Public trust in the press

The only sanctions that we have to do our jobs come from you.

You send us out to ask the questions that you might want to ask if you had the time. We enhance that with experience, training, money and skills, package it up and deliver it in any format you want.

We harvest fields and barns of information, sort it, process and mill it, cook it — at least that’s how Donald Trump sees it — and serve it up to you from a regular menu that meets your tastes and professional dietary requirements for survival and good health.

There are very few countries that don’t have some legislative safeguards for the press, but in Canada there are no special protections for this fourth leg of the democratic table. And for our journalistic sources of information, this can be a serious issue.

If someone tells us something or we discover it in the pursuit of a story, and a court orders us to cough up names or evidence, we must give it to the police and it becomes public property.

Informally, we can be nasty to deal with about those things, so cops and courts tend to avoid getting into those situations with the news media.

But when the sun sets beyond the road allowance, we have to hand over our sources and our information if so ordered.

A Conservative senator, Claude Carignan, is trying to change the Canada Evidence Act, raising and adding a couple of strands of barbed-wire to the fence that separates the police from the media.

If passed, Bill S-231 would allow journalists to not disclose information that identifies, or is likely to identify, a journalistic source unless the information cannot be obtained by any other reasonable means and the public interest in the administration of justice outweighs the public interest in preserving the confidentiality of the journalistic source.

It also amends the Criminal Code so that only a judge of a criminal superior court could issue a search warrant relating to a journalist’s work. And if such a warrant is issued, any information found has to be sealed prior to examination by the police, to allow news organizations the opportunity to meet with the court seeking the ability to keep it private.

And we are in favour of that. Not above the law, but subject to a very prudent jurist.

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