Relations between the federal government and the media have sharply cooled under new prime minister Stephen Harper and courts have been undermining the right to keep journalistic sources secret.
CConservative Party leader Stephen Harper, who became prime minister on 6 February 2006 after winning general elections, seems to distrust journalists. His government’s attitude to the media is sometimes similar to the US administration, whose ally he is. Relations with the media became icy when the government on 22 April banned all broadcast coverage of the return of soldiers’ bodies from Afghanistan. The exclusion of journalists at the Trenton (Ontario) military base three days later caused outrage, including among families of those killed. The media also criticised Harper’s silence at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November.
Canadian journalists, like their US colleagues but to a lesser extent, are also threatened by attacks on the confidentiality of journalistic sources. A new law passed on 15 September 2004 requires them to hand over documents, notes and sound and video recordings if asked by police as part of a criminal case, on pain of a maximum $250,000 fine and/or up to six months imprisonment.
The law was used for the first time in February 2006, when reporter Bill Dunphy, of the daily Hamilton Spectator, was ordered by a court to hand over notes of an interview he had with a suspected drug dealer whose brother had been accused of murder. The order is being appealed. Another reporter on the paper, Ken Peters, was fined $30,000 in 2004 for refusing to disclose one of his sources and is still waiting to hear the result of his appeal.