CJFE Welcomes Decision in Source Protection Case

Monday, March 17, 2008

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) welcomes today's positive decision in Ken Peters' appeal case and calls it an important step forward for the ability of journalists to protect sources to whom they have promised confidentiality.

Hamilton Spectator journalist Ken Peters was appealing a contempt citation on December 1, 2004, when he refused to reveal his source. Peters was also ordered to pay costs of $31,600 as a sanction for the contempt. The appeal was heard on January 22, 2008, by Justices Robert J. Sharpe, Eleanore A. Cronk and Eileen E. Gillese of the Court of Appeal for Ontario in Toronto.

In allowing Peters' appeal, the Court of Appeal recognized in clear terms the value of confidential sources to effective reporting in the public interest. The unanimous judgment also emphasizes the need to follow procedures that are fair to the journalist and to seek solutions that respect the rights and interests of all concerned.

"Achieving this has been a hard-fought battle" said lawyer and CJFE Board member John Norris, who represented CJFE as an intervenor in the case. "This judgment will save journalists the tremendous effort and expense of having to prove the importance of confidentiality all over again each time the issue comes up."

The conflict arose from a story that Peters worked on almost a decade ago. In 1995, Peters received documents about problems at a Hamilton nursing home. Allegations made against the nursing home subsequently prompted its operators to file a lawsuit against the City of Hamilton and Halton Region.

"We are heartened by this decision, which recognizes that protection of a journalist's ability to maintain the confidentiality of sources is an important tool in the gathering of news," said journalist Paul Knox, speaking for CJFE. "Weaken that protection and you cast a chill on journalists and investigative journalism." Writing for all three Judges, Justice Sharpe also emphasized the law's recognition of this role when he dismissed the Attorney General's request that this case be decided without reference to Charter rights.

CJFE is encouraged that this latest case supports legal trends which appear to protect and promote the special role of the news media in a free society as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We hope that the resolution of this case will give renewed protection to journalists in their work.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and around the world. CJFE has a history of work on cases pertaining to media law and freedom of expression.