Though the RCMP’s attempt to obtain a Vice reporter’s notes is unusual, it isn’t unprecedented.

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By H.G. Watson, Associate Editor

On Oct. 30, Vice broke the news that its reporter Ben Makuch had been served with a production order for his notes relating to several interviews he did with a Canadian Islamic State member, Farah Mohamed Shirdon.

It was a controversial move but not an unprecedented one. Canadian police forces have tried to obtain reporters’ notes before.

RCMP raid Ottawa Citizen reporter’s home

In January 2004, Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill’s home was raided by RCMP. O’Neill had been working on a story about Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen born in Syria who was detained in Damascus after being deported by American customs officials while travelling through New York City.

In one of her stories, O’Neill used privileged documents, leaked to her by a source, as a major part of her reporting. The RCMP raided her house to find out who the leaker was. O’Neill fought the search warrant in court and, in 2006, won.

RCMP obtain reporter’s notes in course of hate crimes investigation

In 2003, the RCMP obtained Saskatoon StarPhoneix’s reporter James Parker’s notes while they investigated accusations of anti-Semitism against David Ahenakew, a former senator with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations who was found not guilty of willfully promoting hatred against against Jewish people in 2009.

Parker interviewed Ahenakew after he made anti-sematic remarks at a conference. During that subsequent interview with Parker, Ahenakew made other inflammatory remarks.

According to a 2003 Canadian Press story, Parker gave his notebook and audiotape to “an RCMP officer with a search warrant.” Parker also told Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno that he had already used the material the RCMP took.

Judge gives RCMP the go-ahead to look at reporter's notes on CSIS

Long before the raids on Parker and O’Neill, CTV’s offices were raided—and a judge said it was OK. In 1994, RCMP obtained videotapes and notes from a CTV Ottawa office while investigating the leak of CSIS documents.

Though CTV fought the search warrant, arguing that there was no evidence at CTV Ottawa that would assist the investigation, a division of the Ontario court ruled that the “warrant was not too broad,” according to a 1994 Montreal Gazette story on the case.

With files from Sean Holman

H.G. Watson was J-Source's managing editor from 2015 to 2018. She is a journalist based in Toronto. You can learn more about her at hgwatson.com.