May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day, a day that celebrates information as a public good. It is a day reserved to reminding oppressive governments all around the world to respect the freedom of press granted to us by the universal declaration of human rights. It is a day to recognize the brave journalists that risk everything in the name of truth.
The World Press Freedom Index is a Reporters without Borders initiative. In 2021, Canada was ranked 14th out of 180 countries. Our freedom of press is guaranteed by section 2 b of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that states that: “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” Though Canada seems to respect this freedom for the most part, the government does little to nothing to protect journalists in this country.
While Canada’s commitment to protect the international press may be viewed as admirable for some, it is simply ridiculous for others, since journalists in this very country are being brutalized and treated like criminals for simply doing their jobs. This may be the time to prioritize the domestic side of things.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, a series of hydroelectric projects, such as the Lower Churchill Project, are being conducted on Indigenous land without consent from the Indigenous peoples living around the facilities. When they expressed their concerns about how these projects would affect their land and wildlife, they were ignored. This led to a series of strikes and demonstrations in protest of these projects. In October 2016, protestors broke into the property of Nalcor Energy. Justin Brake, a journalist for the Independent was on the property covering the strike for an article, and faced both criminal and civil charges, authorities completely neglecting the fact that he is a journalist, simply doing his job. After spending almost four years in the court system, the charges were finally dropped in March 2020.
In 2017, seven Montreal journalists were under investigation by the SPVM. Patrick Lagacé, a La Presse reporter has a minimum of 24 warrants issued for his iPhone, granting the police complete access to his GPS coordinates, as well as his text message conversations. This story sparked the interest of the media, since Lagacé has covered countless stories about the SPVM’s abuse of power. Being under investigation could lead to the identities of his sources being discovered, which could put them in danger.
These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. Canadian journalists across the country are continuously intimidated by the police and arrested for doing their jobs. It’s about time Canada stops hiding behind their international freedom of press campaigns and start prioritizing the safety of Canadian journalists on our territory and putting in place measures that would protect them from the abuse of power of police forces.
By Meriem Terzi