Canadian Court Says Vice Magazine Must Hand Over Its Communications With A Suspected Terrorist

from the Canadian-journalists-expect-an-Arctic-Front-to-begin-moving-in... dept

A Canadian court — granting a request made by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) — is in the process of dismantling protections for Canadian journalists. The case involves a Skype interview by Vice Magazine with an alleged terrorist currently located in Syria. The interview, in which the self-avowed terrorist (Farad Mohamed Shirdon) claimed an attack in New York City was imminent, appeared back in October 2015 and led directly to his being charged in absentia with several terrorism-related offenses.

Since that point, Vice has been battling to protect itself from a production order by the RCMP, seeking communications between Vice reporter Ben Makuch and Shidron. It has argued that forcing a journalistic entity to turn over communications with a source would set a dangerous precedent that would adversely affect press freedom in that country.

The RCMP says the communications are evidence — or presumably are, since they haven’t been turned over yet. The court seems to agree.

[I]n a decision released this week, the court rejected VICE’s attempt to quash the order, ruling that the police’s ability to gather evidence trumps the rights of VICE and Makuch to protect their work product in this case. Specifically, the screen captures of the chats are “important evidence in relation to very serious allegations” and “The screen captures are a copy of the actual electronic messages that Shirdon placed on Mr. Makuch’s computer screen. They are highly reliable evidence that do not require a second hand interpretation,” Justice Ian MacDonell wrote in his decision.

Vice News is looking at appealing this order. As it points out, its reporting already led to the identifying and charging of Shidron, something that most likely would not have happened without its publication. It also claims nothing it has in its possession will provide any more insight on Shidron’s current location or future plans.

As Vice’s attorney points out, this sort of demand is a threat to journalism.

VICE’s lawyer, Iain MacKinnon, said similar production orders could become more common in Canada if police know they can easily obtain notes and recordings from journalists. “It could have a very real chilling effect on the willingness of people and witnesses speaking to journalists,” said MacKinnon. “If people realize that what they say to a journalist could easily be handed over to police and used as part of a criminal investigation, that may scare somebody off in speaking to a journalist.”

A large part of what makes journalism journalism is investigatory work and speaking to sources who wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking to someone if they couldn’t be assured anonymity or other protections. Journalists are not an extension of law enforcement or any other government body (or at least shouldn’t be), but that’s what an order like this does: makes Vice News a convenient source for law enforcement to obtain communications and documents from. I’m sure Vice has no desire to “harbor” a terrorist, but it also has no desire to see terrorism fears being leveraged to create a dangerous precedent.

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Comments on “Canadian Court Says Vice Magazine Must Hand Over Its Communications With A Suspected Terrorist”

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13 Comments
mattshow (profile) says:

The court’s judgment doesn’t seem to be available on CanLII at the moment, but it’s been posted here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_bUaJvZ9k_BRURaSENEM0IxV2M/view

I’ve only skimmed it but it looks like it’s a good read for those who are interested in the analysis that goes on when issuing these kinds of orders (in the Canadian context, of course).

Paul Renault (profile) says:

Re: justice

1) Ian MacDonnell, J. It’s right there, at the end of the ruling.

2) You DO know that all Canadian judges are appointed (until the age of 75 or 70, depending on the position) and after a vetting process, eh?

3) I’d be prepared to wager that the proportion of ‘Mercan judges who are owned/idiots is far greater than that in Canada. Sheesh…

Nic says:

Re: Re: justice

Well, considering we don’t have elections for Attorney General positions, I’d say corruption has to be considerably lower than a country where you need money to run campaigns for a job that has no business being political.

The decision is troubling though. I assume they at least provided help to locate him? Nothing more should be asked of Vice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Even leaving aside the obvious problems with compelling journalists to expose their sources, there seem to be problems here, including: What gives the RCMP any jurisdiction here? The criminal is not in Canada. The plot a) appears to have failed, been aborted, or never taken place and b) was to commit a crime on non-Canadian soil. Without an apparent nexus to Canada here I don’t see how the RCMP has any jurisdiction to either charge anyone or compel the production of evidence. It looks like such would be a job for US law enforcement agencies and whatever currently passes for such in Syria, not the RCMP.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: RCMP jurisdiction

The article said he was Syrian — or at least implied it, by stating he had a Syrian-sounding name and that he was in Syria.

Regardless of which, jurisdiction normally exists a) at the scene of the crime and b) where the criminal is located. A state rules over territory, and there’s nothing here to suggest that either a) the crime being investigated was committed within Canadian territory or b) the criminal presently resides within Canadian territory.

Allowing jurisdiction beyond one’s own borders obviously encroaches on the sovereignty of other nations, and leads to absurd and troubling outcomes like the instant case with Vice.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'That's a feature, not a bug'

VICE’s lawyer, Iain MacKinnon, said similar production orders could become more common in Canada if police know they can easily obtain notes and recordings from journalists. “It could have a very real chilling effect on the willingness of people and witnesses speaking to journalists,” said MacKinnon. “If people realize that what they say to a journalist could easily be handed over to police and used as part of a criminal investigation, that may scare somebody off in speaking to a journalist.”

To those that would rather not have their actions made public, and especially make the news, scaring people off from speaking to reporters is if not the goal then a most pleasant ‘side effect’.

GEMont (profile) says:

Standard Operational Procedure

Wondered how long it would take before the Five Eyes found a way to stifle and dismantle the first real journalist movement since 9/11.

Vice has proven itself repeatedly to be willing to risk all for the truth, and there is nothing more dangerous to the Fascist/Corporatist movement than that.

Vice must be controlled – infiltrated and replaced with minions and lackeys, or dismantled altogether – by any means possible, and this is but the first volley in that Fascist barrage.

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