Toronto, Canada, is seen on April 23, 2020. Journalists at the Toronto-based Canadaland outlet were recently targeted by a private investigation firm. (AFP/Emma McIntyre)

Canadian private investigative firm compiled reports on journalists

Information and Systems Networks Corporation (ISN), a Canadian private investigative firm, conducted background checks on two journalists at the behest of a law firm, according to one of the journalists, Jesse Brown, the publisher of the Canadaland news website and podcast, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview and shared one page of the background check report on Twitter on July 2, 2020.

The investigation targeted Brown and Jaren Kerr, a reporter who previously worked at Canadaland.

The page published on Twitter includes information about Brown and his wife and children, including speculation on the school his children attend. 

Kerr told CPJ in an emailed statement that he does not know what information, if any, the security firm obtained about him or his family. 

“Details about our families have nothing to do with our work,” Kerr wrote. 

The leaked page stated that the investigative firm received a request to conduct a “discreet” background check on the journalists from Peter Downard, a lawyer with Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP.

Brown told CPJ that he obtained that page of the report from a confidential source who used to work at WE Charity, an international development organization that has previously employed Fasken Martineau DuMoulin as its law firm. 

In 2018, Canadaland published a series of investigative articles about WE Charity, including allegations that the organization promoted products made with child labor. At the time, the organization stated it was determined to end child labor.

Since those reports were published, Downard and other lawyers acting on behalf of WE Charity have filed multiple notices threatening libel action against Canadaland, according to copies of the notices published on the charity’s website. They have not filed any lawsuits against the news outlet, according to Brown.

Both Canadaland and WE Charity are headquartered in Toronto, according to their websites.

In a letter WE Charity sent to Canadaland in January 2019, the organization threatened to pursue a libel case against the news outlet in Manitoba province. Manitoba does not have anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) regulations, which restrict entities’ abilities to pursue lawsuits that may result in censorship, according to reports.

CPJ emailed WE Charity, Downard, and Information and Systems Networks Corporation for comment, but did not receive any responses.