News organization asks Supreme Court to protect confidentiality of interview with sexual assault complainant

A news agency forced to hand over a videotaped interview with a complainant in an alleged rape involving a hockey player is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to hear an appeal of the decision, describing it as a test of federal legislation protecting journalistic sources.

The player, Jake Virtanen, former Vancouver Canucks of the National Hockey League, was acquitted of sexual assault by a jury in July. His attorney, Brock Martland, said in a Supreme Court filing that the interview and electronic communications with journalist Alanna Kelly of Glacier Media Inc. were crucial to Mr. Virtanen’s defense.

The case is at least the fourth in Canada involving lawsuits by men accused of sexual assault seeking media interviews with alleged victims since the federal Protection of Sources Act came into effect. journalism in 2017. The results were mixed, depending in part on individual facts. Case.

The source protection law was passed after Quebec justices of the peace signed warrants authorizing police to monitor journalists. The law protects journalists from having to reveal their sources. But the protection is not absolute; it is weighed against the public interest in the administration of justice.

Mr. Virtanen’s acquittal is not contested. Glacier Media, which runs community newspapers, is asking the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of a court order ordering it to turn over the interview, emails and texts between the plaintiff, known as MS, her lawyer and journalist.

This order could “negatively affect the ability and willingness of those alleging sexual assault to share their story with the media,” Glacier Media said in its court filing. He stressed that journalists have the right to privacy in their work under the new law.

Kirk LaPointe, executive vice president of Glacier Media, said in a published commentary that the lower court rulings are “a troubling new barrage on the rights of journalists to conduct confidential research on many of our most sensitive issues. , especially crimes and abuses of Power.”

But Mr Martland says in a court filing that there is “nothing offensive to the freedom of the press”.

“The identity of the source was not a secret,” he told the Supreme Court of Canada in a document asking the court not to hear an appeal. He said the purpose of federal law is to protect the identity, but not the information disclosed by the source.

“The obvious intention is to publish the information held by the source, not to hide it,” he said in the document. “It was posted here, where the interview between the reporter and the complainant was supposed to be broadcast.”

The sexual assault allegedly took place at a Vancouver hotel in 2017, when Mr. Virtanen was around 20 and the complainant was 18. In April 2021, Ms Kelly videotaped an interview with a woman who alleged that Mr Virtanen had sexually assaulted her. The Canucks suspended Mr. Virtanen, then removed him from the team. After the interview, the woman went to the police and filed a civil complaint against the hockey player.

Last spring, as the trial approached, Mr. Virtanen’s legal team went to court to request a copy of the interview and other communications. Glacier argued that the documents were covered by journalistic “privilege” – protection against forced disclosure. But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge concluded that “freedom of the press is not at stake here,” saying the journalist had kept her promise of confidentiality and that disclosure would have a minimal impact on the complainant and the journalist. (The plaintiff, who had an attorney, chose not to argue over whether the interview should be postponed.) The judge ordered Glacier Media to release the documents to her so she could decide which parties, if applicable, would be handed over to Mr. Virtanen’s defense team.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld the judge’s order in a 3-0 decision.

In his Supreme Court filing, Mr Martland said the interview and related communications “proved to be highly relevant and extraordinarily helpful”. He alleged that the journalist had ‘encouraged’ the complainant to go to the police and ‘pushed’ her to take legal action, while making a ‘substantial contribution’ to the drafting of that legal action.

“The records revealed a treasure trove of conduct and complications – of obvious relevance to trial matters for the accused,” the court filing said.

Mr. LaPointe responded on Ms. Kelly’s behalf to a Globe and Mail request for comment. “Words like ‘promoted’, ‘pushed’ and ‘substantial contribution’ represent a gloss that Mr. Martland seeks to put on the facts,” he said in an email.

Mr. Virtanen tried out for the Edmonton Oilers this fall, but did not make the team.

Aubrey L. Morgan