The Conservative Party has come up with a new idea to make us safe: Making it illegal to travel to terrorist hotspots.
Setting aside the fact that the only other countries to do things like this are places like China and North Korea, there’s a practical problem in this proposal for people who are not terrorists.
Harper said there might be exceptions for aid workers and journalists and other people with noble intentions, but the line between journalist and non-journalist is blurry and easily movable.
We don’t have specifics of how the government would determine if someone is a journalist. But it would be tricky to do so using just about any criteria. Make it too lenient, and any freedom fighter can simply claim to be a journalist in order to get around the ban. Make it too strict, and plenty of independent journalists could find themselves imprisoned for trying to cover a war zone.
It’s one thing if you’re a reporter for the National Post or Maclean’s, but what if you’re a freelancer with Vice? Or you’re publishing your dispatches on Rabble.ca? Or you work for Ezra Levant?
This isn’t a theoretical problem. In Quebec, we’ve seen many people caught in this grey area. During student protests, student journalists have been caught up in police kettles, and refused freedom because the police consider their student press credentials insufficiently mainstream. Meanwhile, many student journalists were also actively involved in the protests and clearly supporting them.
The government could pre-approve people’s journalistic credentials before they enter war zones, but that brings up a whole new set of problems.
Maybe this idea is just that, an idea that will never see the light of day. But maybe it isn’t. And before people start jumping on the bandwagon because they think it’s a common-sense solution to the problem of people heading overseas to join ISIS, think about the fact that the Canadian government doesn’t have any way to legally distinguish between people who are and are not journalists. And there’s a very good reason for that — journalism is a fundamental part of a free society, and everyone has the constitutionally-protected right to practice it.