Canada’s Declining Press Freedom

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
–       Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights


When it comes to Canada’s current state of press freedom, well, we aren’t doing so well. Canada started 2012 at number 10 on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, and dropped a hard 10 spots the following year, falling behind Namibia (19th), Costa Rica (16th) and Jamaica (13th).  Now in 2014, we sit at a marginally higher number 18, with the top spot dominated once again by Finland.

So the question is: What must have happened for one of the largest democratic nations in the world to tarnish its international press reputation so fast?

Well, there are a few reasons, and if they continue on at this current rate it won’t be a surprise if things get worse before they get better.

When Alberta’s Bill-45 came into effect in December 2013, it allowed for an increase in fines for union workers who strike “illegally”, and for parties who play a part in instigating said strike.

Section 4 of Bill 45 reads:

4(1) No employee and no trade union or officer or representative of a trade union shall cause or consent to a strike.
(2) No employee and no officer or representative of a trade union shall engage in or continue to engage in any conduct that constitutes a strike threat or a strike.
(3) No trade union shall engage in or continue to engage in any conduct that constitutes a strike threat.
(4) No person shall counsel a person to contravene subsection (1) or (2) or impede or prevent a person from refusing to contravene subsection (1) or (2).

Part of the controversy for journalists here lies in what would be classified as “instigating”. Writers now have to deal with the overlying cloud of potentially getting in trouble forreporting on stories relating to labour laws and working conditions in unionized companies.

“We’re now self-censoring,” says Miki Andrejovic, a board member of PEN Canada and founder of Edmonton’s LitFest. He adds, “We don’t do investigative journalism [anymore]; we’re doing celebrity stuff because it sells and journalists [still] have to earn a living.”

There’s also the issue of protecting confidential sources. In a case against former National Post reporter, Andrew McIntosh, the Supreme Court ruled that the editors at the Postwere required to hand over documents McIntosh received from his confidential source regarding former prime minister Jean Chretien. While a similar case was overturned a few months later, the Court essentially decided to go on a case-by-case basis deciding whether or not it was in everyone’s best interest to reveal a source. So essentially, confidential informants do not have anonymity in the eyes of our judicial system.

Andrejovic adds, “There’s no confidentiality, so people are very reluctant to [talk to journalists].”

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