Quebec public inquiry begins into protection of journalists’ sources

Inquiry into journalists' surveillance begins

MONTREAL — The provisions that currently exist to protect journalists’ sources are insufficient, three senior Quebec newsroom supervisors testified Monday at a provincial inquiry looking into the matter.

The inquiry, which will look at police surveillance of journalists and the protection of confidential sources, heard from editorial bosses from Montreal newspapers La Presse and Le Devoir as well as Radio-Canada, the CBC’s French-language network, at Day 1 of hearings.

The inquiry was announced by the Quebec government last year after revelations that Montreal and Quebec provincial police obtained warrants to collect data from the smartphones of several prominent journalists.

As a result, sources became fearful and left newsrooms scrambling to review ways of keeping their sources from risk, the trio of bosses told the inquiry.

Brian Myles, head of Montreal Le Devoir, said investigative journalists have had to take exceptional measures such as avoiding meetings in public places, using intermediaries and even photocopying documents to avoid DNA evidence on original documents.

Myles, a former president of Quebec’s professional journalists’ federation, said that sources take great risks to come forward and are seeking assurances from journalists in doing so.

It’s not normal to have to use such methods to avoid police surveillance in Canada, where the freedom of the press and the protection of journalistic sources are supposed to be a given, Myles said.

The fact that confidential sources are being targeted by law enforcement is “very problematic for a democracy,” he added.

Inquiry chair Jacques Chamberland, a judge with the province’s court of appeal, opened the hearing by saying the commission’s role is not to assign guilt.

Chamberland said there is a need to strike a balance between what the public has a right to know, protecting confidential sources and upholding and applying the law.

Guylaine Bachand, a lawyer specialized in media law, and former Quebec City police chief Alexandre Matte are the other two commissioners who will hear from witnesses.

They will hear from actors on all sides including law enforcement, media and the courts.

The commission must report back to the government with recommendations by next March 1, 2018.

The inquiry resumes Tuesday.

The Canadian Press

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