News media challenge news blackout

MARCH 2008
Posted March 12, 2008

“Toronto 17”

Several news organizations have asked a Canadian appeals court to overturn a publication, broadcast, and Internet ban imposed on the ongoing bail hearings of 17 suspects accused of alleged terrorist activities concerning the Canadian capital of Toronto. Authorities announced the arrest of the suspects, since known as the “Toronto 17,” in June 2006 after they allegedly tried to obtain 3 tons of ammonium nitrate, according to The Associated Press. Since then, five of the suspects have been freed on bail. But a Canadian court ordered news organizations not to report why they were released or any other details of the bail hearings.

Canadian Criminal Code includes a provision requiring that media bans be imposed automatically by a court presiding over a bail hearing upon the request of an accused person. National and international news organizations including The Toronto Star, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CTVglobemedia, Inc.—Canada’s largest multimedia company and private broadcaster—and The Associated Press have esach appealed the blackout before the Ontario Court of Appeal. The news organizations have argued, according to The Toronto Star, that the ban violates the clause in the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that explicitly includes “freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

Canada’s superior courts, however, have previously upheld the ban. In 1984, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that imposed a news blackout on a bail hearing for a defendant who faced criminal charges, according to The Toronto Star, over the cocaine-related death of the U.S. comedian John Belushi. Today, most of the lawyers for the suspects known as the “Toronto 17” want the ban to remain in place, according to The Associated Press.