On January 10, award-winning Indigenous journalist Brandi Morin was arrested by Edmonton Police while reporting on a raid on an Indigenous unhoused encampment. Following this false arrest, she was charged with obstruction for doing her job.

This isn’t the first time a journalist has been unlawfully detained while reporting in Canada, sadly it’s becoming somewhat common, but charges are almost always dropped. It’s a tactic to remove journalists, knowing that the case would be thrown out if it ever made it to court.

But this is the first time that a charge against a journalist for doing their job has gone this far. Brandi’s first appearance in court is tomorrow, and the Edmonton Police appear to want to make an example of her. She faces up to two years in jail for doing her job.

Brandi Morin answering questions from journalists outside the Edmonton Police headquarters.

Screenshot APTN

At a press conference held earlier this week, eight pre-eminent press freedom groups came together to call for the charges of obstruction to be dropped. Representatives of the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the Indigenous Journalists Association, the Coalition for Women in Journalism, Journalists for Human Rights, PEN Canada and Amnesty International have all called for the charges against Morin to be dropped immediately.

After a police officer issued an unlawful order — for a journalist to leave the area of a story of public interest — Morin tried to explain that she was a journalist and had a right to report on police actions.

Sergeant Amber Maze, a former candidate for the (now defunct) right-wing Wildrose Party in Alberta, arrested her, led her away in handcuffs and chose to charge her with obstruction. At no point did Morin obstruct Maze, or any other police officer. She only filmed their actions.

Maze singled Brandi out among several other people filming, and targeted her.

“Either Maze targeted Brandi because she recognized her, and wanted to shut down reporting on these arrests by a high-profile journalist, ” said Ricochet Media editor Ethan Cox at Monday’s press conference. “Or she didn’t recognize Brandi, but saw that she looked Indigenous, and assumed that meant she was part of the predominantly Indigenous encampment. Neither explanation is acceptable.”

Today, Brandi’s story was covered in an excellent article in the Globe and Mail, and on Tuesday, the Edmonton Journal wrote a great story covering these events. Her story was on all four evening newscasts last night in Edmonton, as well as the National newscast on APTN, and has been covered by dozens of outlets across Canada.

Despite overwhelming public pressure to drop the charges, the Edmonton Police have yet to even provide their own Crown prosecutors with their complaint against Brandi.

This was a false arrest, and the ongoing charge is an abuse of process. As Brandi said on Tuesday outside of Edmonton Police headquarters, where she was forced to report for fingerprinting and a mugshot, “It’s an abuse of power, absolutely. It’s them wanting to send a clear message to impede press freedom in this country.”

This case is part of an ongoing trend of police departments attempting to block journalists’ access to report on their actions. It has been observed almost exclusively in cases of Indigenous land defence and urban unhoused encampments, and most often Indigenous journalists are the target.

The courts have weighed in, with high courts in two provinces and the RCMP’s own oversight body all ruling that these tactics are unlawful. Despite this clear legal precedent, police forces continue to assert a right to prevent journalists from filming them that does not exist in law.

“The law is clear,” added Cox. “High courts in two provinces and even the RCMP’s own oversight body have all found that broad exclusion zones and other police efforts to prevent journalists from reporting on their actions are unlawful. The press must have access to report on the actions of police.”

Below you’ll find highlights from Monday’s press conference. The best way to keep up to date on this story is to follow us on Twitter @ricochet_en.

Canadian Association of Journalists

“Let me be blunt,” said Canadian Association of Journalists president Brent Jolly at today’s conference, “based on all evidence, Brandi was targeted and singled out for doing her job as a journalist.”
“Brandi’s arrest makes an absolute mockery of the right to freedom of the press and the ability to report on the activities of taxpayer-funded law enforcement agencies. This entire situation is an abomination, particularly as it relates to the important pursuits of reconciliation and justice. It must be corrected now.”

Committee to Protect Journalists

“We’re very concerned by the behaviour of the Edmonton Police toward Brandi Morin,” said Katherine Jacobsen, U.S. + Canada Program Coordinator with the Committee to Protect Journalists, “and local law enforcement’s decision to press charges against her despite the evidence that she was not in violation of Canadian law at the time of her arrest.”

“Our research shows that arresting reporters serves as a blunt form of censorship. A journalist in handcuffs cannot get their story out. Beyond an initial detention, prosecuting reporters creates a harmful chilling effect and serves as a form of intimidation for their peers.”

“It is vital that law enforcement immediately and unequivocally drop the charges against Brandi, and take measures to ensure that this does not happen again. Journalism is not a crime.”

Reporters sans Frontières

Brandi Morin must not be prosecuted for doing her job as a journalist,” added Clayton Weimers, Executive Director of Reporters sans Frontières in North America. “Brandi did everything by the book, she was reporting on a matter of clear public interest, and maybe that’s inconvenient for the police, but that’s no justification for infringing on her rights as a reporter, and the public’s right to know what is happening in their community.”

Weimers went on to note that this incident could harm Canada’s reputation for press freedom.

“RSF is known for ranking each country by its press freedom score, and Canada has historically been a global leader in that regard. Setting legal precedents like this is the kind of thing that puts that leadership in jeopardy.”

“Let’s not allow police arrests of journalists covering police actions and matters of public interest to become a trend in Canada.”

Indigenous Journalists Association

“The Indigenous Journalists Association calls for the criminal obstruction charges to be dropped,” added Angel Ellis, Treasurer of the IJA, noting that her organization represents over 900 Indigenous journalists across North America, who all stand with Brandi. “Indigenous journalists must be free to report on our communities, and share our people’s voices on our traditional territories. Storytelling is an inherent right, and an integral part of our right to self-determination. Journalism is an aspect of democracy, and it must be protected.”

Coalition for Women in Journalism

Kiran Nazish, founding director of the New York-based Coalition for Women in Journalism noted that their Women Press Freedom project has tracked 17 cases of press freedom violations by police in Canada since 2019.

“That is a huge number for a country that is actually a little higher on the global press freedom index.”

“We do not think it is healthy for Canadian democracy to have law enforcement institutions get in the way of journalistic work. Their job is to allow journalists access, and to get out of the way of independent newsgathering, which is a process necessary for our democracy.

We think that democratic leadership in Canada should take this seriously, and join us in discouraging police and law enforcement institutions from targeting journalists.”

Amnesty International Canada

“The targeting of journalists reporting on Indigenous rights threatens Canada’s fragile progress on the road to reconciliation,” added David Matsinhe, Director of Policy, Advocacy and Research with Amnesty International Canada.

“Brandi is one of the boldest and most important journalists reporting on human rights in Canada today. Without her courageous, thoughtful and empathetic reporting, our collective
understanding of the human rights landscape in Canada – especially with respect to the
rights of Indigenous Nations – would be poorer. To put it plainly, journalists have a right to do their job, and we have a right to know.

Brandi’s arrest is an attack on deeply important and well-established legal rights and standards. It sends a chilling message to journalists reporting on critical human rights issues such as policing, homelessness, political protest, and corporate accountability. As a democratic public, we lose out when journalists and news organizations are prevented from reporting the toughest stories, particularly where people’s human rights are on the line.”

Journalists for Human Rights

“Journalists for Human Rights is proud to stand with Brandi Morin,” said Bill Killorn, JHR’s interim executive director, “and journalists around the world in their work documenting events and maintaining transparency in democratic societies. Democracy is not something we should take for granted, it’s something we need to work at. And that work includes gathering together to call out overreach by authorities.

JHR is proud to add our voice to other organizations in asking for the charges against Brandi Morin to be immediately dropped.”

“Brandi is, by anyone’s definition, one of this country’s most celebrated journalists,” added Cox. “Her most recent journalistic honours include an Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism, the PEN Canada Ken Filkow prize for advancing freedom of expression in Canada, an Amnesty International award for human rights reporting and the top long feature award at last year’s Digital Publishing Awards. She is also an award-winning author.”

Lawyer Richard Mirasty

Richard Mirasty, a veteran Cree criminal defence attorney in Edmonton is representing Brandi pro bono. He told the press conference that no disclosure has been filed by the Edmonton Police detailing why Brandi has been charged.

“I checked with the assigned Crown (counsel) on this file. We both are in agreement that this is not the crime of the century, so disclosure should be minimal. It shouldn’t take this long.”

Proving their case should be hard, he added, as prosecutors “would have to show that Brandi was obstructing sergeant Maze in some way.” But if they did win the case, Morin could face up to two years in jail.

PEN Canada

PEN Canada, the Canadian chapter of the international advocacy network for writers and journalists facing threats to their freedom of expression, was unable to join the press conference but issued a statement by newswire.

“Canadian law protects journalists from arrest or detention when they are reporting on matters of public interest and not engaged in violent activity or serious attempts to obstruct police. Several court rulings have also underscored the importance of protecting journalists from undue police restraint when covering Indigenous issues.
In a 2019 ruling by the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal (Anderson v. Nalcor Energy) Justice Green makes reference to The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission while noting that “to achieve the goal of reconciliation, better understanding of aboriginal peoples and aboriginal issues is needed. This places a heightened importance on ensuring that independently-reported information about aboriginal issues, including aboriginal protests, is available to the extent possible.”

Brandi Morin

Morin admitted that the ordeal has taken a deep toll on her, but insisted that she remains resolute in her belief in the importance of the work she does.

“As an Indigenous reporter who regularly witnesses and reports on police brutality against Indigenous Peoples, it’s my responsibility to use my platform to inform the public and hold to account those in power, such as the police,” said Morin.

“This experience has caused many sleepless nights and emotional distress… I’ve also struggled with feelings of humiliation and fear. Fear and humiliation about the personal and professional consequences of being convicted of a criminal offense. I’ve questioned my ability to continue doing the work that I do, that I’m so incredibly passionate about doing, and whether the personal sacrifices we, as journalists, make to do this work are worth it.

However, I am resolute in my belief in the importance of this work. I believe that witnessing the actions of, and holding to account, society’s most powerful figures is at the very core of what journalists do. And I will not allow my arrest to silence or undermine the powerful legacy of work I have built up.”

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