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CAJ: ONTARIO JOURNALISTS, WHISTLEBLOWERS IMPACTED BY BILL 156

OTTAWAJune 10, 2020 /CNW/ — The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) is raising a number of concerns about Ontario's proposed Bill 156 and it's impacts on journalists and the public's right to know. These concerns include the targeting of investigative journalists and a lack of protections for whistleblowers. The following written testimony has been submitted to the Standing Committee on General Government: 

Dear Standing Committee on General Government,

The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) is a truly national association of working journalists with members all over the country, and across all forms of media.

We would like to offer our concerns regarding the proposed Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, and how it relates to the ability of journalists to act in their public accountability role. But first, a bit about the CAJ.

The CAJ was founded in 1978 as the Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organization that encouraged and supported investigative journalism. Over the years, we broadened our mandate, and now offer high-quality professional development, primarily at our annual national conference; and outspoken advocacy on behalf of journalists.

That advocacy is what brings us here today. Bill 156 is presented as a means of protecting farmers from intrusion, to keep them safe. But a close reading brings up a number of alarming implications for journalists and for the public’s right to know.

  • This bill does not allow for any whistleblower protections. This legislation deals with the protection of information and property. But it makes no allowances for employees and members of the public to come forward when they witness unsafe or illegal conduct. Their right to protect themselves or others is not considered. 

  • Investigative journalists would be targeted by this law. A journalist’s job in its simplest form is to learn the facts of a matter and relate them to the public. Both of these roles would be put at risk by this bill. Section 4(6) and 5(4) of the proposed bill makes it illegal to enter an animal protection zone or interact with a driver “under false pretences.” As the CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices puts it, “when the investigation bears on illegal or antisocial behaviour or abuse of trust and the gathering of information of public interest, the journalist may need to infiltrate an organization to get first-hand information.” This bill would criminalize the occasionally necessary practices of clandestine information gathering when an investigation relates to agriculture. 

  • This bill could expose journalists to lawsuits. Section 15(1) outlines damages awarded "for any injury, loss or damage," while 15(3) opens up violators to future civil action. If a journalist, doing his or her job within the standards of the profession, were to find his or herself in violation of this law, this section could unfairly expose them to lawsuits. 

  • This bill could result in the arrest of journalists, by farm owners, in the course of their jobs. Section 7 describes conditions under which a farm owner can justify detaining someone. As explained above, some ordinary activities of investigative journalists could fall under the sections of this bill that would expose journalists to this kind of arrest. We find this alarming. 

  • Activities that would be criminalized under this bill have led to public accountability for wrongdoing. As recently as last summer, video from animal rights groups has led to media reporting and police investigations. This bill would have prevented those activities. 

  • Similar legislation in the United States has been struck down. Multiple laws criminalizing journalists who access farm property in the public interest, and record audio and/or video while on-site, have been found to be violations of the First Amendment’s provisions for free speech. Those principles are also enshrined within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

This spring media reported on unsafe working conditions present at meatpacking plants across this country as COVID-19 outbreaks spread. Previously, journalists have worked to establish accountability in the untimely deaths of farm workers, and migrant workers on farms. Animal rights issues have come to light through reports in the media. The media’s role in establishing accountability in agriculture must be protected.

Thank you for considering our submission, and for supporting the rights of Ontario journalists. 

The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with more than 600 members across Canada. The CAJ's primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.

For more information contact:

Karyn Pugliese, CAJ president

204-995-1071

[email protected]

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Brent Jolly, CAJ vice-president

289-387-3179

[email protected]

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