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

Haida matriarchs occupy ancient villages as fishing lodges reopen to visitors

‘Daughters of the rivers’ say occupation follows two fishing lodges reopening without Haida consent

Registration open for first-annual ‘NextIslandpreneur’ student business competition

Competition offers mentors, iPads, seed money, cash prizes to young entrepreneurs on Haida Gwaii

Haida Nation reminds ‘select few’ fishing lodges that Haida Gwaii is closed to non-essential travel

‘Upholding Haida law amid COVID-19’ release comes one day before Queen Charlotte Lodge plans to reopen

PHOTOS: ‘Phengnominal’ gnome house constructed in Port Clements

‘Ms. Gnomer’s Home 4 Wayward Folk,’ created by Kelly Whitney-Gould, a hit for kids and loggers alike

Councillor resigns mid-term in Queen Charlotte

Richard Decembrini’s resignation announced at regular meeting on July 6

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

National Kitten Day aka the ‘purrfect’ day to foster a new friend

July 10 marks National Kitten Day, a special day to celebrate all things kittens

Lower Mainland YouTubers claim to be Kelowna display toilet ‘poopers’

RCMP can not speak to legitimacy of video, will be investigating

RCMP confirm homicide investigation underway near Quesnel

Police releasing few details four days after homicide occurred Monday, July 6

Conservatives say police should be called into investigate WE charity scandal

Trudeau is already under investigation by the ethics commissioner for potential conflict of interest

Most Read