Canada media cannot always protect sources: court

Fri May 7, 2010 1:59pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Reporters in Canada have no constitutional right to offer their sources blanket confidentiality, the country's Supreme Court said in a landmark ruling on Friday.

In the first pronouncement of its kind, the court ruled by an 8-1 majority that journalists could offer sources protection. But if prosecutors subsequently demanded to know who those sources were, courts would decide the merits of confidentiality promises on a case-by-case basis.

"No journalist can give a secret source an absolute assurance of confidentiality," the judges said.

The ruling is a defeat for the National Post newspaper, which had demanded the quashing of a police search warrant for a document and an envelope one of the paper's reporters had been given by a confidential source in 2001.

The Canadian Association of Journalists said the ruling was "a significant blow to every journalist's ability to protect whistle-blowers".

The document purported to show former prime minister Jean Chretien had leaned on a federal bank to approve a loan to an ailing hotel which owed his family money. Chretien and his lawyers said the document was forged and complained to police.

The judges said promises to keep sources secret had to be balanced against other important public interests, including the investigation of a serious crime.

"In some situations, the public's interest in protecting a secret source from disclosure may be outweighed by other competing public interests and a promise of confidentiality will not in such cases justify the suppression of the evidence," they said.   Continued...