RCMP threatens to arrest journalist for doing his job during police raid in northern B.C.

Canadian Association of Journalists denounce RCMP violations of press freedom
Jerome Turner
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The RCMP have told Ricochet that they will arrest journalist Jerome Turner if he insists on doing his job and reporting on police activity during an imminent raid of the Gidimt’en checkpoint in Wet’suwet’en territory.

“Currently your reporter is within the exclusion zone and subject to all the same restrictions as anyone else within the zone. Your reporter will be given the opportunity to leave on his own accord … or be subject to arrest,” wrote RCMP spokesperson Janelle Shoihet.

This message, received shortly after 6 p.m. PT, came ten hours after Ricochet started contacting and leaving messages for RCMP media relations officers to seek assurances that the police would not interfere with Turner’s ability to report. Early this morning, two journalists were detained and removed from the area during the police raid on the camp at the 39-kilometre mark of the Morice Forest Service Road.

Only after reaching out to media staff for B.C. Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth, who then contacted the RCMP, did we get the response.

“This is a disgusting abuse of state power,” Karyn Pugliese, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, told Ricochet.

“The constitution and the courts have determined journalists have the right to be present. The police have no business threatening to arrest a journalist for filming their actions or taking a picture. Journalism is not illegal.”

It's all part of pattern of behaviour by the RCMP that seems to be about preventing media from covering the ongoing raid. While the police may not like scrutiny of their actions, in a democratic society it’s not up to them.

Arbitrary enforcement

The RCMP is enforcing a B.C. court injunction granted to pipeline company Coastal GasLink to allow its workers access to unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. Police officers are clearing Wet’suwet’en people and supporters from camps and homes in the area.

Turner crossed the RCMP checkpoint located at kilometre 27 last night. Initially he was denied entry, despite showing the same letter of media accreditation and photo identification he had used to cross the checkpoint three times before.

“Unfortunately, the rules have changed then,” an officer told him when he pointed out the discrepancy.

Ricochet called several police contact numbers until someone answered. That person guaranteed our reporter would be allowed past the checkpoint. Turner returned and was admitted .

Turner has spent the day providing live updates from the Gidimt’en checkpoint, located at kilometre 44. He is one of only a few journalists reporting from behind police lines.

The court has recognized press freedom in this type of case

The B.C. court injunction — whose legal validity is questionable — prohibits activity that impedes the access of Coastal GasLink workers to the area.

As a journalist, Turner is present as an independent observer. His focus is simply witnessing and recording what is happening. His presence in no way violates the injunction.

A Canadian court has already recognized the importance of having journalists present to report on Indigenous land defence.

“Aboriginal communities have been historically underrepresented in the Canadian media. That makes freedom of the press to cover stories involving indigenous land issues even more vital,” reads a court decision regarding reporter Justin Brake’s entry into an injunction zone to cover a protest against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“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.”

The court decision also warned against operating beyond the bounds of an injunction.

“To give the injunction order and the contempt umbrella a reach wider than this unnecessarily risks impeding the media function for no good reason with the result that the public would be deprived of access to information of public interest.”

“My concern is that they’d use that in the moment to basically take me under arrest and then I can’t do my job,” Amber Bracken, a journalist on assignment at the Unist’ot’en camp for The Narwhal, told her outlet. “You can sort it out in court later, but that’s too late.”

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