[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] on Friday expanded [judgment, PDF] journalists’ rights to protect sources while testifying.The decision, delivered by Justice Louis LeBel, expanded a May Supreme Court ruling that denied journalists the overarching ability to guarantee anonymity [JURIST report] during testimony, instead limiting source disclosure to a case-by-case basis. Friday’s decision did not apply a broad rule to protection of sources, but cautioned judges against forcing journalists to reveal source identity when not in the public interest, especially in civil proceedings:
If relevant information is available by other means and, therefore, could be obtained without requiring a journalist to break the undertaking of confidentiality, then those avenues ought to be exhausted. The necessity requirement, like the earlier threshold requirement of relevancy, acts as a further buffer against fishing expeditions and any unnecessary interference with the work of the media. Requiring a journalist to breach a confidentiality undertaking with a source should be done only as a last resort.
The Supreme Court’s decision concerned a lawsuit brought against The Globe and Mail journalist Daniel LeBlanc over his reporting on a federal sponsorship scandal that allegedly damaged Le Groupe Polygone Editeurs [CBC profile]. During cross-examination, LeBlanc refused to reveal his anonymous source. The Globe and Mail’s report [text] on the proceedings declared the decision, “a significant victory for The Globe and Mail and other media outlets because it creates strong protection for journalists who are asked to reveal their anonymous sources.” The original suit has been remanded to the Quebec Superior Court, where the identity of LeBlanc’s source will be reviewed for relevance to the proceedings before he is questioned again.
Protection for journalists [JURIST news archive] and their sources continues to be a worldwide concern. In April, Germany announced plans to enact legislation [JURIST report] meant to increase freedom of the press. In February, the Icelandic Parliament [official website, in Icelandic] began considering measures [JURIST report] aimed at increasing protections for journalists and promoting freedom of speech and transparency in government. Last December, the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] approved a bill [JURIST report] that would protect journalists’ abilities to shield sources in federal court proceedings. Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] ranked Iceland number one in press freedom in 2009 [2009 rankings], while ranking Germany eighteenth, Canada nineteenth, and the US twentieth. Their profile of Canada [materials] notes LeBlanc’s case.