Bloggers and Tweeters Are Different From MSM Says the SCC

Today’s decision in R. v. National Post, 2010 SCC 16 (CanLII) contains the following line from Binnie J for the majority (McLachlin C.J. and Binnie, Deschamps, Fish, Charron, Rothstein and Cromwell JJ.:

As recently pointed out in Grant v. Torstar Corp., 2009 SCC 61, [2009] 3 S.C.R. 640, the protection attaching to freedom of expression is not limited to the “traditional media”, but is enjoyed by “everyone” (in the words of s. 2(b) of the Charter) who chooses to exercise his or her freedom of expression on matters of public interest whether by blogging, tweeting, standing on a street corner and shouting the “news” at passing pedestrians or publishing in a national newspaper. To throw a constitutional immunity around the interactions of such a heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers and whichever “sources” they deem worthy of a promise of confidentiality and on whatever terms they may choose to offer it (or, as here, choose to amend it with the benefit of hindsight) would blow a giant hole in law enforcement and other constitutionally recognized values such as privacy.

Commentary from the Globe and Mail, National Post and CBC here.


  1. Relying on the fact that many different individuals can now communicate to a mass audience to deny any form of privilege to one part of society is simply lazy reasoning and a surprisingly weak argument for such an august tribunal.

    “Ill-defined”? Funny, I thought it was the court’s job to help set out the tests to allow us to ‘define’ these issues.

    Bottom line to court’s ruling: This interwebs stuff HURTZ MY BRAINZ!

  2. I must be having a bad interpretation day, because I read Binnie’s judgment as saying just the opposite: that one good reason for not recognizing a constitutional basis for any journalistic privilege is the breadth of journalistic activities today — the “blogging, tweeting, etc” references. We’re all journalists now. To sweep so many under the protection of the constitution would blow the doors off law enforcement.

    I read the rest of the judgment as fudging the issue of who is a “journalist.” That is, there’s no real attempt to define the words “journalist” and “media” that get used importantly within the rest of the analysis.

    But I’m happy to be shown how I’ve misread things. It is Friday, after all.

  3. Amateur opinion, but I read the above quote to mean MSM are no different from bloggers & tweeters, and shouldn’t be afforded any extra protection or privileges.

    If correct, that’s a pretty imposing albatross around the neck of anyone doing investigative reporting in this country.

  4. Just as a quick aside – I don’t want to weigh in on interpretation until I’ve read the entire decision – but is anyone else betting his clerk clued him in to the term “tweeting”?

  5. Fascinating to see how this was translated and that there’s a distinction between bloguant and microbloguant.

    Comme l’a récemment souligné la Cour dans Grant c. Torstar Corp., 2009 CSC 61 (CanLII), 2009 CSC 61, [2009] 3 R.C.S. 640, la protection accordée à la liberté d’expression ne se limite pas aux « médias traditionnels », mais elle est accordée à « chacun » (aux termes de l’al. 2b) de la Charte), soit à quiconque décide d’exercer sa liberté d’expression sur des questions d’intérêt public, que ce soit en bloguant ou en microbloguant, en criant les « nouvelles » aux passants ou en publiant un article dans un journal national. Conférer une immunité constitutionnelle aux interactions entre un groupe de rédacteurs et d’orateurs aussi hétérogène et mal défini et toute « source » que ces derniers estiment digne d’une promesse de confidentialité, assortie des conditions qu’ils déterminent (ou, comme en l’espèce, modifient par la suite), aurait pour effet de miner considérablement l’application de la loi et d’autres valeurs constitutionnelles, comme le respect de la vie privée.

  6. Lisa,
    I know for a fact that he was aware of the term before the judgment was released.
    See his Facebook fan page for details.

  7. I think what Justice Binnie was really getting at in not making the distinction between professional and non-professional writers was the fact that there is no central governing body in Canada which imposes uniform standards on all members. It seems that journalists come in all different forms and as a result the costs of giving them a constitutional protection as a privileged class would be too high.

    You can read my take on the matter here.

  8. Wendy Reynolds

    There was an interesting panel at the CALL conference on the use of social media in the courtroom. “Professional accreditation” for journalists was a concept that came up a couple of times. Unfortunately, we didn’t explore it in depth – there just wasn’t time. It is an issue that merits a lot more discussion.

  9. But have law librarians any special aptitude for discussing the accreditation of professional – or even respectable – journalists?