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Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2002 - Canada

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 3 May 2002
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2002 - Canada, 3 May 2002, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
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.

Police abuses, including arrests of journalists and seizure of their equipment, damaged press freedom, which was also threatened by passage of an anti-terrorist law containing several clauses that endanger freedom of expression.

Once again, the media in 2001 was up against police officials little concerned with distinguishing between journalists and violent demonstrators. The case of Andrew Dobrowolskyj, who has been prosecuted since 2000 for "obstructing traffic," shows the police are quick to detain journalists and reluctant to admit errors. An American photographer arrested during the Americas Summit was held for three days despite protests by other journalists and US consular officials. A new incident where a journalist's film of a demonstration was seized put media workers in danger and risked turning them into representatives of the law.

Canadian legislation was toughened after the September 11 attacks in the United States. In December, a new anti-terrorist law was passed and included several clauses which, though they did not specifically refer to the media, directly threatened the protection of sources. Publication of "sensitive" material can now be considered an offence on grounds that it gives information to "a foreign entity or terrorist group," for which the penalty is life imprisonment.

Three journalists arrested

Charles East, an American photographer with the Sipa photo agency, was arrested on 20 April 2001 while covering clashes between police and anti-globalisation demonstrators at the Americas Summit in Quebec. Police seem to have mistaken him for a protestor who had thrown stones at a policeman. Despite the intervention of his employers and of the Quebec Professional Journalists' Federation (FPQJ) and US consular officials, East was not freed until three days later. This was despite the fact that he was properly accredited to cover the summit and his helmet bore a sign saying he was a journalist. He was released on bail and accused of taking part in a riot, insulting a police officer, resisting arrest and concealing his identity by wearing a gas mask. Four months later, a Quebec criminal court dismissed all four charges. East has worked for Sipa for several years, notably covering the Middle East conflict, and had been sent to Quebec by his agency to take pictures for Time magazine. The Americas Summit was attended by 34 member-countries of the Organisation of American States.

Louise Bilodeau, a photographer for the Stock and Click photo agencies and L'Actualité magazine, was arrested on 21 April while covering clashes between police and anti-globalisation demonstrators at the Americas Summit in Quebec. She was released at the end of the day.

Mounted police arrested Todd Lamirande, a reporter of the Aboriginal People's Television Network (APTN), in the western province of British Columbia on 24 June, confiscating his film and notebook. He had been covering clashes near the town of Kamloops between member of a native Indian organisation and local supporters of a plan to build a sports centre. When he refused to hand over his film, he was arrested and his material seized on grounds that his film could contain proof of criminal activity. He was freed shortly afterwards. Police returned his film in early July after using it as evidence in the trial of a person charged with "disturbing public order."

The case of freelance journalist Andrew Dobrowolskyj, accused of "obstructing traffic" and "breach of the peace," was sent to the Quebec supreme court on 7 December. He had been arrested with two colleagues on 1 May 2000 while covering a demonstration. Charges against the two other journalists were dropped. Unlike them, Dobrowolskyj did not have proper accreditation.

Pressure and obstruction

On 18 December 2001,Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson enacted the anti-terrorist measure known as Bill C-36, which amended other laws and reduced protection of journalists' sources. A change in the National Defence Act allowed the defence minister to authorise the Communications Security Establishment to intercept private messages between Canada and abroad so as to obtain information from them about "international affairs, defence or security." The confidentiality of messages between journalists and contacts in foreign countries is thus no longer guaranteed. The new law also allows a person about whom there are "reasonable grounds to believe" that they have "direct and material information that relates to a terrorism offence" to be summoned before a judge to disclose the information. Those who refuse a summons or decline to reveal the information risk up to a year in prison. The Official Secrets Act, renamed the Security of Information Act, now provides for life imprisonment for anyone handing over sensitive information to any "foreign entity or terrorist group." Its article 16 defines this, without giving details, as information "about which the federal government or a provincial government takes protective measures." Article 17 punishes disclosure of "special operational information," including material of public interest such as the "vulnerabilities or limitations" of the federal government's intelligence policy.

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