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article imageCanada top court rules against Vice journalist protecting source

By AFP     Nov 30, 2018 in World

Canada's top court on Friday effectively ruled against journalists protecting their sources, in a case in which police sought a Vice reporter's communications with an alleged jihadist for use in his prosecution.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court said society's interest in investigating and prosecuting crimes outweighed the media's need to gather news without government interference in this particular case.

But the justices also called for a tweak of the standard test used in weighing the two, saying journalists must be allowed to argue their side when police ask a judge for production orders.

"This is a dark day for press freedom," Vice said in an editorial posted on its website.

The court's decision "will no doubt have a chilling effect on both sources, who may be reluctant to talk to reporters, and on journalists themselves, who could be less inclined to report on sensitive issues," it read.

Vice noted that while Ottawa recently legislated stronger journalist source protections -- although too late for this case -- and announced Can$600 million (US$450 million) to help struggling local media, an APTN reporter is facing criminal charges over a story he covered, and Quebec police spied on journalists.

In 2014, Vice published a series of stories that included excerpts of online chats with Canadian Farah Shirdon, who travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State group and appeared in propaganda videos destroying his passport and saying: "We are coming to slaughter you."

The following year, federal police asked a judge to order Vice to turn over screen captures of the messages exchanged with Shirdon, and related records.

Vice appealed the order, but lost.

The Crown argued in court that the state's and journalists' respective rights were balanced, and that the seizure of evidence was needed for the prosecution of the alleged jihadist should he ever return to Canada.

Shirdon was charged in absentia with terrorism offenses in 2015 but is believed to have been killed in an airstrike that year.

Canada rose four places to 18th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index this year, largely attributable to its passing of the Journalistic Sources Protection Act in October 2017

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