Vice Media fight with RCMP headed to the Supreme Court of Canada

Canada’s top court agreed on Thursday to weigh in on a case in which the ability of journalists to do their work conflicts with the ability of police and prosecutors to do theirs.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision to grant Vice Media leave to appeal follows a ruling by Ontario’s highest court that reporter Ben Makuch turn over background materials to the RCMP related to interviews he did with a suspected terrorist.

“Oh, man, very relieved,” Makuch said moments after learning of the leave decision. “This is an extremely important matter that our country’s highest court needs to hear.”

The materials at issue relate to three stories Makuch wrote in 2014 on a Calgary man, Farah Shirdon, 22, charged in absentia with various terrorism-related offences. The articles were largely based on conversations Makuch had with Shirdon, who was said to be in Iraq, via the online instant messaging app Kik Messenger.

With court permission, RCMP sought access to Makuch’s screen captures and logs of those chats. Makuch refused to hand them over.

RCMP and the Crown argued successfully at two levels of court that access to the chat logs were essential to the ongoing investigation into Shirdon, who may or may not be dead. They maintained that journalists have no special rights to withhold crucial information.

Backed by alarmed media and free-expression groups, Makuch and Vice Media argued unsuccessfully that the RCMP demand would put a damper on the willingness of sources to speak to journalists.

The conflicting views will now be tested before the Supreme Court.

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