Supreme Court ruling sets dangerous precedent for journalists’ source confidentiality

Expression

On 30th November 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that a Vice reporter must surrender his materials related to a case about an accused terrorist to the Royal Mounted Canadian Police. The Court upheld a lower court's ruling that reporter Ben Makuch must hand over records of his conversations with Farah Mohamed Shirdon, a former Calgary resident who was suspected of belonging to ISIS. In an unanimous decision, the Court acknowledged the potential “chilling” effects of such a decision on journalists and their secret sources, but said the “state's interest in the investigation and prosecution of crime outweighed the media's right to privacy in gathering and disseminating the news.” The move was widely criticised by press advocates:

“Compelling a journalist to hand over their communications with a source for the purpose of a police investigation directly undermines the independence journalists must enjoy in order to fulfill their news gathering role,” said Margaux Ewen, North America Director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

On 31st October 2018, a federal judge ruled against the government’s request for a closed-door hearing involving allegations of government agents spying on anti-pipeline protesters. In his ruling, Justice Robert Barnes sided with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association’s (BCCLA) call for an open-court case to determine if Canada’s government agencies broke the law when it secretly monitored environmental activists. The BCCLA alleges that the government conspired with oil and gas companies to target environmental activists, saying they were “viewed as potential security risks simply because they pushed for environmental protections”. The government can appeal the ruling.

A Toronto-based publication that denied the Holocaust and praised Adolf Hitler has been banned from being sent through Canada Post government service. Your Ward News, according to media sources, had been delivered for years by Canada Post to over 300,000 homes and businesses in Toronto. In 2016, the federal government temporarily banned the publication from using Canada Post after complaints about its discriminatory content. The publication’s editor has vowed to “continue to print and deliver” through private delivery services.

Peaceful Assembly

Environmental related protests 

On 22nd November 2018, thousands of people took to the streets of Calgary to protest the Prime Minister’s energy policies and to show support for building more pipelines in order to carry oil to tankers. Residents of Calgary held signs and chanted "build that pipe” outside of the hotel where Justin Trudeau was speaking. They also criticised Bill C-69, legislation that would change how the government conducts environmental assessments for large energy projects. The measure would broaden the scope of the assessment process and add consultation with indigenous groups that may be affected. A similar protest was held on 27th November 2018 when the Finance minister visited Calgary. Both protests were organised by the Canada Action Coalition, which says the local economy is being hurt by the administration’s energy policies. “Every time a cabinet minister or the prime minister comes to town, we need to get out and make our voices heard,” James Robson, one of the group’s leaders, said.

On 8th December 2018, hundreds of people rallied in Edmonton and Calgary to protest the UN migration pact and carbon taxes. In Calgary more than 200 protesters, some wearing yellow vests to show solidarity with the protests in Paris, chanted, “No Trudeau, No Trudeau”. Hundreds also marched in Edmonton with some carrying signs saying, “No Global Climate Pact. Suicide.”

On 10th November 2018, tens of thousands of people marched in Montreal to demand that Premier François Legault’s administration take action to address the threats created by climate change. Organised by a group called The Planet Goes to Parliament, the march comes days after the release of a United Nations report that warns the harm of climate change is already making on peoples’ health. Some of the protesters carried signs urging people to ride bikes, divest from oil and stop eating meat. A petition in support of making the environment a priority was signed by at least 150,000 people. In a related effort, members of a group called Rise and Resist unfurled a banner in the British Columbia legislature on 6th December 2018 in protest of a natural gas company. The protesters were removed without incident.

Challenging government policies and actions

On 3rd November 2018, hundreds of people protested in Woodstock, Ontario to oppose the transfer of a convict who helped murder a child from federal prison to an indigenous healing lodge. Similar protests were held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to criticise the decision to move Terri-Lynne McClintic, who is serving a life sentence for kidnapping and killing an eight-year-old girl in 2009, to a holistic Saskatchewan facility. Responding to the widespread outrage, authorities later moved her back to the prison and made changes to the prisoner transfer rules.

On 18th November 2018, thousands of people marched in Montreal in support of local farmers who claimed to be threatened by the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. Organised by Quebec’s farmers’ union, UPA, people held kitchen utensils and pushed shopping carts in support of local farmers. The farmers say they face tough new requirements under the agreement and are calling on Canadians to buy local produce instead of imports.

On 19th November 2018, nearly 60,000 university students across Quebec staged a walkout in protest of their unpaid internships. Organised by student union groups from Montreal’s largest universities, the walkout and similar protests were held in cities across the country with many students demanding to be paid for the work they do. Some students are threatening a general strike if their demands for better treatment are not met. According to media reports, there are about 300,000 interns in the country but many labor laws that set norms and offer protections to paid employees do not apply to them.

On 1st December 2018, thousands of people protested in Ottawa over the government's plan to cut French-language services and a French language university in Toronto. Many people held signs with messages written in French and English and chanted, “We are! We will be!” in French. The protest was one of nearly 40 across the province, where many French-speaking communities have denounced the proposed cuts. Responding to the backlash, the provincial government announced it would scale back some of the cuts but still has no plan to build the French-language university.

Immigration related issues 

On 8th December 2018, nine people were arrested at an anti-immigration protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Hundreds of people had gathered downtown from various far-right groups, including La Meute, to hold a rally in protest of a non-binding UN migration pact which is being discussed in Marrakesh on 11th and 12th December 2018. Eight of the people were charged with trespassing and one with attacking an officer. The UN’s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration lays out a collaborative approach to dealing with global migration.

Other protests

On 2nd November 2018, hundreds of people gathered outside of a Toronto concert hall to protest former Trump advisor Steve Bannon who was appearing at a debate. Protesters chanted, held signs with messages saying, "refugees are welcome," and "human rights are not up for debate”. Eventually the crowd got so large, according to media reports, that police had to separate them from the attendees and even used pepper spray on the crowd. At least 12 people were arrested on various charges including ones related to possibly hitting an officer.

Legislation

In Manitoba, a bill was introduced that would create protest-free zones around health-care facilities where abortions and other medical services are provided. According to the bill’s advocates, the buffer zones would also extend to the private residences and offices of health care workers who work at those clinics. The law would be similar to those passed in Ontario and other provinces. Critics say it is unlikely to pass. In a related story, a man accused of violating the buffer zone around an Ontario clinic says the law violates his constitutional right to freedom of expression. On 24th October 2018, Anthony Van Hee was arrested by police officers who said he had violated the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act when he staged a protest near a clinic. However, he claimed that he was standing across the street from the clinic and none of his signs made reference to abortion, but rather included messages like, “The Primacy of Free Speech/ Cornerstone of Western Civilization.”

Association

After negotiations failed to produce a deal, postal workers started rotating strikes across the country on 22nd October 2018 to demand better pay and safer working conditions. In large metropolitan cities and small towns, postal workers held one-day strikes to force government negotiators back to the table to address their demands. In Kelowna, for example, almost 100 Canada Post employees gathered outside of a prominent hotel, held signs and chanted sayings like, “negotiate, don’t legislate”. The government responded to the strikes by passing controversial back-to-work legislation (Bill C-89) and therefore forcing postal workers to return to their stations. Without a deal and unable to strike, postal workers began protesting outside of postal facilities. In many cities they were joined by unions who called the government’s legislative response an attack on their right to collectively bargain. While many protests occurred without incident, police arrested six people on 3rd December 2018 for protesting outside of a Halifax postal facility and charged them with mischief and obstructing a peace officer. In addition, three people were arrested and charged with trespassing for demonstrating near an Ottawa facility.