Canadian police orders and court decision endanger freedom of expression
On 7th March 2017, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) charged a journalist with criminal mischief and contempt of court for reporting on a protest at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric plant in October 2016. Justin Brake, a reporter with The Independent, says he interviewed protesters who had trespassed on the Muskrat Falls plant property. Brake told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he “carried a laminated press badge and that he had called the RCMP" to minimize any potential confusion over his purpose for being there. If convicted on both charges, Brake could face more than ten years in prison.
Carlos Lauría, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Program Coordinator for the Americas, urged the Canadian authorities to drop all charges against Brake:
"Journalists have a duty to document events of public interest, including actions of civil disobedience and the response of law enforcement. Reporters who are doing their job do not have criminal intent and should not face charges. [...] The charges against Justin Brake send a chilling message to Canadian journalists".
In another case that could impact journalists’ ability to keep sources confidential, Vice Media reporter Ben Makuch was ordered to provide police with information about his communication with a 22-year old man facing terrorism-related charges. The information sought by the police includes social media chat logs and screen shots of the chats between the reporter and the suspect. An Ontario Court of Appeal’s ruling upheld the police order. In response to the Court's decision, Vice Media issued a public statement:
“Vice Media is prepared to do whatever it takes to support and defend our reporter, and our friend, Ben Makuch. His investigations into the complex world of cyber terrorism and digital security matter more now than ever. Ben’s work and the vital principle of a free press must be protected”.