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.