Published in Pen Canada Annual Report 2008-2009

I have known Julie O'Neill for more than 20 years as a competitor and a colleague in the press gallery on Parliament Hill and as soon as I heard that morning in January 2004 that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were raiding her home, I knew that was a move the police would regret. She is a smart, tough and fair journalist who has worked both in Canada and around the world. A raid on her home would be something she wouldn't take easily and shouldn't.

I would never have imagined then that it would take until October 2006 for her finally to escape the cloud of possible prosecution. The most gratifying aspect about the two and a half years that have passed since the Superior Court of Ontario ruled the law used by the RCMP to raid her home was unconstitutional, is that nothing has happened.

The federal government has made no attempt to introduce new legislation to replace the sections the Security of Information Act, passed by Parliament in a rush in the weeks after September 11, 2001 that the court in the O'Neill case ruled violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Finally after many attempts to challenge what was originally passed as the Official Secrets Act in 1939, it has been thrown out and Canada has survived just fine.

As National Affairs chair of PEN Canada I helped ensure we were one of many organizations that supported Julie in defending the rights of journalists to protect the identities of confidential sources. We asked regularly why the federal government was proceeding with this costly and pointless attempt at prosecution. Then we joined the cheering when the perseverance and determination she demonstrated throughout was rewarded with a court victory.

Most people think of PEN Canada in connection with supporting those imprisoned around the world for what they write. The O'Neill case demonstrates why we need to be just as vocal and vigilant at home. Speaking out can make a difference and shine a spotlight on those, even in Canada, who wish to restrict or undermine freedom of expression.

The O'Neill decision set an important precedent and afforded a degree of protection from investigation and searches that hadn't existed before. Defending those rights is something that never ends, in everything from speaking out against orders from Quebec courts that ban reporters from covering the sponsorship scandal to participating in the debate about whether pursuing a criminal investigation should supersede the right to protect confidential sources. It is just as important a part of PEN Canada's mandate as supporting those wrongfully imprisoned overseas and I'm proud to have played a part in that over some of the last 25 years.

The Day the Mounties Came To Call
Juliet O'Neill in Pen Canada Annual Report 2008-2009