Reporters Without Borders voiced deep concern today at what awaits Bill Dunphy of the Hamilton Spectator (a daily newspaper based in Hamilton, Ontario) if he fails to comply with a court order to hand over to the police his notes of interviews with a convicted drug dealer.
“Dunphy could go to prison under a new provision of the criminal code that forces journalists to act as police informants or law enforcement auxiliaries, which is not their job,” the press freedom organisation said.
“As a matter of principle, the media should never be subject to constraint by the police or the courts, even when limited to a criminal investigation,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “Furthermore, there is no reason to think Dunphy’s notes will be of use to investigators. We hope the judge will be lenient towards him, and that parliament will take another look at this problematic provision.”
In 2001 and 2002, Dunphy interviewed convicted drug dealer Paul Gravelle, whose younger brother, André, is accused of participating in the murders of lawyer Lynn Gilbank and her husband Fred in 1998, when she was defending another dealer.
“The police investigating Lynn Gilbank’s murder are convinced that Bill Dunphy’s interviews could provide them with new leads,” Hamilton Spectator editor Roger Gillespie told Reporters Without Borders. “We have no reason to think that his interviews with Paul Gravelle will provide them with evidence of the brother’s involvement in the lawyer’s murder. The police came to us in the spring of 2005 with the aim of getting Bill’s notes. When we refused, criminal proceedings were initiated against him.”
Under a provision introduced into the criminal code on in September 2004, a journalist can be forced to hand over notes, documents or audio or video recordings that could be useful to a police investigation. Refusal to comply is punishable by a fine of up to 250,000 dollars or imprisonment for up to six months, or both. The Hamilton Spectator thinks this is the first time the provision has been used. Dunphy appeared in court on 19 January. The judge is to issue a ruling on 6 February.
The Hamilton Spectator has had a run-in with the courts before. Another of its journalists, Ken Peters, was fined 30,000 dollars in December 2004 for refusing to name a source. He avoided going to prison after the person he was protecting identified himself as the source. Peters has appealed against his conviction.