The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday that Vice Media (Vice) must hand over information its journalist Ben Makuch gathered from suspected terrorist and Canadian citizen Farah Mohamed Shirdon, who left Canada allegedly to join the Islamic State (IS) group.
The case concerned three articles written by Makuch in 2014 based on conversations he had with Shirdon detailing his experiences with IS, including a photo of Shirdon posing next to a tank. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) issued an order to Vice demanding they turn over all communication between Makuch and Shirdon because of crimes against the state committed by Shirdon, which were under investigation by the RCMP. Vice refused, and the RCMP prevailed in two separate lower court rulings, which Vice then appealed to the supreme court.
Justice Moldaver, in delivering the judgement of the court referenced, the Lessard ruling in a similar case, which is often used a test regarding material that was partially or fully published:
once the news media have published the gathered information, that information then passes into the public domain. The publication of that information is a very important factor for the justice of the peace to consider. This is something that favours the issuing of a search warrant. When a crime has been committed and evidence of that crime has been published, society has every right to expect that it will be investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted. Here, the publication or broadcasting of the information was a factor of sufficient importance to enable the justice of the peace to exercise his discretion and issue the search warrant notwithstanding the failure of the police to explain that there was no alternative source available that would give them the information contained in the videotape.
Vice stated after the ruling that this is dark day for press freedom. They further expressed disappointment in what they feel is society’s failure to recognize freedom of the press. CWA Canada, a media union whose membership includes Vice journalists, also expressed their regret regarding the ruling.