As It Happens

Senator tables private member's bill to protect journalists and their sources

In the aftermath of spying revelations against a group of Quebec journalists, Conservative Senator Claude Carignan is tabling tougher legislation he says will help protect journalistic sources and whistleblowers.
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Claude Carignan has introduced a bill he calls the first concrete legislative measure in Canada to protect journalistic sources. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

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A journalist's relationship with a source requires delicacy and trust. So when the trust is broken — and journalists can no longer ensure confidentiality — it makes it difficult to get people to talk.

That's not a hypothetical situation these days for journalists in Quebec, where it was recently revealed that the provincial and Montreal police had been spying on up to 10 journalists. Now, with the introduction of a new private member's bill, Conservative Senator Claude Carignan is vowing to increase protection for sources.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Senator Carignan about the tabled legislation. Here is part of their conversation.

Carol Off: Senator Carignan, why did you decide that you needed to table this bill?

Claude Carignan: Because I think that it's the fundamental role of journalists in our democracy and we have to recognize that and protect this privilege of journalistic sources' secrecy. It also seeks to protect the whistleblowers.

Conservative Senator Claude Carignan. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

CO: Since we've learned what we have from Quebec about the journalists who were being surveyed and spied on by police — were you already working on this bill?

CC: No. I was shocked. I was shocked when I learned that. I started to see what's happened and how they could do that with our legislation. I have seen the court ruling but I thought that it was well-known for the police officers that you can not do that. So I decided to work on this bill.

CO: You're putting more firewalls in the way of the police getting access, getting a search warrant on the records and communications of a journalist, but the police can still do that. They can still find their way through even if they have to go through a higher level of court and even if they have this sealed. So the chilling effect, the effect on sources, will still exist — will it not?
CC: The tribunal will have to decide but it will be more difficult for the police to have access. The bill is to put more importance to the confidentiality of the journalistic source and it will be more difficult for the police to have access. The judge will be able to determine or fix conditions to protect the sources. They will also have the power to minimize the disruption of the news organization activities.

CO: The Charbonneau commission is an extremely important commission in Quebec. It's a direct result of a Radio Canada investigation into collusion between organized crime, unions, construction industry and high level politicians. Those reporters, as you know, could not have exposed that corruption in Quebec society if it hadn't been for their sources feeling they could do so with confidence. Those were the very journalists who the Quebec police were spying on. So will they be able to get the kinds of sources that lead to that Charbonneau commision under your bill?

CC: Yes. I totally agree with you and that's very important. That's the reason why I tabled bill — to give this type of protection to the media.

Alain Gravel, left, was among the journalists spied on by Quebec police. Union boss Michel Arsenault, shown on the right in an image of a TV screen at the Charbonneau Commission, had filed a complaint about wiretapped conversations leaked to the media. (Radio-Canada & Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

CO: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has resisted calls for a Canada wide inquiry and now you're proposing this important legislation as a private member's' bill. Why isn't the government bringing forward legislation?

CC: Because the government tried to delay it and clearly the government doesn't want to pay attention or give this right to the media. I hope we will be able to progress this legislation and send it in the House of Commons in the next couple of months. I will start here in the Senate. It seems to have a big interest here on both sides. So I hope that I will be able to do that. It will be to the will of the Trudeau government to demonstrate what he is saying is also how he is acting. It seems to be a part of the problem with this government so we'll see in this particular matter.

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Senator Claude Carignan.


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