CJFE Disappointed at Ontario Superior Court Ruling Against Media Freedom

Thursday, November 2, 2000
On November 1, the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto ruled against eight Canadian media outlets who challenged the seizure by Toronto police of news film and videotape of a June 15 anti-poverty protest at the Ontario Legislature. The eight television stations and newspapers were seeking to quash the search warrants used to seize the footage and to have it returned to them under seal. CJFE is deeply disappointed by the ruling, which did not even consider fundamental issues of media freedom and the compromising of freedom of expression. Mr. Justice Frank Roberts rejected their application on the grounds that the search warrants were obtained weeks after the protest and therefore "there were no negative effects on the ability of the media to fulfil their function as news gatherers and disseminators." Toronto police seized the film last July for the purposes of a criminal investigation into the protest. The search warrants were obtained on the grounds that media footage was "clearer" than police footage, since media were able to get closer to the demonstrators. In his ruling, Roberts stated that it was reasonable to decide that "new and compelling evidence would be found in films taken by the media from different vantage points and different perspectives." Roberts also ruled that "there are no grounds to quash the warrants based on . . . the infringement of the Charter rights of the media." During the hearing last week, Marlys Edwardh, the lawyer representing the media outlets, argued that fundamental democratic rights are at stake when police seize media footage for investigations. Edwardh stated that "when journalists perceive themselves as targeted because of the desire [of police] to use them as investigative tools, their objectivity is compromised - and the more it is compromised, the more they become targeted." "The ruling on this case did not even consider the fundamental issues of media freedom and freedom of expression, which were compromised by the police action and search warrants," stated Sharmini Peries, Executive Director of CJFE. The media footage will remain sealed pending a decision by the media outlets on whether they will appeal the ruling. To see a previous CJFE protest on the media seizures, click here.

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