DENIS v. CÔTÉ 2019 SCC 44

A journalist can only be compelled to disclose a confidential source if it is indispensable and in the public interest outweighing the interest in protecting the same.

Mr. Côté, a former Quebec politician, was arrested in 2016, on allegations corresponding to corruption from 2000-2012. Ms. Denis, a journalist with Radio-Canada, gave four television reports on his probable corruption from 2012-16. The reports had sensitive information from a classified source.

According to Mr. Côté the charges were an ‘abuse of process’. He demanded a stay of proceedings, i.e. a suspension of charges (permanent). According to him, if he learns Ms. Denis’s sources, he could distinguish who was accountable for disclosure. Subsequently, he could prove that the government was injuring his case, which would vindicate staying the case. Mr. Côté got a legal order to cause Ms. Denis to disclose the sources to which she declined, stating that she was unaware of the identities of people who provided her information for the two reports.

The judge of Quebec Court stated that Ms, Denis needn’t disclose the sources, as she was unaware of them. However, the superior Court noted that the judge of Quebec Court made a mistake of judgment as Ms. Denis was aware of the sources for two of her reports, and she was required to furnish the information.

On the petition to the Court Of Appeal, the Court said it didn’t have the power to adjudicate the case as the law mentioned that only the first decision (Quebec Court) could be appealed which has previously been done by appealing to the Superior Court. Though, the Court stated that Ms. Denis could ask for an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court had to ascertain the two appeals from Ms. Denis. The first was regarding that whether the Court of Appeal was right to conclude that it didn’t have the authority to consider her appeal, while the second was concerning the determination of the resolution of the case. The hearing of the Supreme Court was postponed as the prosecution has new shreds of evidence and wanted to amend the arguments. However, the hearing was not postponed another time at the behest of the prosecution.

The Supreme Court, in its majority, held that the Court of Appeal didn’t have the power to decide the appeal. However, the Court of Quebec should examine the case again as the Crown has new evidence and wanted to modify its arguments.

This was the first occasion wherein the Court examined new rules to safeguard the confidential sources of journalists’. The majority of the Court provided instructions on the usage of rules. It stated that an individual who didn’t want to disclose a source has to prove that they are “journalist” and that their authority is “journalistic” under the Evidence Act of Canada. The person who wants to obtain the information has to demonstrate that the public has a broader interest in ensuring the prosecution of the crime rather than in protecting the confidential source. The majority concluded that disclosure of the confidential source if the journalist should be the last recourse.