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“Today Chantelle Bellrichard tried to go to Unistoten for CBC. She was stopped at 44 and told she couldn’t proceed because a bridge, that she witnessed other vehicles using, was unsafe. RCMP detained our journalist Friday, and wouldn’t let him go to Unist’ot’en either,” said Ricochet editor during the protest in Vancouver.
On Sunday afternoon a crowd of people supporting journalists gathered in front of the Vancouver City Hall to protest police threatening to arrest journalists for trying to inform the public about the injunction on the Wet’suwet’en territory.
In fact, over the week, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) threatened and arrested some journalists covering the implementation of an injunction on Wet’suwet’en territory against First Nation people who oppose a pipeline on their territory.
For taking pictures? For trying to inform the public on a matter of public interest?
That is not a crime. That is journalism.
The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) was among a number of organizations that received an email from the RCMP that said they would not interfere with journalists doing their job.
Earlier this week, Karyn Pugliese said :“I never thought I’d see the day I’d be writing the same words about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) threatening to arrest journalists in Canada, but here we are.”
As in every free country, media have the right—have always had the right—to be present and bear witness to state actions. In fact, that’s the most important reason to have a free press.
In the case of these arrests, none of the reporters were interfering with police actions. Two reporters, for example, were taping the arrest of a woman and were told to move 100 yards away. That’s too far for cameras to capture what was happening. Nevertheless, the journalists complied. And despite complying they were detained anyway, put in a police van and driven from the site several kilometers to a nearby town.
Canada is a free country, not a police state. But it continues to get tripped up on issues of media freedoms.
The CAJ posted a video on Twitter, where the RCMP tell a freelance journalist to leave the site or be arrested, despite his press credentials. A U.S. documentary-maker working for Mutual Aid Media captures the threat on tape. “They are arresting press?” the American asks incredulously. Shortly after he is also threatened with arrest.
Journalism is legal and protected in Canada, the U.S. and in every democratic country around the world.
Police are not allowed to abuse their powers of arrest to shield themselves from public scrutiny. The Guardian’s recent release of RCMP’s internal documents from last year’s raid of the Wet’suwet’en camps showed police hid their carbine rifles because the “optics” of the weapons were “not good.” On February 8th, police told journalists if they so much as snapped a picture of the weapons they’d be arrested.
The story should be what’s happening at the Wet’suwet’en, with the camp and with the pipeline. But when police threaten to arrest journalists for trying to inform the public, it is a step toward authoritarianism. When the state erodes free expression for any group in a democracy, it makes everyone else just a little less free. It’s just a little easier for the state to silence the next person.
According to CAJ, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has blasted police action against journalists yet governments remain silent, and no one is policing the police as they aggressively trample Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
On February 8th, Amnesty International express concerns about reports that RCMP officers threatened to arrest journalists for taking photographs and documenting police activity in the Wet’suwet’en territory. In
The Amnesty International report describe the event : In the early hours of Thursday, Feb. 6, RCMP officers conducted a raid on land defense camps in the Wet’suwet’en territory. They arrested six people in the course of enforcing a court injunction against blockades along access roads related to the construction of Coastal GasLink’s 670-kilometre pipeline from northeastern B.C. to the Kitimat area. RCMP officers also reportedly detained journalists, removed them from the territory, and instructed them not to film police in tactical gear. (Amnesty)
The phrase ‘journalism is not a crime’ was coined by Al Jazeera when journalists were jailed in Egypt in 2014, including an Egyptian-born Canadian award-winning journalist Mohamed Fahmy.
“Yesterday (February 8th) the RCMP promised to respect media rights, but today they continue to abuse their powers and blatantly disregard the law in a way that is previously unheard of in Canada and unthinkable in a democratic country.”
The CAJ has requested that reporters in the area continue to document police interference and misuses of power, including noting names and badge numbers and to continue to share the information with the CAJ.
Filmmaker Michael Toledano tweeted: “Today the RCMP are bullying journalists to repress images in real time. As RCMP approach #Unistoten, media here are resolved to do our job and witness police action.”
Jerome Turner, who is covering the dispute for Ricochet media, described to his editor, Ethan Cox, how he had been detained, prevented from bearing witness to events, and filing reports multiple times by the RCMP during the past 24 hours.
“The RCMP weren’t going to let me go in the direction of the story,” Turner told Cox.
The tension between journalists covering those in the Wet’suwet’en Nation opposing the Coastal GasLink project and the RCMP have been escalating since Dec. 31, when the B.C. Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an expanded injunction.
Late Thursday night RCMP Cpl. Chris Manseau emailed Cox a statement that said: “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police respects the fundamental freedom of the press under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as detailed in recent decisions by Courts across Canada. Journalists can rest assured that the RCMP will make every reasonable effort to allow media personnel to get as close as possible to the enforcement area, while ensuring no interference with police operations.”
However, that response came only after several media organizations, including the Narwhal, Ricochet, the CAJ and others, publicly called out the RCMP setting off a wave of public pushback, for the RCMP’s repeated interference with media.
Senior Media Relations Officer, Communication Services, Janelle Shoihet, had emailed Cox earlier that day, telling him explicitly they planned to arrest Turner reporter if he did not leave voluntarily.
But again February 8, RCMP practiced obstruction and block the media coverage.
“Several arrests have happened at the 27 km camp — RCMP held media back so we couldn’t clearly observe what was happening. Our understanding is several people barricaded themselves in one of the warming centre cabins,” wrote on twitter Chantelle Bellrichard,” a journalist reporting for CBC.
Source: Canadian Association of Journalists