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

Name of victims ‘ripped down’ from Victoria display

Organizers feel the act is ‘malicious’

Government Street becomes pedestrian-priority corridor

One block of downtown street closed to cars entirely

‘The face of Belmont’: Custodial staff at Langford school pivot to support parents, students

Staff serve as point of contact for parents, students with school

Saanich teen launches free online tutoring website

School Helpers matches volunteer tutors with students

VIDEO: View Royal resident spots cougar in nearby backyard

B.C. Conservation notified about early Thursday morning sighting

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

POLL: Are you sending your children back to school this month?

Classrooms looked decidedly different when students headed back to school for the… Continue reading

Cortes Island affordable housing project hangs by a thread

Regional decision makers resort to COVID-19 concerns despite virtual meeting option and push hearing to September

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

North Island recreation camping site closed due to vandalism

Damage happens every year, forcing site manager to reallocate improvement budget to repairs

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

Seniors to receive up to $500 in promised COVID-19 emergency aid in early July

The Liberal government first promised the extra help in mid-May, but had to create a new system to deliver the aid

VIDEO: Revelstoke bear wanders into Animal House pet store

Staff got ready to chase it out with a broom

Man found dead in his tent at Island homeless camp

Facebook posts tell of personal struggles and attempts to stay clean and sober

Most Read