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Media & Entertainment

Journalist ability to challenge new inquiry ban unclear

A bill that would give commissions of inquiry in New Brunswick the ability to ban reporters and the public from hearings would result in closed-off proceedings that would be difficult for news agencies to challenge, Fredericton litigator Matthew Pearn tells CBC News.

As the article notes, the new provision is included in the Inquiries Act — a bill recently introduced to replace the existing law of the same name.

Under the current law, commissioners have the same powers as a Court of Queen's Bench judge, who can order publication bans and other restrictions on court cases.

The new legislation would remove this, and instead, set out that a commission can "restrict or prohibit public reporting" on hearings or the publication of information presented at hearings, "exclude the public" from hearings, "exclude a participant" from hearings, and "restrict or prohibit access to information" received at a hearing, says the article.

Pearn, a media and privacy lawyer with Foster & Company, tells CBC News that it is not clear if journalists would have the same standing at an inquiry as they do in court to challenge publication bans or other restrictions.

"Closing hearings off completely — I think it would be very cumbersome for a news agency to challenge that," he says.

Pearn also says that it is possible corporations appearing before commissions would ask for publication bans by default, and that people involved in commissions might lack the same expertise as judges in deciding whether to grant them.

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