Quebec’s Superior Court has ordered that Radio-Canada journalist Marie-Maude Denis must reveal the source of leaked information relating to alleged collusion between the awarding of public contracts and Liberal Party fundraising. This information led to the release of two documentaries on the subject. She will also be required to testify in the criminal trial of Marc-Yvan Côté, a former Liberal cabinet minister who was arrested in 2016 and charged with offenses relating to corruption. His lawyer argues that the documentaries have damaged his client’s right to a fair and impartial trial, and that knowledge of who the source was could support the suggestion that the accusations were part of an effort to incriminate Côté. He argues that freedom of the press has its limits, and that “trials must take place in court,” not in the media, and that the documentaries have damaged the presumption of innocence of his client.
This decision comes not long after the passage of a federal law, passed in 2017, aimed at protecting the anonymity of journalists’ sources (the Journalistic Sources Protection Act), which states that a warrant relating to a journalist can only be issued by a superior court judge, and only if the judge “is satisfied that there is no other way by which the desired information can reasonably be obtained and that the public interest in the investigation and prosecution of a criminal offence outweighs the journalist’s right to privacy in the collection and dissemination of information.” While this situation may well fit into this category, it has raised alarm among journalists and politicians, including Senator Claude Carignan, the senator who put forward the private member’s bill that became the Journalistic Sources Protection Act. In the court of first instance the judge determined the journalists would not have to reveal their sources under this Act.
While Côté’s defense expressed concerns about the impact of this information on his client’s access to a fair trial, journalists are concerned about the influence this decision will have on anyone who would be willing to share information of interest to the public under the condition of anonymity. For the journalist’s defense lawyer, “a journalist who comes to testify is finished. It must be a last, last resort.”
Radio-Canada has already confirmed that it will appeal the decision.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.