UPDATE: Bill C-461

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bill C-461 is a piece of legislation introduced to the House of Commons in February, 2013. As CJFE has previously stated, the Bill is problematic in its aims to change the Access to Information Act (ATIA) and the Privacy Act, as they concern the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

The Bill has been sent to the Standing Committee, where the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ) and the Canadian Media Guild (CMG) have been selected to appear as witnesses. Both FPJQ and CMG have prepared submissions on the Bill’s problems. CJFE was also invited to contribute a written submission to the committee hearing, a summary of which can be found below.

CJFE summary of Bill C-461

CJFE believes that Bill C-461 does critical damage to the CBC’s ability to conduct its work as an arm’s-length public broadcaster. It is not a state broadcaster, but a public broadcaster – a crucial distinction which makes it fundamentally different from other government departments. That is why other parliamentary democracies protect these broadcasters with exclusions like the one current in section 68.1 of the ATIA. Canada should do no less.

Bill C-461 has many problems:

  • • The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice has pointed out that the current wording of C-461 “would not allow the CBC to provide its confidential journalistic sources with an ironclad guarantee of continued anonymity.” In contrast the existing section 68.1, now clarified by the courts, clearly protects the “absolute” right of the CBC to use the exclusion for confidential sources.
  • • The injury test rests upon a very narrow and vague term – prejudice to the CBC’s journalistic, creative and programming independence. This is insufficient to protect the CBC’s inherent right to freedom of expression and the integrity of its journalism.
  • • Because of the same dependence on an injury test based upon the notion of independence, the privacy measures of C-461 could lead to disclosure of information collected solely for journalistic reasons and as a result jeopardize the corporation’s reputation in ways that no other media outlet would accept.

It is CJFE’s opinion that the current law, as clarified by several years of deliberation in the courts, is functioning adequately at this time. We welcome the opportunity in the future to engage in comprehensive reform of the Access to Information Act. But Bill C-461 is ill-conceived and unsalvageable, no matter how many amendments are made. Our recommendation is that this Bill simply be rejected.

Statements on Bill C-461

CJFE | Bill C-461 threatens CBC journalistic integrity and protection of sources

CBC | Speaking Notes for Maryse Bertrand before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics

CBC | Bill C-461 and CBC/Radio Canada: What Does It Mean For Us?

FPJQ | Vote Down Bill C-461: A Submission by Quebec's Professional Federation of Journalists

CMG | Do No Harm: Why Parliament Should Vote Down Bill C-461

Bill C-461 in the news

iPolitics | CBC Decries Proposed Access to Information Changes May 27, 2013