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Freedom of the Press 2008 - Canada

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 29 April 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - Canada, 29 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4871f5f6c.html [accessed 2 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Status: Free
Legal Environment: 4 (of 30)
Political Environment: 8 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 6 (of 30)
Total Score: 18 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Canada's constitution of 1982 provides protection for freedom of expression, including freedom of the press. Defamatory or blasphemous libel remains a criminal offense under the federal criminal code. In November 2007, the Ontario Court of Appeals issued a groundbreaking decision to allow the new defense of responsible public-interest journalism in a defamation suit filed by a police officer against the Ottawa Citizen. Legislation on access to information guarantees journalists' right to information, but in practice access can be hindered by bureaucratic delays, government interference, and numerous exemptions allowing government officials to reject requests. Although a 2006 accountability bill has expanded the number of government entities covered by information laws, the bill has been criticized for including several loopholes that will allow officials to decline information requests. Following trends from past years, cases continued to be brought relating to a 2004 law under which reporters can be forced to present documents to the police if deemed vital for a criminal case. In June 2007, Ottawa Citizen reporter Gary Dimmock was ordered to produce his notes regarding allegations of bribery against Mayor Larry O'Brien. The appeal also continued of Ken Peters, a reporter for the Hamilton Spectator who was found in contempt of court in 2006 and fined C$31,600 for refusing to give up a confidential source, though the source later came forward voluntarily. In a positive development, the Ontario Superior Court quashed a subpoena issued against Derek Finkle ordering him to turn over the research materials relating to a recently re-opened murder case. Similarly, the Quebec Labor Relations Board refused to force Karin Gagnon of Le Journal de Québec to reveal confidential sources from a story on asbestos in government buildings.

Journalists in Canada are generally free from violence or harassment. Nonetheless, the 1998 murder of journalist Tara Singh Hayer, most likely as a result of his investigative work into the 1985 Air India bombing, remains unsolved. In addition, in April 2007, Jawaad Faizi, a journalist for The Pakistan Post, was injured after being attacked by two men wielding a cricket bat and threatening him to cease writing critically about the Pakistan-based religious organization Idara Minhaj-ul-Quran and its leader. Press freedom advocates also grew concerned over legal cases filed against journalists who wrote critically about Muslims and Islam, fearing the suits would encourage self-censorship. In 2007 the Canadian Islamic Congress filed complaints with human rights commissions in Ontario and British Columbia against Maclean's magazine, charging that a 2006 article by columnist Mark Steyn about global demographic trends subjected "Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt."

Both print and broadcast media, which include the public Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), are generally free to express diverse views. The CBC broadcasts in French and English and provides television and radio services for indigenous peoples in the north. Broadcasting rules stipulate that 30 – 35 percent of material must be Canadian. Allegations of self-censorship on the basis of economic interests arose in November 2007, when CBC cancelled at the last minute the showing of a documentary about the Falun Gong spiritual group after coming under pressure from the Chinese authorities. The film was aired several weeks later, but only after certain segments had been removed, including comments by a prominent Canadian lawyer comparing the 2008 Beijing Olympics to the 1936 Berlin Games. The extent of media concentration and the influence of powerful media conglomerates such as CanWest Global Communications continue to limit media pluralism. The internet is generally unrestricted and is used by roughly 22 million Canadians, 65 percent of the population.

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