On Friday morning in Edmonton, Crown attorneys informed Brandi Morin that the charge of obstruction laid against her has been withdrawn. Morin’s lawyer, veteran criminal defence attorney Richard Mirasty, was to appear in court today to enter a plea of not guilty on Morin’s behalf, and set a date for trial. Instead, he was informed that prosecutors had chosen to withdraw the charge.

“I’m just so relieved. So thankful for everyone who stood by me,” said Morin. “I was present to report, and I did nothing more or less than my job. It’s gratifying to see the Crown finally acknowledge that I did nothing wrong.”

On January 10, Morin was conducting interviews at an Indigenous unhoused encampment in Edmonton when police arrived and set up a large exclusion zone around the area. Morin was already inside this area, and filmed without incident as police negotiated with camp residents. When those negotiations broke down, with residents holding up eagle feathers in a gesture of peaceful resistance, police moved in to arrest camp leader Roy Cardinal. At this time a police officer charged at Morin, and demanded she leave the area while pushing her repeatedly. When Morin protested that she was a journalist and had a right to be there she was manhandled, handcuffed and held for five hours before being released. She was charged with obstruction of a police officer.

Journalist Brandi Morin

A coalition of eight national and international journalism and press freedom groups had called for the charge to be withdrawn, including the Canadian Association of Journalists, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, Indigenous Journalists Association, PEN Canada, Amnesty International Canada, Coalition for Women in Journalism and Journalists for Human Rights. The case had been covered everywhere from the Globe and Mail to the Guardian, drawing widespread public condemnation.

“The Crown had no reasonable prospect of conviction on the evidence, so it’s no surprise they withdrew the charge,” said Andrea Houston, managing editor of Ricochet Media. “But it should never have taken this long to drop a charge that amounts to an attempt at intimidation of the media by the Edmonton Police. The stress and financial costs over the past nearly two months have been significant, and we hope that no working journalist is ever put through such an ordeal again.”

This case fits into a pattern of incidents in which police have attempted to restrict media access to report on their activities. These restrictions on journalists have been found to be unlawful by higher courts in two provinces and the RCMP’s own oversight body. World Press Photo of the Year winning photojournalist Amber Bracken is currently suing the RCMP for arresting and holding her in jail for four days for covering a police raid in Wet’suwet’en territory.

“Police in this country need to come to terms with the law, as interpreted by multiple courts: journalists have a right to be present, and to report on their activities from a reasonable distance. Holding journalists outside of massive exclusion zones is unconstitutional and unlawful,” added Ethan Cox, a senior editor with Ricochet Media. “Taking that a step further, and arresting and charging journalists for doing their jobs, is nothing less than an assault on press freedom.”

CAJ president Brent Jolly applauded the decision and said the Crown did the right thing.

“This is a moment of reckoning regarding the efforts of police to prevent journalists from covering events in the public interest,” said Jolly.

“This doesn’t excuse the treatment of Brandi up to this point, but it is an instructive moment for law enforcement agencies across the country. Journalists have the right to be present when actions and events in the public interest are taking place. And they have the right to report on those events.”

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