Canada’s Supreme Court on Friday ruled that a reporter must hand over correspondence with a suspected jihadi to police for use in a prosecution.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that “the media’s interest was outweighed by the public interest in obtaining reliable evidence of very serious terrorism offenses.”
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Vice Media, which had appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of its reporter, said in an editorial the decision reflected that “our society has failed to recognize the importance of a free, and independent press.
“Today’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 said.
The case centered on a series of 2014 reports by Vice national security reporter Ben Makuch based on online communication with Canadian Farah Shirdon, who allegedly joined the “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria. Shirdon was charged in absentia with terrorism offenses in 2015. He is believed to have been killed in a 2015 US airstrike.
Following the court ruling, Makuch called it a “dark day for freedom of the press.”
In 2015, Canadian police obtained a warrant demanding Vice Media and Makuch hand over any correspondence and information related to Shirdon, whose statements could provide evidence for prosecution.
Vice Media and Makuch then challenged lower court decisions before bringing the case to the Supreme Court. In 2017, Canada passed a law to protect reporters’ sources, but top court justices said it did not apply since it was enacted after the events in the Vice case occurred.
CWA Canada, a union representing thousands of journalists, said authorities should not rely on the press to investigate crimes.
“Police have an important job to do in protecting us from crime, but they cannot expect journalists to do that job for them. The media is not, nor should it ever be, an arm of the state,” said president Martin O’Hanlon.
cw/sms (AFP, dpa)