Government Gets F for Spying on Journalists, Poll Finds Canadians Have Difficulty Distinguishing Fake and Real News

Wednesday, May 03, 2017
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CJFE releases report on fake news, journalistic sources and national security in annual Review publication.

2017_Cover_Cropped.jpgTORONTO (May 3, 2017) – The rise of “fake news” and increased surveillance of journalists pose new threats to democracy and free expression in Canada, according to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)’s 2016-17 Review of Free Expression in Canada, released today. The eighth annual report shines a spotlight on the effects of these growing phenomena on the public’s ability to engage with reliable information.

In a recent poll of 1,000 Canadians across the country, CJFE found that the vast majority (83 per cent) of Canadians agree or somewhat agree that the rise of fake news is making it more difficult to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate information. 76 per cent agree or somewhat agree the labelling of legitimate news outlets as “fake news” is damaging to the democratic process in Canada.

A poll question on the balance between national security and protecting the privacy rights of Canadians yielded mixed results, with 43 per cent saying the federal government is striking the right balance and 31 per cent saying there should be more emphasis on national security. Only 12 per cent believe the balance has swung too far away from human rights in the name of national security. However, while Canadians do want a strong national security apparatus, a majority of survey respondents draw a line in the sand when it comes to the government coming after journalistic sources. Seventy per cent of respondents agreed that journalists should not be compelled to turn over confidential information or identify sources to law enforcement agencies.

“Trump-style politics are moving north, and Canadians are increasingly divided and confused about finding reliable information,” says CJFE Executive Director Tom Henheffer. “With fake news rising, journalistic sources drying up and traditional newsrooms shrinking, Canada is facing unprecedented threats to democracy and free expression, but Canadians are seeing these threats approaching and are fighting back.”

In addition to in-depth analyses of these issues, the Review also includes a signature Report Card, grading Canadian institutions and their handling of free expression issues. While last year’s report card included some improvements and many promises from the government to bring considerable change, 2017 has seen little action on fixing the ongoing issues while new threats to free expression and press freedom are cropping up.

Report Card grades include:

  • B-: for Bill C-51. The federal government embarked on consultations to amend national security legislation and announced it will introduce new legislation this spring. While CJFE’s sources within the government say a swath of amendments will likely come in the next few months, no official reforms have been announced, and there’s no guarantee the amendments will end unconstitutional surveillance practices.
  • A: for ending police aggression towards journalists in Montreal. Journalists covering protests in Montreal faced harsh treatment at the hands of the police, including equipment destruction and arbitrary detention, but following a concerted effort from CJFE and other groups, the incidents seem to have ended. Montreal’s police service has apologized for its abuses and amended its policies.
  • F: for shrinking newsrooms. A disturbingly small number of companies owns nearly all the media in Canada, and many conglomerates have announced massive layoffs and newspaper closures. Journalism is put in jeopardy by falling revenues, and Canadians are desperately underserved by the news media as communities are left without reliable outlets and local coverage.
  • F: for police surveillance of journalists and protection of sources. In late 2016, it was revealed that at least eight journalists in Quebec were surveilled in an attempt to plug leaks. Journalists are increasingly having to fight to protect their confidential sources, with some, like VICE News reporter Ben Makuch now seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to protect his notes after a failed appeal in the Ontario courts.
  • ?: for fake news. With sources drying up and traditional revenue streams going down, journalists are having a harder time doing their job, giving a chance to “alternative facts” and fake news sources to spread on social media. The label of “fake news” is often applied to anything someone disagrees with, and erodes the public’s trust in professional journalism outlets. Journalism and Canadians’ ability to stay informed is under a new threat without a clear solution, and CJFE is monitoring it closely.

The Review is launched each year to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, celebrated annually on May 3. The only publication of its kind, the Review looks at the most pressing issues of free expression over the course of the year, and examines trends, breakthroughs and obstacles to freedom of expression in Canada.

For a copy of the Review, please visit


Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) monitors, defends and reports on free expression and access to information in Canada and abroad. Rooted in the field of journalism, we promote a free media as essential to a fair and open society. CJFE boldly champions the free expression rights of all people, and encourages and supports individuals and groups in the protection of their own and others' free expression rights.

Nanos conducted a hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,000 Canadians between April 1 and 4, 2017, as part of an omnibus survey. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone (including both land- and cell-lines across Canada) using live agents and administered a survey online. The results were statistically checked and weighted by age and gender using the latest Census information, and the sample is geographically stratified to be representative of Canada. The margin of error for a random survey of 1,000 Canadians is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Charts may not add up to 100 due to rounding.


For more information and to request interviews, please contact:

Tom Henheffer

Executive Director, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)


[email protected]

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