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Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal from media over Quebec secret trial

Media appealing seals imposed on the case involving a police informant

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal from the media over a so-called secret trial involving a police informant held in Quebec.

The high court said Thursday it has agreed to hear the appeal brought by media organizations including Radio-Canada, La Presse, the Montreal Gazette and The Canadian Press, which had sought a partial or complete lifting of seals imposed on the case.

In July, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled it could not release any information, saying the right of informants to remain anonymous supersedes the principle of court proceedings being open to the public.

The original case involved an informant who was convicted of participating in a crime that he or she had revealed to police.

The existence of the trial was first reported by La Presse and only became public because the informant appealed his or her conviction and the Court of Appeal in March 2022 released a redacted decision that set aside the conviction and was highly critical of the secrecy surrounding the trial.

The case was not given a docket number, and its details were kept secret, including the nature of the crime and where it allegedly took place, the name of the judge involved and the names of the lawyers.

Last June, lawyers for the province’s attorney general, the chief justice of Quebec provincial court and several media organizations went before the Quebec Court of Appeal to get details about the case and the informant, identified as the “designated person” in the ruling.

In rejecting the requests and ordering that the information remain sealed, the Appeal Court said charging the informant was likely not the right decision, as the person’s constitutional rights would be infringed, including the right to a public trial.

The Appeal Court noted there was no other way to prosecute an informant benefiting from privilege, and the trial judge had no other options.

“It is indeed in the decision to lay charges against (the informant) that the source of the problem lies,” the court wrote, creating “a situation from which it is now impossible to extricate ourselves.”

The only solution, it concluded, is to keep secret information that is usually public, including the identities of the police force, the prosecutor, the court, the judicial district and the trial judge.

—Émilie Bergeron, The Canadian Press