The change of government didn’t stop the steep decline of press freedom in Canada according to Reporters Without Borders. Canada now ranks 22nd in the RWB index, four spots below last year. The international press freedom watchdog urges Trudeau to act on his vocal defense of free media.
Every year, Reporters Without Borders publishes a report on the state of press freedom in 180 countries. They base their rankings on questionnaires submitted to media professionals, lawyers and sociologists in each country, and on the number of acts of violence and abuse towards medias and journalists.
In 2015, Canada was eighth on the list. One year later, thanks to the ever-increasing hostility of the Conservative government toward the media, it had plunged to the 18th spot.
Many expected Trudeau to change this bleak course when he took office, considering how he advocated for a strong and free press during the campaign. While the government’s relations with media may appear more cordial, the Prime Minister has so far failed to live up to that expectation. Canada has slipped down four more spots, now ranking right between Samoa and the Czech Republic.
The top of the index is once again filled by Scandinavian countries, with Norway in the lead. Costa Rica follows in 6th place. At the other end of the scale, North Korea surpassed Eritrea as the very worst place in terms of press freedom. Turkmenistan and Syria are close behind.
RWB says Canada’s poor score this year is partly due to the fact that a number of journalists have been put under police surveillance in Quebec, including La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé. The organization also cited a court ordering Vice journalist Ben Makuch to hand over all communications between himself and an RCMP source as it highlights Canada’s lack of specific legal framework for journalism.
RWB also highlighted the charges brought against The Independant’s journalist Justin Brake for trespassing while he was covering the protests against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador. Plus the NGO expressed disappointment at the PM’s failure to repeal C-51, which is widely considered as a huge setback for press freedom and individual rights. RWB already tried to bring all these concerns to Trudeau’s attention in an open letter written in November.
Canada is not the only country with a less than stellar performance. The US went dropped from 41st to 43rd, a relatively small slip, considering Donald Trump severely restricted media access to all kinds of information and his outright calling the press “an enemy of the american people.” It might suggest that the Obama administration’s difficult relationship with the press and war on whistleblowers might have had more far-reaching effects than it seems.
In fact, RWB maintains that press freedom is in more danger than ever, all across the world.
“We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms – especially in democracies,” The report declared in its cheerful introduction. It attributes the worsening state of affair to a conjuncture characterized by the rise of strongmen and the erosion of democracies in Europe and America alike. As for Canada, RWB recommends that the government repeals C-51 and put forward concrete measures to ensure confidentiality of journalistic sources.
* Featured image from Reporters Without Borders official site