Court ruling a major setback for public's right to know, CAJ says

    OTTAWA, Feb. 29 /CNW/ - The Canadian Association of Journalists is
gravely dismayed by a regressive appeal court ruling that requires the
National Post to surrender leaked secret documents in the Shawinigate affair
to police.
    Today's Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that the right to protect
confidential sources is superseded by the police need to investigate alleged
crimes overturns a landmark Ontario Superior Court decision that struck down
an RCMP warrant against the National Post and reporter Andrew McIntosh in
September 2002. Police allege leaked documents detailing a controversial loan
to a Quebec hotelier in former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's riding are
forged and seek to analyze them for fingerprints and DNA to identify the
    "Today's decision is a major setback for press freedom and the public's
right to know," said CAJ president Mary Agnes Welch. "It would effectively
require journalists to become agents of the state, which will put a chill on
whistleblowers and other people of conscience who would bring matters of
profound public importance to light."
    The ruling is the latest in a series of attacks on the use of
confidential sources in Canada, Welch said.
    "The legal standard in Canada should allow any journalist to protect the
identity of their confidential sources, period. This is woefully absent from
our laws and jurisprudence, which is what can lead to rulings like this one,"
Welch said.
    The appeal court decision overturns Madame Justice Mary Lou Benotto's
Jan. 21, 2004, ruling that stated, in part: "It is through confidential
sources that matters of great public importance are made known...To deprive
the media of an important tool in the gathering of news would affect society
as a whole. The relationship is one that should be fostered."
    Today's ruling found that the newspaper's interest in the documents was
in the information it contained, not the physical document or envelope that
police seek to examine. This aspect of the decision ignores the facts at the
heart of the issue, Welch said.
    "The physical materials in this case go to the core principle of
protecting confidential sources," Welch said. "Police are on a witch-hunt to
root out a whistleblower who exposed important and embarrassing information,
and they are trying to use forensic tests to do it. If that isn't an attempt
to subvert the relationship between journalists and confidential sources, I
don't know what is."
    Welch noted that whistleblowers who do reveal information often do so at
great personal and professional risk.
    The CAJ previously testified and submitted an affidavit supporting the
National Post and reporter Andrew McIntosh in the case.
    McIntosh is now a reporter for the Sacramento Bee newspaper in

    The Canadian Association of Journalists is a national non-profit
professional organization with more than 1,500 members across Canada. The
CAJ's primary roles are public interest advocacy work and providing
high-quality professional development for journalists.

For further information:

For further information: Mary Agnes Welch, CAJ President, (204)
943-6575, Cell (204) 470-8862,; John Dickins,
Executive Director, CAJ: (613) 526-8061, Cell (613) 868-5442,

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