UPDATE 6:52pm - Journalist Brandi Morin has been released on a promise to appear in court on February 1. She remains charged with obstruction and must report to be fingerprinted.
Watch this space for more updates soon.
This afternoon Brandi Morin, a journalist on assignment for Ricochet Media, was arrested by the Edmonton Police Service while covering a police raid on an unhoused encampment.
Morin was coincidentally present to conduct interviews when police started to set up for a raid, including setting up a cordon of yellow tape out of clear view of the encampment. When the raid began, Morin was filming police arrests that she describes as “violent.”
She was told to leave the area by a police officer, and explained that she was a journalist, was covering what was happening and would not be able to do so if she left. She also explained to the officer that legal precedent from high courts in two provinces holds that police exclusion zones which prevent journalists from doing their job are unlawful.
She was then arrested, handcuffed and informed that she would be charged with obstruction. She was taken to a police station where she was told she may be held for up to 72 hours before seeing a judge. She also suffered a minor injury to her wrist in the course of being arrested.
Morin repeatedly identified herself as a journalist, offered a letter of assignment from her outlet, and filmed everything up until the point she was handcuffed and had her camera taken away. However, we are not able to access that footage until she and her camera are released.
Morin is an internationally renowned freelance journalist who works with domestic and international outlets. Over the past two years she has won a half dozen major awards for investigative journalism, including the Edward R. Murrow award in the United States for reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (one of the most prestigious journalism awards in the world), the Ken Filkow Prize from PEN Canada for advancing freedom of expression, an Amnesty International human rights reporting award, and a top long-form feature award at the Digital Publishing Awards.
VIDEO: Award winning Indigenous journalist @Songstress28 is led away by two EPS officers with her hands behind her back at the encampment clearing at 95 St and Rowland Rd. She is apparently being charged with obstructing justice and her lawyers are trying to secure her release. pic.twitter.com/R7rnKnQXHn— The Progress Report (@ProgressAlberta) January 10, 2024
This case bears many similarities to that of Amber Bracken at Wet’suwet’en in 2021. In that case, Bracken was arrested for breach of an injunction and held in jail for four days and three nights following her arrest. She was detained for an additional day and night after being accused of assaulting a guard, an incident in which, according to the statement of claim, she poked the arm of a male sheriff after being told she would have to walk to another police station in cold weather wearing only her long underwear to retrieve her coat and pants. Bracken is currently suing the RCMP in a significant lawsuit backed by The Narwhal and other media outlets.
Although our journalists have been detained by police in the past while covering contentious stories such as at Wet’suwet’en, this is the first time a journalist on assignment for Ricochet has ever been arrested, or charged.
The courts have been clear, over and over, including in the precedent-setting Brake decision of the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, and a B.C. Supreme Court decision sought by a coalition of media outlets (including Ricochet) in 2021. Journalists have a right to cover police actions, including arrests, from a reasonable distance. Exclusion zones that do not allow journalists to do their job are unlawful.
The Supreme Court of Canada has also established a test for the elements necessary to be afforded journalistic protections in such situations, one that Morin clearly meets.
The actions of the Edmonton Police Service today were unlawful. As soon as Morin identified herself as a journalist, she should not have been interfered with. Once that mistake was made, she should have been released at the station. Instead the EPS chose to charge her with obstruction in full knowledge that she is a working journalist. Morin, who has a young daughter, has now been in custody for five hours and counting, and has been threatened with up to three days in jail.
VIDEO: Violent scene as EPS break up the encampment at 95 St and Rowland Rd. Camp resident and Elder Roy Cardinal is seen with blood in his mouth and is led away in handcuffs after being taken to the ground and handcuffed. This sweep was done at -22C, -30C with windchill. pic.twitter.com/PLR8716IBN— The Progress Report (@ProgressAlberta) January 10, 2024
Anwar Jarrah, a criminal defence lawyer in Edmonton with the Attia Reeves law firm, has agreed to represent Morin pro bono, and is currently working to secure her release.
“We are dismayed and shocked that the Edmonton Police Service would arrest a working journalist,” said Ethan Cox, a senior editor with Ricochet Media. “Doubly so that they would threaten to charge her with a criminal offence. We demand her immediate release, and the dropping of all charges, consistent with established legal precedent in Canada regarding the rights of working journalists.”
Andrea Houston, managing editor with Ricochet Media, added “it seems as though Brandi was arrested while filming a series of violent arrests that police would rather the public not see. Her footage is also in custody, and we are unable to report fully on today’s events without her participation. This is precisely why the courts have clearly and repeatedly instructed Canadian police forces not to interfere with working journalists covering their actions.”