The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) held a public rally on February 25 in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto. The coordinated events happening in cities coast to coast were billed as “Trudeau: We're Watching You” in keeping with the theme of omnipresent surveillance.
The event was protesting the national security apparatus' creeping hostility towards the press and free expression. This includes the bipartisan (Harper-Trudeau) embrace of the draconian national security Bill C-51. Additionally, CJFE is calling on people to voice their support for Bill S-231, the Journalistic Sources Protection Act, advanced by senator Claude Carignan. During his speech, CJFE Executive Director Tom Henheffer described the decade of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's rule as a “dark age” for the press. He added that unfortunately, Trudeau's actions are closer to Harper's than many had hoped for.
Trudeau's Broken Promises
During the 2015 election campaign Justin Trudeau pledged to amend Bill C-51 after having voted for it in Parliament. His government has taken no action to amend the law in the 16 months they have held majority power. At the rally, every person conversing about C-51 was calling for a repeal of the law entirely. Meanwhile, activists with FairVote.ca circulated leaflets in support of MP Nathan Cullen's record-breaking Parliamentary petition (e-616). This petition urges the Liberals to enact electoral reform, another high-profile election cycle promise Trudeau has broken.
Gerald Parker, Executive Director of the Institute of Canadian Justice contends that the Trump administration's bald-faced demonization of the press was learned by watching Stephen Harper's administration. “Whistleblowers are at the forefront of the catastrophic outcomes of attacking the press. When the press and the newsrooms are being gutted, when the ways and means are being constructed by the nastiness that we see materializing down in the United States, and the anti-intellectualism, the 'anti-press' – that was very much trial ballooned in Canada under the Harper regime. Let's not kid ourselves.”
Canada's press freedoms are not strongly enshrined in law. Bill S-231 seeks, in part, to remedy this. “There's no press shield law in Canada,” explained Parker. “We're the only developed country in the world that doesn't have a press shield law!” Because of this, the state can go after journalists directly. For example, the RCMP has taken VICE journalist Ben Makuch to court in an attempt to force him to hand over chat logs between him and a source. Last year it was revealed that six reporters in Quebec were under surveillance during their attempts to uncover police malfeasance.
People across Canada have not escaped the government's mass dragnets either. One known program was CSIS' warrantless bulk collection of Canadian citizens' communications from 2006-2016. When it came to light last November, Federal Court Justice Simon Noelle struck down the program as unconstitutional. Noelle rebuked CSIS for using technology as an excuse to “flout or stretch legal parameters.”
“We in Canada lead in many ways but in so many important ways we fail ourselves and those that are supposed to be acting in our interest,” Parker went on. “When someone comes out with a dossier like (NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden) did in the United States, the problem is they're not protected here. It's ridiculous. They're putting themselves in front of a firing squad, figuratively, in a career respect.”
As CJFE has called for, the immediate course of action is to voice support for Bill S-231, the Journalistic Sources Protection Act and to request a repeal of Bill C51. You can find your MP here to contact them at their offices.