Photo by BrianAJackson/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by BrianAJackson/iStock / Getty Images

TORONTO — Should journalists become an arm of the police?

It’s a contentious question — rekindled in recent weeks — at the centre of a public panel debate in Toronto May 14.

The State vs. Journalism will bring together the perspectives of a journalist subject to a court order to produce his research, a leading Canadian media lawyer who represents reporters in court and a prominent former Crown. They will debate the ethics, legality and public interest implications of police and courts demanding reporters produce confidential source information and research.

The event takes place at 7:30 pm, May 14, at the Duke of Westminster Pub at First Canadian Place, 77 Adelaide St. W, Toronto.

Panelists will include: Ben Makuch, reporter with Vice Media, Ian Smith, former Crown attorney and criminal defense lawyer at Fenton, Smith Barristers and Iris Fischer, media lawyer at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP. Jonathan Kay, editor-in-chief of Walrus magazine, will be the moderator.

The debate is presented by Veritas (, a newly-minted, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing journalism in the public interest. It is a marquee event in a major investigative journalism conference in Toronto that weekend.

Investigative Journalism Across Borders happens May 14 and 15 at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, bringing together journalists from Canada and the U.S for engaging discussions of investigative reporting, interviewing, data journalism and more. It is presented jointly with the U.S.-based Investigative Reporters and Editors (

Sessions take place at the Rogers Communications Centre at 80 Gould St.

The conference is open to anyone and costs $55 USD and $25 USD for students for the two days.

In March, an Ontario judge ordered Makuch to surrender screenshots of communications he had with a former Canadian resident charged with terrorism offences. Vice has been fighting the order.

Last month, the Canada Revenue Agency asked CBC News and Toronto Star to give it access to documents from the so-called Panama Papers leak of data on offshore tax havens, to use in possible investigations. Both news organizations have refused.

For journalists, the argument is simple. Once you start handing over confidential documents and revealing confidential sources, your sources will dry up, and the public will lose access to crucial information.

Others believe the greater public interest is in catching and jailing those who would do us harm. Police and prosecutors often argue that when journalists possess evidence that could nail terrorists or other criminals, they have a moral if not legal responsibility to hand it over.

Who is right?

Come listen to both sides and decide for yourself.

You can find more information at and

Sponsors for Investigative Journalism Across Borders are: The Toronto Star, Global News 16×9, CBC News, CTV News, Google, the Walrus Foundation, The Working Group, Ryerson University School of Journalism and the University of King’s College School of Journalism.


Robert Cribb

President, Veritas – Advancing Journalism in the Public Interest