The Supreme Court of Canada will make the final ruling on whether a Radio-Canada reporter must reveal her sources for stories that helped blow the lid on Quebec’s corruption scandal and led to fraud charges against the province’s former deputy premier. The case will be the high court’s first test of Ottawa’s 2017 Journalistic Sources Protection Act.
The court announced Thursday it will hear the case of reporter Marie-Maude Denis versus former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister and fundraiser Marc-Yvan Côté on an expedited basis. The fraud trial of Mr. Côté, former Liberal deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau and four others is on hold while the source-protection case is being resolved. No date for a hearing has been set.
Ms. Denis, the public broadcaster and other journalism organizations welcomed the news that the highest court would take on the case after two lower court decisions earlier this year gave the federal law to protect journalistic sources, passed last October, wildly different interpretations.
“We’re exploring new legal ground here and it desperately needs to be clarified,” said Stéphane Giroux, head of the Quebec federation of professional journalists. “With the Supreme Court to hear the case we will now have a judgment to set the boundaries for what the shield law is all about.”
In April, 2012, Ms. Denis and Radio-Canada broadcast a report describing a scheme to influence the awarding of public contracts involving Liberal politicians and fundraisers, municipal officials and engineering and construction firms in the Montreal bedroom community of Boisbriand. The report was based on evidence that was part of a confidential Sûreté du Québec investigation, and was among the first of allegations of corruption in the province that would lead to a public inquiry and scores of criminal cases.
Some five years later, after numerous additional damaging leaks, Mr. Côté’s lawyer Jacques Larochelle argued in pretrial motions that the flow of information through anonymous sources demonstrated an orchestrated police campaign to harm the Liberal government and polish the image of UPAC, the anti-corruption police force, that harmed his client’s right to a fair trial. He asked to question Ms. Denis along with journalist Louis Lacroix who obtained leaked police information in 2016.
Quebec Court trial judge André Perreault ruled the journalists would not have to testify, saying the information sought by the accused was irrelevant to their guilt or innocence.
The defence appealed the case and, in March, Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean-François Émond ordered Ms. Denis to submit to questioning in order to establish whether the state intentionally leaked information that damaged the fair trial rights of the accused.
“It’s the only way the accused can establish the leaks were orchestrated by the state and not by one dishonest individual," the judge wrote, adding ”the accused were tried in public opinion before getting their day in court. The consequences [of the leaks] for the accused are cruel.
“By refusing to have Ms. Denis testify, we would be closing our eyes to systemic police misconduct that could erode the justice system and contribute to an injustice.”
Mr. Lacroix did not have to testify, the judge found, because he did not know the identity of his confidential source.
The Quebec Court of Appeal passed on hearing the case, saying the Supreme Court would have to rule anyway because it is the first application of the law to protect journalistic sources.