Calling for a shield law so journalists can protect their sources

Across our chain today, I write:

Journalists in Canada have no legal right to protect their sources.

We were reminded of that last week, while Harper was in Europe, when the Supreme Court of Canada made a trio of rulings that, in effect, gave reporters working in Quebec a limited right to protect their confidential sources.

Had the court ruled otherwise, Globe and Mail reporter Daniel Leblanc would have had the difficult choice of going to jail or turning over in a civil trial the name of a confidential source that helped him blow open the Liberal sponsorship scandal.

But the same Supreme Court ruled in May that my QMI Agency colleague Andrew McIntosh had to turn over a key source that he used to uncover the Chretien Shawinigate scandal in 2001.

Leblanc, McIntosh and dozens of other journalists in Canada need to be able to protect their sources if they are to shine light into the state’s dark corners.

Many U.S. states — though, notably, not the U.S. federal government — now have something called a “shield” law for journalists that helps them do this, giving journalists the legal right to shield sources from a prying court.

In Canada, there are no shield laws and, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling last week, there are still no guarantees a journalist won’t face jail time if he or she is determined to shield a source.

That ought to change. Our federal government could become a global leader in advancing freedom of the press by introducing a responsible shield law to protect journalists serving the public interest…

Read the full column.

And, for a fascinating discussion on the issue of shield laws and some of the moral and legal issues when journalists are confronted with competing interests (i.e. protecting sources vs obeying court orders), I highly recommend Norman Pearlstine's Off the Record. Pearlstine, a former Wall Street Journal chief,  was the top editorial executive at Time Inc. when one of his reporters was ordered by a court to turn over notes related to whole Scooter Libby affair. Pearlstine at first is ready to risk hundreds of thousands of dollars of Time Inc. assets to protect a journalist's sources but eventaully comes around to the view that the right thing to do is, in fact, turn over the notes. He does so reluctantly, arguing that, at the end of the day, a journalism organization must obey the law if it is to have credibility when it lectures others to do so. But that doesn't mean the law is right and Pearlstine makes the case for some changes to the law — bring in some shield laws — but he also takes a hard look at the practice of journalism and finds that journalists, if they are to find some legal protection, must do more to earn that protection. Here, in fact, is his excellent “Editorial Guidelines” on the use of anonymous sources.

Harper in Lviv, Ukraine: "Remember that in Canada, you have friends"

Here is the a lightly-edited (I have trimmed a bit and added links and bold-face) speech Prime Minister Stephen Harper was to give a thte Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine on the last day of his five-day trip to Europe:

“There are strong people-people links between our two countries.

“Ukrainians have been emigrating to Canada for more than 100 years and one and a quarter million Canadians have Ukrainian roots.  That’s about 4 per cent of the total population.  And that percentage is much higher on the Canadian prairies where I reside.  It’s a part of Canada that looks like parts of Ukraine and where you would recognize many of the surnames, as you would for members of the distinguished Ukrainian delegation that is travelling with me here.

“So this is like a homecoming for them.  And of course everywhere we go, we are seeing that wonderful hospitality for which Ukrainians are rightly famous.

“Now we’ve had some productive talks with your government.  I will come to one part of those discussions that may be of particular interest to you a little later.  But before that, I’m really here to speak to you about some other things, deeply important things, values and principles that Canada and Ukraine share.

“When Ukraine first declared independence in 1991, the first western country to recognize your status as a sovereign independent country was Canada.  And you might ask why were we so quick to do that?  What was the hurry?  For we didn’t wait very long.  You affirmed your independence on December 1st.  On December 2nd, we recognized your government and your statehood.  Even before, in fact, the Soviet Union had officially ceased to exist.

“Why? Now, some of you here certainly won’t remember the Cold War.  But I can tell you, certainly tell those of us who do, we heaved an enormous sigh of relief when Soviet communism was finally and irrefutably discredited.  The communist ideology had purported to be the cure for all that ails humanity.  It had just one problem.  Before it could work its miracles, it had to jail or kill every living soul who disagreed.  And so millions were murdered and millions more were starved.  It is a past that must not be forgotten, that must never be swept under the carpet.

“Yesterday, I (see PMO photo on this page) visited the Holodomor memorial.

“Holodomor was of course officially recognized as a genocide by Canada’s parliament two years ago, largely thanks to the work of my caucus colleagues, in particular James Bezan, who in fact introduced the legislation.  Now as you know, almost as many Ukrainians died in the Holodomor during the 1930s as there were Canadians alive at that time. To contemplate an act of malevolence on that scale truly focuses one’s mind on the nature of this evil.  So much for communism’s supposed ideals.

“Of course through it all for years, for decades, thousands of Ukrainian Canadians demonstrated at every reasonable opportunity to raise awareness in the west of Soviet oppression.  They did so because they knew all too well that their brethren back in Ukraine had no such freedom.  And among the leaders of this Ukrainian Canadian vanguard was a parliamentarian from Toronto, named Yuri Shimko, a descendant of Ivan Franko who I know is revered in this city and throughout western Ukraine.

“So, yes, Canadians did rejoice when we saw that ideology of Soviet communism consigned to history’s scrap heap.  And when Ukraine reclaimed its freedom, we were more than ready to reach out to those who had lived under communism for all those horrible years.

“Besides the bonds of kinship that exist between Canada and Ukraine, there are important values and principles to promote.  As Canadians, we believe that a government must work in the interests of its people, not the other way around.  We believe that countries which respect the rights of their own people are more likely to respect the rights of other nations and to be good world citizens.

“And we believe that countries where citizens know what their governments are doing and can hold them accountable are less likely to make war on their neighbours than those were power is the possession of an exclusive ruling class responsible to nobody.  There are exceptions.  There have been exceptions.  There always will be. But the exceptions of anything prove the general rule.  If peace is your goal, then a free and democratic society is the way to go.

“Therefore, the cornerstone of Canada’s foreign policy is the promotion of such values: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and all the institutions that come with them: property rights, an impartial judiciary, and above all, freedom of expression and a free press. The freedom for which Gongadze became a hero.

“In fact, we do not believe that you can have any one of these things: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, without the others.  But the first is freedom.  So that when Ukraine rejoined the brotherhood of the free, we in Canada were among the first to cheer.

“And we have tried to be more than mere spectators.  As a friend of Ukraine, we have done a few things intended to widen your road to democratic reform.  These have been both done at the governmental level and informally through community and trade organizations.  First was the establishment of embassies and consulates immediately after Ukrainian independence.  It tells you something about your Canadian cousins, that when the Ukrainian embassy opened in Ottawa, the cost of it was largely covered by the Ukrainian-Canadian community, a great example of how active that community is.

“Since then there have been high-level delegations travelling back and forth, visits to Ukraine by three of our governors general, and twice to Canada by your own presidents.

“And I am proud to point out that Canadians have repeatedly participated as observers in Ukrainian elections in 2004, 2006, 2007 and again this year.

“Canadians are happy to assist with elections because it is in the choosing of the government by the governed that freedom becomes more than just a word.

“There have been many government contacts at an operational level and the Canadian International Development Agency has assisted with programs to encourage small business.  In fact today we are announcing six more projects to foster growth and boost grain exports.  And of historic importance, we are now working with your government towards a Canada-Ukraine free-trade agreement.  Our economies complement each other in several ways and it should be possible to lever our historic and linguistic ties to stimulate trade investment and job creation.

“Trade builds prosperity for everyone and it presents particularly great opportunities for young people such as yourselves who have a global perspective. I said earlier there was something in the current rounds of talks with your government that should be of particular interest to this audience.  For many years, our two countries have had a program through which as many as 50 Ukrainian university students a year come to Canada to work as interns in our parliament to see how our parliament works.  I’m happy to tell you that yesterday, we took that idea much further and way beyond the confines of government.

“Yesterday, our government signed a youth mobility agreement so that young Canadians and young Ukrainians will find it easier to travel between our two countries and work in each other’s. Obviously as Canadians we want to keep strong and vital the close relationship that we have with the Ukraine.  We would love to see lots of you come to Canada, both for work and to have some fun.  All we ask is that while you are in Canada, to teach us more about your Ukraine and make sure you share your Canadian experiences with your friends.  Tweet about what you see, post the best of your photos of Canada on Facebook.  You can help all of us to become better friends.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, I just want to conclude with this.  Your country has been in transition for 20 years.  Just as nobody could have predicted the past two decades, no one can say what the future holds.  But it is a great time to be alive.

“In fact, as I look about me, I am reminded of a fragment of poetry.  Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.  For ultimately what your country becomes, how it responds to the turns of future history and how you live as citizens, all this will be up to you and your generation.  You have great things ahead of you, great things to decide.  A whole destiny to shape.

“I would therefore say this not only to you but to all the fine young people of Ukraine.

“As you set about your life’s work, remember that in Canada, you have friends.  Friends who respect and admire Ukraine’s heart for freedom, its spirit of national self-determination, and the courage of its people, a courage that has never deserted you, even in the darkest nights of your long history.

“As Shevchenko wrote, and I quote: ‘Strive and you will triumph for God is on your side. The rewards are glory, truth, and that most sacred of things, freedom.’

“I look forward to meeting all of you and I wish all of you good luck in your future.  Slava Ukraini! Slava Canada!”


Max Boot on Afghanistan: The Case for Optimism

Max Boot, the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, does not believe that negotiations between some Taliban leaders and NATO forces, under way now in Afghanistan will come to much. In fact, as he writes in a recent essay, he believes there is reason to be optimistic about the U.S. military surge in that country. Some excerpts:

Nobody should be under any illusions that such efforts will transform Afghanistan into Switzerland. But that isn't the goal. Afghans, like residents of Illinois and New Jersey, will tolerate a certain degree of corruption. What they won't accept is the brazen, unconstrained thievery practiced by all too many government officials today, who demand a bribe to perform the simplest service, whether allowing a motorist to pass a checkpoint or a farmer to file a legal grievance against an interloper who has stolen his land. Bribes are also necessary to secure many government jobs—which in turn necessitates that officials collect more bribes to pay for the cost of office. A recent survey of 6,500 Afghans by the international group Integrity Watch Afghanistan found that 70 percent perceive corruption as a problem and that 50 percent “consider that corruption fosters the expansion of the Taliban.” The figures are even higher in Kandahar and other areas where, no coincidence, the Taliban have displayed the most strength …

If coalition forces, working with honest Afghans (yes, they do exist), can reduce the overall level of corruption, they can do much to reduce the insurgency's appeal. As things stand, the Taliban posture, rather hypocritically, as the incorruptible guardians of Islamic virtue fighting against the crooks who dominate the current government and against the foreign soldiers who are seen as their enablers. Reduce the level of corruption and popular anger will be directed where it belongs—against the Taliban, with their unpopular, antediluvian ideology and history of brutal, horrifying violence.

The idea that we can strike an acceptable deal with the Taliban—one of the most popular Plan B's under discussion—is especially far-fetched. While talks are evidently going on between representatives of President Hamid Karzai and elements of the Taliban leadership, there is scant cause to think that the insurgents are willing to give up their arms or to become a peaceful opposition party. As CIA director Leon Panetta said on June 28: “We have seen no evidence that they are truly interested in reconciliation where they would surrender their arms, where they would denounce al-Qaeda, where they would really try to become part -of that society.”

… Some rural Pashtuns might see a return of the Taliban as an acceptable alternative to the kind of predatory misrule they suffer from today. But such a deal would be significantly less appealing for the vast majority of Afghans who take for granted freedoms that the Taliban would quickly quash—freedoms like flying kites, listening to music, and educating their daughters.

David Cole: What to Do About Guantánamo?

This morning, at his trial at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Station, Canadian Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder, supporting terrorism, conspiracy and spying.

Meanwhile, there is this essay from David Cole, a long-time critic of the Guantanamo process. He is reviewing:

The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law
edited by Mark P. Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz
NYU Press, 420 pp., $32.95

Because It Is Wrong: Torture, Privacy and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror
by Charles Fried and Gregory Fried
Norton, 222 pp., $24.95

The Guantánamo Review Task Force Final Report

And writes:

“..what the island symbolizes for the rest of the world: a monument to lawlessness, a prison erected for detaining, interrogating, and brutalizing suspected terrorists without having to account for their status, condition, or treatment to anyone—not to the detainees themselves, their families, their countries of origin, the courts, or the American people. As originally conceived by the Bush administration, Guantánamo was a hole into which suspects would for all practical purposes disappear, never to be heard from again.”



One of the most moving entries in The Guantánamo Lawyers is an account by Muneer Ahmad of his Canadian client Omar Khadr’s decision to fire him. Lawyers, Ahmad argues, take a long view, recognizing that what is ultimately at issue is a struggle to change cultural understandings and assumptions. For the detainees, however, kept isolated for years on end at Guantánamo, such change is altogether too abstract. Still, Ahmad insists,

It would be a mistake to say that Omar was concerned merely with short-term relief…while we were concerned with the long-term goal of his release. The difference between us was rather more profound and concerned competing judgments about how best to achieve the long-term goal. In the beginning of our relationship, Omar gave law, and us, the benefit of the doubt. But over time, he…came to see law as the government’s tool of oppression rather than his and the other detainees’ instrument for liberation.


Leading A1: Refugee fraudsters; Williams confession; dumpster baby

A1 Headlines and Political Daybook



Refugee fraudsters; Williams confession; dumpster baby; get an audio summary of what's topping the front pages of Thursday's papers across the country by clicking on the “AudioBoo” link (left).

You can also get these audio summaries automatically every day via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at Look in the top right corner of the “Boos” box.

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Tony Clement on Potash deal: Not a lot Ottawa is saying

On their way into the weekly caucus meeting this morning on Parliament Hill, I tried to canvas as many Saskatchewan Conservative MPs to see what they're making of the latest headlines out of their province on the Potash Corp. deal. Australian mining giant BHP Billiton has made a hostile $38.6 billion bid for Potash. The front page of this morning's Regina Leader-Post has a story that suggests the province of Saskatchewan – whose premier Brad Wall is pretty close to Prime Minister Stephen Harper — will ask the feds to quash the deal because the province is concerned about losing billions in royalty revenue.

BHP Billiton subsequently responded with a statement saying that it was prepared to respond to Saskatchewan's concerns.

The issue is problematic for the federal Conservatives. Politically, they'd probaby want to help a friendly provincial government in Regina.

But philosophically, the Conservatives would have to bend themselves into pretzels to justify blocking foreign investment that has nothing to do with national security (then Industry Minister Jim Prentice blocked the MDA deal largely on national security grounds).

Saskatchewan MPs and senators I spoke to on the way into caucus didn't really want to talk much about the issue.

But Industry Minister Tony Clement — whose department will recommend a thumbs up or thumbs down on the deal by Nov. 4 — did stand and deliver though, by his own admission, he really can't deliver much. Here's what he told reporters:

“I’m going to have to rely on what I’ve said in the past. We’re taking a serious look at the situation. It’s a serious process to review the bid in all of its details and that’s what we’re doing. And the test that we use is net benefit to Canada. And that’s the test that we’ll applying in this case.”

“Of course, we’re in contact with the government of Saskatchewan. They’re a key player in this. We’re in contact with the bidder. We, of course, do our analysis through the departmental analysts as well so all of the gets put in the hopper, no question.”

“It’s difficult for me to get into any detail with you. I know it’s your job to try to get more detail and I respect that, of course. But my job is to make sure that whatever decision we make is bulletproof. I can’t do the dance of the seven veils before the decision is made. The process has to be a pristine process. “

Leading A1: Calgary's Muslim mayor; Falun Gong win; the Belleville trial

A1 Headlines and Political Daybook


Dominique Michel

Calgary's Muslim mayor; Falun Gong win; the Belleville trial; get an audio summary of what's topping the front pages of papers across the country by clicking on the “AudioBoo” link (left).

You can also get these audio summaries automatically every day via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at Look in the top right corner of the “Boos” box.

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Bob Rae: Every other Canadian PM had no problem with secret ballots

In his first public comments after he became the first prime minister in Canadian history to lose a bid to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had this to say:

Our engagement internationally is based on the principles that this country holds dear; it is not based on popularity.  We take our positions based on the promotion of our values, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, justice, development, human…humanitarian assistance for those who need it.  Those are the things we’re pursuing.  That does not change, regardless of what the outcome of secret votes is.

Canada, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, had commitments, in writing or verbally, from 150 of the 192 countries at the United Nations that they would vote for Canada. Close to 40 broke their word as Canada never got more than 114 ballots in two rounds of secret balloting. And its the secrecy of those votes — ambassadors, presumably, could ignore directions from their own governments and vote however they pleased — that the Conservatives have seized on after losing the vote.

Bob Rae, the Liberal MP and his party's foreign affairs critic, has now seized on the secrecy:

I know very well that the kind of ballot that Mr. Harper would prefer would be somebody whispering their choice in his ear.  But that isn’t going to happen.  We have secret ballots.  We’ve had secret ballots at the UN since 1945.  Mr. St. Laurent managed to win it.  Mr. Diefenbaker managed to win it.  Mr. Trudeau managed to win it.  Mr. Mulroney managed to win it.  Mr. Chrétien managed to win it.  And Mr. Harper didn’t. And he can’t – all of his defences in the world can’t get around it.

Then the final defence is what I call the Groucho Marx defence. The Groucho Marx defence is “If that clubs wants me as a member – it doesn’t want me as a member, I wouldn’t want to be a member of it anyway.”  So it’s just – we’re getting to a ludicrous point.  Let’s just deal with the facts.  We lost the vote because Canada’s voice was not heard in the right ways at the right time, because Canada’s presence was not felt in the right way at the right time.  That’s why we lost the vote and Canadians I don’t think are happy about that but there’s no point in underestimating the importance of what happened


Leading A1: Waiting for a killer; V-day in Alberta; no male teachers

Rob Ford

A1 Headlines and Political Daybook

Waiting for a killer; V-day in Alberta; no male teachers : Get a five-minute audio summary of what's on Monday's front pages of papers across the country by clicking on the link below.


You can also get these audio summaries automatically every day via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at Look in the top right corner of the “Boos” box.

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National Digital Libraries: Where are they?

Robert Darnton, the director of the Harvard University Library, is making a pitch for the U.S. to create a National Digital Library, “that is, a comprehensive library of digitized books that will be easily accessible to the general public.”

“All sorts of initiatives that could be useful and instructive in the creation of a National Digital Library,” Darnton says. “Think of HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, the [Canadian] Knowledge Commons Initiative, the California Digital Library, the Digital Library Federation, the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, and other nonprofit enterprises.”

But Darnton also said this:

”Virtually every developed country has launched some kind of national digital library, and many developing countries are doing the same.”


Would love to know what they are. What, for instance, is Canada's national digital library? Many might point to Collections Canada, the site maintained by Library And Archives Canada, the federal government institution. And there's the Bilbiothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec. But neither is really, as Darnton defines it in his essay, “a comprehensive library of digitized books that will be easily accessible to the general public.”

My Twitter friend Alison Loat helpful points out that there is an initiative underway in Ontario to get an Ontario Digital Library a la Darnton up and running.

Anyhow: I've asked my Facebook friends and my Twitter tweeps if they have some examples of national digital libraries. I'll post links here if I can find 'em.