Federal Court

Charter of Rights

Denial of media’s access to inmate for purpose of interview was reasonable

Application by three media companies for judicial review of decision of prison warden who refused their request to interview inmate named OK. Applicants created joint enterprise for purpose of interviewing OK to produce documentary film about his story. Request was denied because it would result in significant disruptions to institution and it would endanger its security. Inmates would have to be confined to their living units for duration of interview and this would affect work, school and other program routines and if interview was conducted outside business hours it would disrupt inmates’ access to leisure activities. This could spark unrest among inmate population. OK kept low profile at institution but release of interview would result in additional security concerns within institution and safety concerns for OK. At issue were rights of applicants to freedom of expression under s. 2(b) of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and public’s right to know. Application dismissed. Decision to deny applicants’ access to OK for purpose of interview was reasonable and sufficient reasons were provided for that decision. Right to freedom of expression was not absolute and it was subject to reasonable limits. In context of penitentiary this right had to be balanced against need to protect security of institution and safety of persons, which included staff, prison population and any particular inmate. Penitentiaries were heavily restricted environments and members of public could only enter to visit inmates under very strict conditions. Penitentiary was not place where public had expectation of exercising its right to freedom of expression. Warden was called upon to balance freedom of expression against security and safety imperatives. She had experience and expertise to make such discretionary decisions and her decision was owed significant deference.

Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. Warden of Bowden Institution (Feb. 13, 2015, F.C., Richard G. Mosley J., File No. T-1651-14) 119 W.C.B. (2d) 465.

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