CWA Canada Steps Up Fight for Press Freedom

May 22, 2018 – CWA Canada is stepping up its efforts to protect press freedom in response to a spate of government intrusions on news organizations.

The union is part of a coalition challenging a “production order” issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal that requires VICE reporter Ben Makuch to hand over all communication between him and an alleged terrorist. The coalition, which has been granted “intervenor status” in the case, includes Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Index on Censorship and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

VICE appealed the Appeal Court ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada, where a hearing is scheduled for May 23. CWA Canada, which is part of The NewsGuild-CWA, represents workers at VICE Canada through the Canadian Media Guild local.

“As a media union, we will speak out loudly to protect freedom of expression and the role of a free press as a pillar of democracy,” said CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon.

“Police have an important job to do in protecting us from crime, but they cannot expect journalists to do that job for them,” he said. “The media is not, nor should it ever be, an arm of the state.”

A case involving investigative journalist Marie-Maude Denis also could end up at the Supreme Court of Canada. Denis’ employer, Radio-Canada, will appeal a Quebec Superior Court ruling from late March that orders her to reveal her source in a corruption trial.

“It is vital for free speech and democracy that journalists guard the anonymity of their sources,” O’Hanlon said. “If not, sources, including whistleblowers, will be far less likely to talk to journalists knowing that they could be identified and punished. The result? Canadians will be blocked from important information and stories about matters of vital public interest.”

Also in March, a provincial court judge ruled that criminal charges would proceed against reporter Justin Brake, who followed protesters into the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric construction site in October 2016. He was working for at the time.

Brake is facing charges of mischief and disobeying a court order, along with civil contempt proceedings in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.

Tom Henheffer, executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), condemned the proceedings against Brake.

“This is a serious threat to press freedom. This is a well-known tactic, that they can prevent coverage by saying journalists can’t come in. We know that the RCMP has a long history of brutality when it comes to Indigenous protesters, so it’s critically important to have a journalist there as an observer. Journalists need to be able to do their jobs,” Henheffer said.

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