Investigative journalist Marie-Maude Denis says confidential sources 'worth fighting for'
The Radio-Canada reporter has been ordered to reveal her sources by Quebec Superior Court
One of Quebec's most prominent investigative journalists plans to appeal a Superior Court decision compelling her to reveal her sources.
Marie-Maude Denis has worked with Radio-Canada's investigative program, Enquête, for years.
Denis reported on corruption within the construction industry, which sparked the Charbonneau Commission and led to the resignations of Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, as well as Montreal mayors Gérald Tremblay and Michael Applebaum.
In 2012, Denis reported a story involving deputy premier and Liberal MNA Nathalie Normandeau, alleging ties to the construction industry.
Normandeau was later arrested by Quebec's anti-corruption unit, UPAC, alongside Former Liberal cabinet minister Marc-Yvan Côté in 2016. They now face several corruption-related charges.
However, lawyers for the defence are alleging that media reports — such as those by Denis and Enquête — mean that it's impossible for their clients to get a fair trial.
In addition, defence lawyer Jacques Larochelle is arguing that the leaks to the media that sparked the reports came from within the UPAC, in an attempt to purposefully incriminate Normandeau and Côté.
Now, Denis has been asked to testify and divulge her sources — something she claims would violate her journalistic integrity.
Denis spoke to CBC Montreal's Daybreak the day after a Quebec Superior Court judge ordered her to testify.
She shared her reaction to the order, her concerns regarding the repercussions of such a request and how far she'll go to defend her sources.
Here are excerpts from that interview, which have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Were you upset when this ruling came down on Thursday?
MMD: You know, it's something that we always have to fight as journalists.
We don't have that many tools as journalists, especially as investigative journalists, to convince sources to trust us. We don't pay sources. Many of them don't have an advantage to speak to us, and they take very, very big risks.
So, the minimum I think as a journalist that I should be able to promise to a source is that I won't be forced to reveal their identity.
This story had to do with collusion and funding for the Liberal government. Can you explain?
MMD: The story was about a water treatment plant in Boisbriand, and some apparently illegal financing for the Liberal party around this project. And so we aired this story in 2012 and now, six years later, there's a debate about who gave me those confidential sources.
Marc-Yvan Côté and Nathalie Normandeau's argument is that there's a conspiracy high in the police or the justice system to leak some confidential information to journalists in order to have a parallel trial in the public opinion about them.
Radio-Canada wasted no time in saying that it will be appealing this ruling.
MMD: It was a great relief to see that our bosses — they didn't even think for a second. It was just so obvious to them.
Because this principle of protecting journalistic sources is very important, and it goes far beyond what we do at Radio-Canada. It's a principle that we have to defend as Canadian journalists in this country. And we're the first ones to be called to fight it.
Of course, we know that this is going to go far, and is going to be tested probably up to the Supreme Court of Canada. But it's such an important principle that we really think that we have to fight for.
I'm very grateful that I work for a company like Radio-Canada, a public broadcaster who defends these values and principles. I can think of journalists and smaller outlets that wouldn't have the means to take on such a big legal battle.
How far are you willing to go? Would you go to jail over something like this?
MMD: I don't think it's proper to say something right now. We'll just take every step and just cross that bridge whenever we get to the river.
But you know, I'm a journalist in my heart. When I say that I will protect the source, I will protect my sources. That's what I can tell you.
With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak