Canada | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status


Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Legislation forcing journalists to reveal their sources when pertinent to criminal cases continued to be enacted and to weaken press freedom in an otherwise vibrant and free media environment. Canada’s 1982 constitution provides protection for freedom of expression, including freedom of the press. The government may legally restrict free speech, however, with the aim of ending discrimination, ensuring social harmony, or promoting gender equality. While defamation remains a criminal offense, the Ontario Court of Appeals issued a groundbreaking decision in November to allow the press to use the defense of responsible public-interest journalism against libel and slander suits. The case had originally been filed by a police officer against the Ottawa Citizen in 2001. In another defamation case, in February 2007, an Ontario jury found that the Toronto Star had libeled businessman Peter Grant and awarded him C$1,475,000 in damages, the largest Canadian award to date against a news media defendant. Legislation on access to information guarantees journalists’ right to information, but in practice access can be hindered by bureaucratic delays, government interference, and numerous exemptions allowing government officials to reject requests. Following trends from recent years, the courts continued to invoke a 2004 law under which reporters can be forced to present documents to the police if it is deemed vital to a criminal case. In June, Ottawa Citizen reporter Gary Dimmock was ordered to produce his notes regarding allegations of bribery against Mayor Larry O’Brien. Ken Peters, a reporter for the Hamilton Spectator who was found in contempt of court in 2006, after being fined C$31,600 in 2004 for refusing to give up a confidential source, continued to appeal the decision in 2007. In a positive development in June, the Ontario Superior Court quashed a subpoena ordering author Derek Finkle to turn over the research materials used in his book on a recently reopened murder case. Similarly, the Quebec Labor Relations Board refused to force Karin Gagnon of Le Journal de Quebec to reveal confidential sources from a story on asbestos in government buildings.

Journalists in Canada are generally free from violence and harassment. However, Jawaad Faizi, a journalist for the Pakistan Post, was injured in April after two men wielding a cricket bat attacked him and his car and ordered him to stop writing critically about the Pakistan-based religious organization Idara Minhaj-ul-Quran and its leader. Press freedom advocates also grew concerned over legal cases filed against journalists who wrote critically about Muslims and Islam, fearing the suits would encourage self-censorship. In 2007, the Canadian Islamic Congress filed complaints with human rights commissions in Ontario and British Columbia against Maclean’s magazine and its editor in chief, charging that “The Future Belongs to Islam,” a 2006 article about global demographic trends by columnist Mark Steyn, subjected “Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt” and that the magazine had published a number of other articles that were Islamophobic in nature.

Both print and broadcast media, which include the public Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), are generally free to express diverse views. The CBC broadcasts in French and English and provides television and radio services for indigenous peoples. Broadcasting rules stipulate that 30–35 percent of material must be Canadian. The Broadcasting Act also prohibits programming that could potentially incite hatred or contempt toward any group. Allegations of self-censorship on the basis of economic interests arose in November, when the CBC canceled the showing of a documentary about the Falun Gong spiritual group after coming under pressure from the Chinese authorities. The film was aired several weeks later, but only after certain segments had been removed, including comments by a prominent Canadian lawyer comparing the 2008 Beijing Olympics with the 1936 Berlin Games. The extent of media concentration and the influence of powerful media conglomerates such as CanWest Global Communications continue to limit media pluralism. The internet is generally unrestricted and is used by roughly 22 million Canadians, or 65 percent of the population. Nevertheless, a number of individuals were fined in 2007 by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for hate messages posted on the internet.