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Canada - World Report 2009

13 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

  • Area: 9,970,610 sq. km.
  • Population: 33,500,000
  • Languages: English and French
  • Head of government: Stephen Harper, since February 2006

Several journalists have faced legal action at the federal level, based on a new clause in criminal law, over their refusal to reveal their sources of information, some defamation cases have involved “gag orders” resulting in ruinous compensation cases against media and non-governmental organisations.

Canada ranks high in respect for press freedom, but parliament introduced a clause into criminal law in 2004 damaging to the protection of journalists’ sources. This obliges journalists to hand over their files and the name of a source if police believe it crucial to a criminal investigation. Breaching this clause can lead to a fine of up to 250,000 dollars and/or a maximum six months in prison. Several journalists have already found themselves in front of a federal court, but to date none of has ended up behind bars. But a journalist who is in danger of going to jail is Daniel Leblanc, of the daily Globe and Mail, which was behind revelations that sparked the sponsorship scandal in which the federal government between 1997 and 2003 misused public funds to fund a campaign against Quebec sovereignty. Leblanc was asked by the company behind the campaign and now in the dock to give the name of his informant for the story. His hearing before the Superior Court, the highest court in the land that was fixed for 19 March 2009 was adjourned at the last moment. The case is likely to set a legal precedent.

Another problem involves the Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) or “gag order”, a civil procedure, usually started in defamation cases, in which ruinously high damages are demanded against a media or a non-governmental organisation, to force it to retract or to disappear. An important example in Quebec and Ontario was proceedings taken against the publisher Ecosociété by mining companies Barrick Gold and Banro, after publication of the book “Black Canada” covering the companies’ activities in Africa. The two companies are demanding 11 million Canadian dollars in damages and are threatening to increase it still further if Ecosociétés, which has launched a support petition, continues to use the term “gag order” in connection with the case. Most SLAPP cases involve NGOs or groups running ecological campaigns. In Quebec, draft law 99, which is in the process of being passed, should protect media and NGOs from SLAPP orders, introducing the concept of “abusive procedures”. Nevertheless, representatives of civil society are calling for amendments offering even greater protection from SLAPP. Violence and threats against journalists are extremely rare in Canada and generally target those from minority communities. However, in September 2008, freelance journalist Benoit Dutrizac reported receiving emailed death threats after interviewing Samira Laouni, an Islamist candidate of the New Democratic Party in Montreal and the first veiled woman to fight an election in Quebec.

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