Canadian Journalists for Free Expression have released their first report after an uncommon number of incidents challenging the right to free speech here in Canada. The report, released on International Press Freedom Day, addresses attacks on journalists, access to information and the climate for free expression. The report considers the eight cases brought forward to the Supreme Court dealing with issues of freedom of speech.
"Just look at the past year," Bob Carty, a CBC radio producer and CJFE board member. "It's risen above the radar. Ottawa refused to release information that's readily available in the United States about torture in Afghanistan. Journalists heading to the Olympics were stopped at the border and sometimes turned away because they might say something critical about the Games."
The report gave its highest grade to the Supreme Court itself which, as the report states, had "met all our expectations in establishing the defence of 'responsible communications,'" The report especially considered the landmark case of Grant v. Torstar and Quan v. Cusson which established a legal defense by journalists when covering stories in the public interest. "Though still not as protective as the American model, the defence allows Canadian journalists to escape liability if they can show they diligently attempted to prove the facts,” says the report.
Unsurprisingly the lowest mark went to the federal government—an F for the failure to provide open access to information.
CJFE hopes the review will become "an annual reference document for examining developments in free expression in Canada and for comparing ourselves with other countries.” Carty says it will provide "a tool to help us keep track of whether we're moving forward or backward." V