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A Quebec Court judge indirectly made history this week when he tossed out an application to compel reporters to reveal their sources as part of a legal wrangle over the trial of five former Quebec Liberal politicians and operatives.

André Perreault's decision was based on a new federal law that protects journalists' sources. It is the first time the law has been tested in court, and it passed with flying colours.

The decision affirms the precedent set in a landmark 2010 Supreme Court ruling involving Globe and Mail reporter Daniel Leblanc, who successfully fought efforts to reveal a key source behind his groundbreaking work on the federal sponsorship scandal.

In this instance, lawyers for former Quebec deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau and five co-accused argued that a campaign of orchestrated leaks, ostensibly from within the provincial anti-corruption police force, had made a fair trial impossible.

As part of their pre-trial bid to quash the charges, they sought to question Radio-Canada investigative journalist Marie-Maude Denis and Cogeco reporter Louis Lacroix under oath as to how they obtained those leaks.

It was a fishing expedition, designed to root out the reporters' sources. Judge Perreault quite rightly nixed it, saying "the parties did not demonstrate that the administration of justice supersedes the public's interest in preserving journalistic sources."

The ruling reaffirms the importance of protecting reporters' sources. Journalism serves the public interest by allowing the public to hold our institutions to account. Investigative reporting often relies on whistleblowers, who must be protected if we hope to maintain a healthy democracy.

Recent history shows the forces of officialdom, like those in this case, can become more preoccupied with ferreting out whistleblowers than fixing any problems brought to light. This judgment should help them focus their priorities.

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