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Anonymous sources and granting confidentiality

Transparency and accuracy are crucial to our internal and external credibility. We
recognize the use of anonymous sources as a necessary part of newsgathering in print
and online. Sometimes certain facts are available only because of information obtained
through an anonymous source or sources. Any deal or pact with a source is between the
newspaper and its readers; that means it is granted by the paper, not an individual.

An editor must know the name of the source and details of such an agreement before the
information is published. The editor might typically be the reporters assigning editor,
but is not limited to that person. It must be an editor who is involved in the day-to-day
assigning of stories and involved in the editing process.

Sourcing gives a story credibility. We use unnamed sources only when there is a clearly-
defined reason to do so.

This applies to a variety of stories from investigative to everyday. We refrain when
possible from casual sourcing of people and information. For example, a neighbor
said. Or said a person at the scene.

It is too easy to report what someone says without having their name used. In routine
matters involving casual sourcing, reporters need to press sources to speak on the
record. If this fails, reporters must decide if the information is important and whether to
continue with the interview.

We do not double source. That is we dont grant an individual confidentiality for some
information, but then name them in another part of the story.

In cases where people do not want to be identified, it is important to have details that
allow us, if need be, to identify the person after the fact.

In stories when we choose not to name the person who provides information or a quote,
it is important the reporter know who the person is they talked to and can provide
information about them. This can be done by obtaining a name, address, licence plate, or
other identifying details. It is important we retain any record of the exchange such as
voice or video recordings and these are to be shared with a supervisor. Editors must
press reporters to get information on the record.

There will be times when it is impossible to identify a source: a crowd chanting, a heckler
in a crowd, etc. Use of this kind of sourcing is the exception.

When we use unnamed sources we explain to readers why the persons identity is being
withheld, and we make every effort to corroborate the unattributed information.
We also will disclose how the person is in a position to know the information being
We do not allow unnamed sources to launch personal attacks or voice opinions.


Canada does not have shield laws protecting journalists, so offers of confidentiality to
sources should be made in the knowledge that it could ultimately result in fines or a jail
term for a reporter who refuses to identify the sources in court. In 2010, The Supreme
Court of Canada gave limited recognition to the use of anonymous sources by journalists.

A journalist can discuss an undertaking of confidentiality to a potential source when
there are compelling reasons to do so. This agreement between source and reporter is
not honoured until such a pact or deal is discussed and approved by a senior editor
(department editor, managing editor or editor in chief) prior to publication. There are
times when legal counsel will need to be consulted.

When an offer of confidentiality is made, the terms of such a deal must be made clear
and understood by the source and the newspaper. It is not good enough to simply say the
information being taken is on background or off-the-record. A journalist granting
anonymity must outline the terms of the deal and how far it goes. This will include
questions like: At what point can or do we disclose your identity and what happens if the
information you provide is wrong?

The SCC ruling says ultimately a judge must rule if our use of an anonymous source is to
remain shielded, but said it would look at the argument favourably if the following steps
in a four-point test were met:
1) the source has been assured of confidentiality.
2) that anonymity is crucial to the source-journalist relationship.
3) the information put forward by the source is vital to the public interest.
4) the confidentiality of the source is in the public interest and keeping his/her name
secret outweighs the need for disclosure.