The parliamentary press gallery is challenging a plan to impose RCMP security screening measures on new members, including fingerprinting for criminal record checks.
The gallery, which marked its 150th year as an organization in 2016, formally opposed in principle the proposal from a House of Commons administrative committee during an annual meeting at the National Press Theatre today. The gallery’s executive will seek answers on why the screening is necessary, what threshold for criminal background could potentially bar access to Parliament Hill, and why fingerprinting is necessary.
The initial proposal suggested that Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, be involved in the screening process, but that was dropped after resistance from the gallery executive.
Members raised concerns the new measures could infringe on freedom of the press.
Press gallery president Tonda MacCharles, a veteran reporter with the Toronto Star, said journalists have been sent to cover Parliament Hill by employers who have entrusted them to do the job. She questioned the rationale for security screening.
“It’s a concern from a journalistic perspective that police or some other body would seek to somehow verify who we are or why we should be there,” she told CBC News after the meeting. “How would they assess this? Is this assessed via our sources, is this assessed via the performance of our duties? What is it based on? Many questions were raised by the membership here today.”
Limiting access for journalists
MacCharles said there has never been a security incident in the Commons involving a journalist and that new policy should not be based on “hypotheticals.”
Screening could deny or limit access to the decision-makers, committees and witnesses on Parliament Hill that are critical for reporting.
“If you shut down access to somebody based on who knows what criteria, you limit their ability to do their job as a journalist,” MacCharles said.
The press gallery has the…