Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers entered Vice Canada’s offices in Toronto and Montreal in February. The officers served Vice with a production order–similar to a search warrant–demanding “any notes and all records of communication” between Vice reporter Ben Makuch and an ISIL militant.
Makuch interviewed the Canadian ISIL militant, Farah Mohamed Shirdon, through Kik Messenger to get a better sense of ISIL’s inner workings. Shane Smith, a Vice co-founder, also had an exclusive Skype interview with Shirdon.
After the interview was published, the RCMP charged Shirdon with the “commission of an indictable offence for a terrorist group,” as well as five other charges. The raid on Vice offices was part of the “process to collect evidence in support of this criminal investigation,” according to RCMP Const. Annie Delisle.
Vice was unable to report on the incident until this week due to a sealing order from court, where the media organization is fighting for their right to avoid turning over documents to the RCMP. An article from Vice head of content Patrick McGuire states that “Vice is contesting the production and sealing orders in court, on the principles of protecting any and all sources, protecting freedom of the press and to avoid the situation wherein the Canadian news media becomes a veritable investigative arm of the law.”
The executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Tom Henheffer, defended Vice’s decision to fight the RCMP’s production order. “Journalists are not lackies for the police,” Henheffer said, “and to use us that way is a totally unjustifiable violation of free expression and privacy rights.” He added that “this sets a dangerous precedent for the free press in Canada that must not be repeated.”
McGuire and Henheffer are right: this is a blatant example of police forces unjustifiably throwing around their weight, damaging Canada’s autonomous journalism in the process. Despite this threat to Canadian journalism, which is now heightened since Bill C-51 was passed in June, there has been little response from traditional Canadian media outlets. No statements of support, editorials or even any opinion columns. The most that has come out of the event so far are articles rehashing the original Vice article announcing the ordeal.
This is a shame. An attack on Vice’s right to freedom of the press is an attack on the right to freedom of the press for all, and journalists must unite to oppose this governmental encroachment. Journalists can’t do journalism if they can’t protect their sources. Vice will be going to court on January 11 next year to fight the RCMP orders. In the meantime, journalists must raise their voice to defend Vice and, by extension, defend Canadian journalism.