Open letter from 14 NGOs urges Canadian Prime Minister to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression in the country following a decline in the RSF World Press Freedom Index.

The letter acts as both a reminder against complacency towards promises to protect press freedom and an advocation of much needed laws to protect journalistic sources, with a call for the government to revitalise the way it approaches press freedom.

Canada experienced a sudden drop in RSF’s latest report, falling from 18 to 22 out of 180 countries surveyed, having been in the top 10 two years ago. The report cites cases of police surveillance on journalists and the lack of a “shield law” as reasons for its position. Moreover RSF expressed legislative concerns regarding the controversial Bill C-51, which it believes can be used to curtail free speech online.

The joint letter calls for the current government to push ahead with concrete reforms to break what it sees as a status quo for the conditions of journalists in Canada, and return to its status as a world leader in press freedom.

To achieve this, the letter asks the government to support the passage of Bill S-231, which “extends badly needed legal protections to journalists to ensure they are not made criminals for protecting the anonymity of their sources, and makes it harder for police forces to obtain a search warrant, a court order for the collection of information or the authorization to intercept the communications of a journalist, or the collection of documents or information in his or her possession.”

According to the letter the signing of Bill S-231 would demonstrate the sincerity of the government’s promises to ensure a free press and bring Canada into line with international standards for the protection of journalist’s sources.

Despite the fall in RSF’s 2017 report, Canada remains one of the foremost nations for press freedom, maintaining a score of 18/100 (100 = least free) in the 2016 and 2017 Freedom House Freedom of the Press reports. Yet this should not, as the letter reminds us, allow for complacency or a maintenance of the status quo. As populism and authoritarianism grow worldwide Canada has an opportunity to demonstrate the democratic merits of a free press, especially in holding those in power to account on behalf of the public.

The letter was signed by 14 national and international NGOs including Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Unifor, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Canadian Media Guild.

Header image: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Credits: John McCallum/Creative Commons