Proposed travel ban would create headaches for journalists

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 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.

10 thoughts on “Proposed travel ban would create headaches for journalists

  1. Marc

    Canada and the USA are the only two countres I know of that don’t do any exit border checks when flying out of the country. Maybe it’s time for CBSA to look into implementing that and then everything can be assessed case by case instead of a blanket policy.

  2. Dilbert

    The real problem here is that many see credentials as a “journalist” as being a free pass to break the law or certainly to skirt responsibility in a given situation. Many student journalists both “report” (and I use the term loosely) on protests, and at the same time perhaps hold a placard or wear the t-shirt / hat / scarf or whatever that supports the cause, breaking the very first rule of being a journalist – not getting involved, just reporting.

    Some seem to think that a youtube channel, a free wordpress blog, and their Iphone for video (held vertically for best effect) are the requirements to be “media”. While the concept of citizen journalists is not so wrong, it’s also not held to the same standards nor accepts the same level of responsibility as more formal media groups.

    It’s not a very simple situation at all.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      While the concept of citizen journalists is not so wrong, it’s also not held to the same standards nor accepts the same level of responsibility as more formal media groups.

      Many “more formal media groups” aren’t held to any standards when it comes to journalism.

      1. Dilbert

        That is true, however, they can be held responsible as a group and generally have some “risk” in publishing less than honest material. It’s not hard for someone with no job and all the time in the world to slander or libel whoever without risk, because they have nothing to lose.

        Most media organizations have something to lose – so they self police in many ways.

  3. Mark

    I always found it interesting while in the military that before you enter a war torn country you need your passport. As with journalism no one can read minds and it is a slippery slope when proposals to suposidly safe gaurd against any person joining a group in a conflict zone. Unfortunately the conservatives have introduced complex legal construct for government procurement that hiring outside to do the job is faster than dealing with all the paper work and needed permission for completion of most projects. I see journalists booking flights from an overseas destination outside of Canada to circumvent the new rules. There are many countries that do not track electronically your passport such as most African countries. That said there is a risk to get there as well.

  4. Mario D

    This is basically such a scary idea ! Government is now going to control where i can and cannot go ? What kind of country are we becoming ? Instead of working on fighting/solving terrorism we are going to try to avoid it ?

    The only good side of that idea is one that has not even crossed the conservative minds…It would greatly reduce the risks taken by reporters. The price paid for us to get reliable informations is beyond any costs. We do get more up to the minute reports now but so many of those in charge of doing so pay the ultimate price. Maybe it is because we know more now that ever and that there has always been deaths within the trade but it seems to get more and more dangerous…

  5. Mimo

    Freedom of the press will now be at stake. What better a way to control news reports than by not allowing journalists into certain areas. It would be really easy to bar even the most credible veteran journalists from entering once a law like this is passed. However, I very highly doubt this would ever see the light of day here in Canada.

  6. Michael Black

    I would point out that during the Spanish civil war there were restrictions on travel.
    So the volunteers to the Republican side had to take a roundabout route to Spain,
    which included the Mackenzie-Papineau volunteers from Canada.

    Someone has to remember, since the last Canadian volunteer, Jules Paivio, died in
    September 2013 at age 97.

    The German and Italian “volunteers” to the fascist side didn’t have problems getting into Spain.

    This has turned into a “journalist’ issue here, but there is orecedence.



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