing, refused to do so.  Litigation ensured and although both the trial and appeal level courts sided with the RCMP and upheld the production order.  Vice Media and Makuch have appealed this matter to the Supreme Court of Canada, where a final decision will be rendered.

Not surprisingly, this case has caught the attention of freedom of press supporters, journalists and national security enthusiasts.

What is at Stake?

Makuch and Vice Media’s position is that if the government is able to successfully require journalists to disclose their sources and also their documentation, this will create a journalism chilling effect.  Makuch, Vice Media and the freedom of press organization, Journalists Without Borders, hold that forcing the disclosure of confidential journalistic materials to the government gravely invades fundamental free press doctrines.

The government takes the position that its request for disclosure is in the public interest, safeguards national security and that its request for disclosure is measured and only relates to necessary and relevant information.

Balancing Interests

Observers of the case note that the information obtained by Makuch was not confidential, as he already disclosed that information through the publishing of his journalistic pieces.  Forcing further disclosure essentially forces journalists to become government intelligence agents by proxy.

On the flipside, commentators also believe that although Canada respects freedom of press, it is not an absolute right and should be considered on a case by case basis, balancing the interests of the nation with the principle of freedom of press.

This case is beyond interesting.