RCMP interference in VICE News reporting is inexcusable: CAJ

OTTAWA, Nov. 3, 2015 /CNW/ – The Royal Canadian Mounted Police crossed a line earlier this year when its officers entered VICE News offices and demanded communications between a journalist and his source, says the Canadian Association of Journalists.

In February, after VICE reported on the actions and intent of a member of the so-called Islamic State militant group, the Mounties entered the news organization’s Montreal and Toronto offices. Officers ordered VICE to turn over all communications between reporter Ben Makuch and Farah Mohamed Shirdon, an IS militant who formerly lived in Calgary.

A court-ordered sealing order prevented VICE from reporting on the incident until Oct. 30. VICE is challenging both orders in court.

“Fighting terrorism by serving journalists with production orders and silencing them with gag orders for months on end violates Canada’s freedom of the press and is a waste of police resources,” said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey. “Makuch was doing his job in the public interest. Police must respect every journalist’s right to protect their sources as they go about their work.”

Canadian reporters have a history of defending their rights in the face of police intimidation. When the Mounties raided Ottawa Citizen journalist Juliet O’Neill’s home in 2004 after she had reported exhaustively on Maher Arar’s case, they threatened her with prosecution under the Security of Information Act. The courts struck down the information-sharing sections of that law and affirmed O’Neill’s right of free expression.

Every time police inappropriately interrupt a journalist’s work, whether by demanding information or threatening prosecution, they pose a direct affront to the freedom of the press. “Journalists aren’t an on-call branch of law enforcement,” said Taylor-Vaisey. “The courts know that. It’s inexcusable for a police force to forget that.”

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.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this release inaccurately implied that the RCMP raided VICE News offices. We regret the error.

For further information: Nick Taylor-Vaisey, 647.968.2393, [email protected]

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