Reporter must give RCMP material about accused terrorist: Supreme Court

The 9-0 decision is likely to be seen as a defeat for media

The Supreme Court of Canada says a reporter must give the RCMP material he gathered for stories about an accused terrorist.

The 9-0 decision is likely to be seen as a defeat for media that could leave them vulnerable to serving as investigative arms of the police.

In 2014, Vice Media reporter Ben Makuch wrote three articles about the involvement of Farah Shirdon, formerly of Calgary, with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Shirdon had left Canada for Turkey in March of that year. A month later, he appeared in an ISIL propaganda video that turned up on the internet. He tore up his Canadian passport, threw it into a fire and said, “With help from Allah, we are coming to slaughter you.”

RELATED: Media are not an arm of the police, Vice lawyer tells Supreme Court hearing

Exchanges between Makuch and Shirdon through a text-messaging service were crucial to the articles.

In 2015, the RCMP obtained a production order under the Criminal Code, directing Vice Media and Makuch to provide documents and data relating to communications with Shirdon, who might now be dead.

Makuch brought an application to quash the production order, but it was dismissed — a decision upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear Makuch’s case, which squarely pitted press freedoms against the investigative powers of police.

In a previous case, the court had set out nine conditions for assessing the reasonableness of a search of a media outlet.

Vice Media argued at the Supreme Court that lower courts had been incorrectly applying, or failing to apply, the balancing test.

Philip Tunley, a lawyer for Vice Media, told the high court last May there should be clear protections for the media when enforcement agencies come knocking.

He said the result of current law and practice was “a chilling effect” on the media’s important role in gathering and publishing news in Canada.

RELATED: Rogers Media cuts ties with Vice Canada

Federal lawyer Croft Michaelson told the hearing there was “no merit” to criticisms of the robust legal framework in place for deciding access to media materials.

In its arguments, the Crown called the test a principled and flexible framework intended to curb any potential chilling effect that an order might have on the ability of the media to do its work. It said the courts had not been acting as rubber stamps that favoured the interests of law enforcement at the expense of freedom of expression.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Protesters in Parksville demand change to current B.C. forest practices

Approximately 50 people march along Island Highway

Qualicum Beach roundabout project would cost nearly $2M

Town to apply for funds to cover $1.79M of the total

Town of Qualicum Beach defers discussions with preservation society regarding wetlands

CAO says registered covenant will protect land in perpetuity

Qualicum Beach seek funds for $4.5M community field project

Turf surface would allow for new sporting activities

Parksville homeowner must clean up property or face penalties

If deadline not met, city crews will do the job and a bill will be sent out

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Woodgrove Centre posts plans to make masks and temperature checks mandatory

Nanaimo mall advises in letter to customers that rules will come into effect Monday, Sept. 21

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

Nanaimo residents ticketed for putting garbage bins out early

Conservation officers say they issued seven tickets this week, as concerns about bears increase

Motor home burns up at north Nanaimo intersection

No one hurt in incident Friday morning at old Island Highway, Rutherford Road and Mostar Road

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Comox Valley protesters send message over old-growth logging

Event in downtown Courtenay was part of wider event on Friday

Most Read