Attacks on the Press   |   Canada

Attacks on the Press 2001: Canada

Press freedom is generally respected in Canada, and CPJ does not routinely monitor conditions in the country. However, police harassment of journalists covering demonstrations; investigations into past violent attacks against journalists; and proposed anti-terrorism legislation were all issues of concern last year.


Continuing a trend seen in 2000, police harassed journalists covering protests. Several were detained during the April 20-22 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, including Charles East, a U.S. photographer for the Sipa Agency covering the summit for Time magazine who was arrested on April 20 and held for three days. Police reportedly mistook the journalist, who was accredited and wearing a helmet that identified him as a member of the press, for a demonstrator who had thrown stones at an officer. Photographer Louise Bilodeau of the Stock and Clix agencies and the magazine L'actualité was briefly arrested on April 21, according to the Paris-based press freedom organization Reporters sans frontières.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) reported that on June 24, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers confiscated video footage and other material from Todd Lamirande, correspondent of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in Kamloops, British Columbia. Lamirande was covering a protest against the development of a ski resort that turned into a clash between the protesters and local supporters of the project. After the journalist refused to hand over his footage, RCMP officers seized Lamirande's vehicle with all its contents, including his videotapes. The officers kept the tapes until they had made copies, CJFE said.

A disturbing episode occurred in British Columbia on November 25, when RCMP officers apparently posed as a film crew to capture an escaped convict who had given media interviews while on the loose. According to various press reports, the fugitive was led to believe he was meeting a film crew that was doing a documentary on his life.

There were several developments during the year in the investigation of the September 13, 2000, shooting of journalist Michel Auger. A veteran crime reporter with the French-language daily Le Journal de Montréal, Auger had investigated the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang and the local Mafia. On May 30, a couple was arrested for allegedly providing the gang with confidential information about the journalist. Auger, who has fully recovered from the attack, told CPJ that the two suspects are scheduled to appear in court in early 2002. Meanwhile, Michel Vezina, who was arrested in November 2000 and charged with supplying the pistol used in the shooting, was sentenced on September 28 to almost five years in prison.

Alarm over increased biker-gang intimidation led the Canadian government to pass a last-minute amendment to anti-gang legislation that mandates severe penalties for violence, surveillance, threats, or harassment against journalists, Auger said.

But journalist organizations expressed alarm at anti-terrorist legislation passed by both Canada's House of Commons and the Senate. CJFE has harshly criticized a section allowing law enforcement officials to hold investigative hearings aimed at preventing terrorist acts, noting that journalists who contact known or suspected terrorists for information could be compelled to testify about conversations with them.

Another worrisome section proposes allowing the Defense Department's Communications Security Establishment to monitor communications between Canadians and foreign entities. CJFE contends that the new law is far too broad and will leave journalists who contact foreign sources unable to assure them confidentiality.

Violence against the press is relatively rare in Canada. As in the United States, however, immigrant journalists face special risks. The November 1998 killing of Tara Singh Hayer, publisher of Canada's largest and oldest Punjabi-language weekly Indo-Canadian Times, remains unsolved. Hayer, who was an outspoken critic of Sikh fundamentalist violence both in Canada and India, was left partially paralyzed after a previous assassination attempt.

In October 2000, the RCMP arrested two men in connection with the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182, which killed 329 people. One of the two, Ajaib Singh Bagri, was also charged with the attempted murder of Hayer. On April 10 of this year, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld a decision denying Bagri bail. The trial will likely begin in September 2002.

CJFE and the writers' group PEN Canada reported that Tahir Aslam Gora, editor and publisher of the Urdu-language weekly Watan, has been threatened by several extremist members of the Toronto Muslim community since early 2001, when Gora wrote a piece about Muslim women's rights.



Published

Like this article? Support our work