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Editorial: Protecting sources?

Much coverage has been dedicated to the trouble the journalism industry has endured in the last decade.

And yet, there are bright spots. One sunny note is Bill S-231, in the wake of revelations from Quebec that Montreal police were spying on journalists.

As Law Times reports this week, lawyers who act for journalists would be impacted by the bill, if passed, because it ensures that only Superior Court judges can issue warrants against journalists, and it shifts the burden of proof so that the party seeking disclosure must prove why they need to compel the information from a journalist instead of the current laws, where journalists must prove why their sources should be protected.

It also includes a new provision that would require a special advocate be consulted before judges issue warrants for journalists’ materials.

The truth is that, in an era when many journalists have no access to legal advice or guidance (particularly with the growth of online publications), by the time a controversy erupts over handing over information to police, all the players involved have lost.

Journalists lose because they must burn time and resources, in an age where both are precious, on a legal battle.

Police lose because going after journalists for their materials — publicly or quietly — will not win any public opinion points in a battle with the people who write the narrative.

While reporters get bylines, the true heroes of the battle for protection of anonymous sources are legal eagles doing quiet work to make sure the law is designed to protect those brave enough to come forward.

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