Two Canadian journalists arrested by RCMP while covering Wet’suwet’en land defenders in B.C.
Sat Nov 20 11:31:32 EST 2021
Two journalists were arrested and detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia Friday night while reporting from Wet’suwet’en territory. Both remain in custody.
Since last year, media has covered RCMP raids in the territory, Indigenous rights and police removal of defenders of the land who are blocking the logging of old-growth forests in the area.
Photographer Amber Bracken was on assignment for The Narwhal when she was arrested. Filmmaker and photographer Michael Toledo, a freelance reporter who has been living in Wet’suwet’en territory in order to create a documentary about what Indigenous people face in the region, was also arrested.
The Narwhal said in statements posted to Twitter that they are “extremely disturbed” to learn that Bracken was arrested and that the RCMP is refusing to release her in violation of her charter rights.
They also confirmed to the Star that Bracken carried a formal letter of assignment with her and she was clearly identified as a member of the media. Emma Gilchrist, editor-in-chief of the Narwhal, said they’ve reached out to the RCMP to inform them that Bracken was working as a journalist covering the Gidimt’en camp.
“We strongly condemn the RCMP for this behaviour and all violations of press freedoms in this country,” she said in an emailed statement.
Carol Linnitt, the co-founder of The Narwhal, said in statements posted to Twitter early Saturday morning that Bracken will be transported from Houston, B.C. to Smithers and then to Prince George to face a bail hearing on Monday.
Linnitt said Bracken was reporting from within an injunction zone.
“The fact that the RCMP know without a doubt that (Bracken) is a journalist and was on scene in order to report for a publication and they are still refusing to release her makes me so incredibly angry,” she said.
In a press release posted Friday night, the RCMP said they obsevered “additional obstructions” around a drilling site and told those within the structures to leave or face arrest after reading a “ BC Supreme Court injunction”. They said individuals “failed to comply” and they were detained. Eleven people were arrested including two independant journalists, they confirmed.
A total of 15 people were arrested Friday for “breaching” the injunction, they said.
Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), says that the two arrests are unjustified.
“It’s completely and utterly shocking the extent to which the RCMP are going to prevent journalists from covering events that are happening in the public interest,” he said.
Jolly says that neither he nor Bracken and Toledo’s lawyers have been able to get in contact with the pair.
Bracken and Toledo are currently being detained in Smithers, B.C., and are scheduled to be transported to Prince George for a bail hearing on Monday, according to Jolly.
Last year, Bracken won the CAJ President’s Award along with two other reporters for their “moral courage” in defending press freedom from Wet’suwet’en territory.
In July, the Canadian Association of Journalists, a non-profit that works to defend press freedom and connect reporters across the country, along with multiple other journalism organizations won a court challenge at the Supreme Court in B.C. on press freedom in the Fairy Creek area.
They urged the court to modify an injunction to that would tell the RCMP to stop restricting media from the area without an operational reason to do so. The final decision from the judge agreed with the media groups, explaining that the RCMP had failed to prove why they needed to exclude media from covering the region.
Media have argued they need to be present to document police actions on the territory, where the Wet’suwet’en people say they have never ceded or given up their land.
Jolly says the recent arrests demonstrate that the ruling has fallen on deaf ears.
“It has been completely disregarded,” he said. “At this point, we’re trying to figure out what course of actions we can take. But right now, what we want is for Amber and Michael to be released immediately.”
Olivia Bowden is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star and an elected board member of the CAJ. Reach her via email: email@example.com
Joshua Chong is a reporter for the Star’s radio room based in Toronto. Reach Joshua via email: firstname.lastname@example.org