CJFE Calls for End to Legal Fishing Season

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Yet another journalist has been hit with a legal demand to turn over his mouldering research notes, and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) wants to know when the parade of subpoenas will stop.

In a subpoena served on Friday, Feb. 21, a defence lawyer demanded that Toronto-based freelancer Lon Appleby produce 11-year-old notes used to prepare an article published in Toronto Life magazine in 1998.

The article concerned the shooting death of 17-year-old Cameron Alkins. The subpoena was served by lawyer Colin Adams, who is defending Roger James on a charge of first-degree murder.

CJFE intervened in a similar case last year, when journalist Derek Finkle won a solid victory against prosecutors who sought to rummage through his private notes relating to the murder trial of Robert Baltovich. The presiding judge in that case, Justice David Watt, said in his decision that the Crown had failed to justify its request with enough specific information and had not proved that material evidence was likely to be produced. "Fishing season is over," he declared.

"I'm disappointed to learn that the 2008 fishing season has started early," said Paul Knox, chair of the School of Journalism at Ryerson University, speaking on behalf of CJFE. "If journalists are seen as tools of the justice system, their ability to work independently in the public interest will be severely compromised."

Lon Appleby has retained lawyer Iain MacKinnon, who also represented Finkle in his subpoena battle.

Alkins was shot dead in 1996 as he walked to a corner store in Scarborough, apparently by would-be robbers. Appleby's article on the case, "Anatomy of a Homicide", appeared in the January 1998 issue of Toronto Life. It underscored the difficulty police often face in getting witnesses in such cases to co-operate.

The investigation focused on James and Jeffrey Whyte, who had recently escaped from prison. Whyte was convicted of manslaughter in Alkins' death, but James fled Canada and has only recently been charged.

CJFE believes that if Appleby is forced to turn over his research material, journalists will be further discouraged from investigating sensitive crime cases.

"We should be encouraging articles such as "Anatomy of a Homicide", not discouraging them," Knox said. "We hope the courts will continue to give journalists room to play their vital role of giving Canadians access to information they would not otherwise get."

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.