January 27, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 64  

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NEWS

Critics decry RCMP raid as ‘unethical’

By Katy Pollock
Gazette Writer

The RCMP raid of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O’Neill’s house and office last Wednesday has sparked enormous criticism from journalist groups and activists who label the raid as that of a police state.

The raid occurred in response to an article written by O’Neill on the controversial Maher Arar case. A Canadian citizen, Arar was arrested in the United States while travelling in 2002. He was deported to his native Syria and imprisoned for 10 months on suspicion of connections to terrorism.

In her article, O’Neill had used a secure source and published information from a leaked document that contained details of what Arar told the Syrian military intelligence.

“This will send a chill around newsrooms,” said Western media, information and technoculture professor David Spencer. “[Journalists] will worry, ‘every time I write something sensitive, I risk being picked up by the police’.”
Spencer, an expert on the history of media, said that in the future, constitutional guidelines will need to be drawn up regarding proper police behaviour so that such a raid never happens again.

Attempting to identify O’Neill’s source, the RCMP obtained a search warrant issued under the Security of Information Act. According to MIT professor Romayne Smith-Fullerton, an expert on journalism ethics, the use of this Act is an ethical problem in itself.

“The Act, which is supposed to limit terrorist activities, is being applied to journalists. [Prime Minister] Paul Martin has acknowledged that O’Neill is not a terrorist,” she said.

A ruling the same day by Ontario Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Benotto defended the rights of reporters to protect their sources.

Smith-Fullerton also noted the potential for such actions to threaten a journalist’s ability to comment on public officials is an even larger problem. “[A] journalist’s job is to monitor those in power,” she said. “And when journalists cannot use these sources, the power of the free press is squelched.”

“You shouldn’t have to be in fear that what you write could cause that [kind of] harm or attention,” said second-year health sciences student Anne Jamieson.

 

 

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