02/15/2017 13:53 EST | Updated 02/16/2018 00:12 EST

Media bosses lend support to Senate bill to protect confidential sources

OTTAWA — Major media outlets are offering their support to a senator's bill that would provide greater protection to the confidential sources of journalists.

The legislation, introduced by Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan, would also ensure that any search warrant related to a journalist could only be issued by a judge of a superior court, not a justice of the peace or a magistrate.

It also says that the judge must be satisfied that there is no other way by which the desired information can reasonably be obtained and that the public interest outweighs the journalist's right to privacy.

The legislation comes after the revelation last fall that Quebec police spied on six journalists as part of an investigation in 2013.

Representatives of the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, La Presse, Le Devoir and the CBC have told a Senate committee that they would like the bill to allow journalists or a special advocate to challenge warrant requests before a judge.

They say warrants are too often issued without question by judges who hear only police submissions.

"We propose that before a ruling is made, the journalist involved should be able to articulate why, in some instances, the public interest might be better served by protecting the source than it would be by sharing the source with law enforcement," said Jennifer McGuire, editor-in-chief for CBC News.

Michael Cooke, editor of the Toronto Star, said there is an "uneasy understanding" between police and journalists.

"For most of the time, we are driving towards the same common ideals," Cooke said. "In our own ways, we both seek the truth and we both seek to expose wrongdoing."

Canada is one of the few western democracies without a shield law for journalists and that should be remedied, he added.

The Quebec revelations didn't deal with major crimes, Cooke pointed out.

"All of those investigations were carried out with the sole purpose of identifying whistleblowers, or even stopping simple internal leaks from the police force, and that's alarming."