Judge finds Trudeau government’s Debates Commission ‘unfair’ for blocking journalists

The judge’s ruling on why it was ‘unfair’ for the Trudeau government-created Debates Comission to block journalists was released Thursday.

Russell Leib Montreal QC

Justice Russel Zinn has just released his written ruling on the Lawton and True North v. Canada case. The case was started when Rebel Media and the True North Centre for Public Policy began a legal action to obtain permission to cover the official English and French federal election debates. The two media organizations claimed they would face “irreparable harm” if they were denied access to the two debates.

The two media groups found that their accreditation to cover the debates was denied on the morning of Friday, Oct. 4, just three days before the debate. The two outlets then quickly filed urgent motions to the federal court on Monday, just hours before the debate for an interlocutory injunction against the commission’s denial. Their motion was heard at 3 p.m. and a decision was made shortly after at 4:30 p.m., just two-and-a-half hours before the debate started.

The two news outlets were particularly interested in going to the two debates run  by the Leaders’ Debates Commission as they were the only debates in which Justin Trudeau attended. Most important to the two media organizations were the media scrums that took place after each debate, which gave time for accredited journalists to question the Prime Minister for up to ten minutes.

After the debates, Trudeau’s government decided to appeal the court’s decision to allow the group coverage of the debate. Their reasoning that Lawton, a journalist for True North didn’t meet their accreditation standards–despite other journalists being allowed to attend the event not meeting them.

The written decision released Thursday details why the honorable Justice Zinn decided to force the Canadian government to compensate True North for the legal costs they incurred.

The decision mentions in section 15, “The Executive Director of the Commission attests that ultimately all applications for accreditation were accepted except the two before the Court”

The decision to deny the media groups accreditation was an attempt by the Commission, created by the Trudeau government. Both True North and The Rebel are highly critical of the Trudeau government.

Justice Zinn’s decision also criticizes the vague qualifications that the Commission laid out and the unfair nature in which the accreditations were given out

“For these reasons, I find that the Applicants are likely to succeed at the hearing of the merits in successfully challenging the accreditation decisions as both unreasonable and procedurally unfair.”

The decision also criticized the stance of the Commission that the groups would not be negatively impacted by not being allowed physical access to the debate. Justice Zinn retorted in section 53 and 54 that the Commission was ignoring the real reason in which a media group would be interested in attending the debate would be for the scrum

“This submission ignores the reality that accredited persons have access to more than the two-hour period when the leaders are involved on stage in debating. As noted above, no accredited press have direct access to the leaders during that period. If all one gets from accreditation is the ‘privilege’ of sitting in a room with some 258 other journalists watching the televised broadcast of the six leaders debating, then one must wonder why anyone would apply to be accredited rather than watching from the comfort of one’s office or home.

In section 54 Justice Zinn states, “The Commission’s Executive Director in his affidavit provides the answer. The benefit of accreditation, and perhaps the sole benefit, is access to the media scrum.”


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