Canada's top court to rule on press freedoms

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression says press freedom is at stake in the RCMP's demand that a Vice Media journalist hand over notes and screenshots (AFP Photo/Geoff Robins)

Ottawa (AFP) - Canada's Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear a media group's appeal of an order to hand over records of a journalist's communications with an alleged member of the Islamic State group to federal police.

A lower court ordered Vice Media reporter Ben Makuch to turn over records of his 2014 online chat with a Canadian who was charged in absentia with leaving the country to join a banned terrorist group.

The decision was upheld by an appeals court in March, highlighting the limits of legal protections for journalists' sources in Canada.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) expressed hope that the top court will "overturn a dangerous precedent and ensure that press freedom and the integrity of journalism in Canada are protected."

"If journalists cannot protect their sources, then the information they provide will dry up, leaving Canadians uninformed and democracy impoverished," said the CJFE's co-director Duncan Pike.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) demanded that Makuch turn over his notes and screenshots of his online chat with the suspected jihadist, as evidence in a criminal case.

Canada's parliament passed legislation in October to protect the confidentiality of journalists' sources, in response to an uproar over Montreal police's tracking of reporters.

The new law is not retroactive, and so cannot be invoked by Makuch's defense lawyers.

Vice Media is calling on the government to intervene to keep the journalist's material out of the hands of federal police, calling the RCMP production order a fishing expedition that will not make Canadians safer.