VANCOUVER, B.C., Feb. 13, 2023 /CNW/ – The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) strongly supports the legal action brought forward in the Supreme Court of British Columbia earlier today by Amber Bracken and The Narwhal against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and related parties for alleged violation of their rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The lawsuit stems from the arrest of Bracken, an award-winning photojournalist, while she was on assignment for The Narwhal in late 2021. Bracken was covering enforcement of an injunction related to the construction of TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.
Following the arrests of Bracken and Michael Toledano, a documentary filmmaker working for the CBC, the CAJ called for authorities to immediately release the pair from police custody.
Days later, the CAJ spearheaded a coalition of more than 40 news organizations and press freedom groups that wrote a public letter to Marco Mendicino, Canada’s public safety minister. Copies of that letter were also sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, and Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s minister of public safety and solicitor general.
“The passage of time has only crystallized the need for journalists to ensure that their rights to report freely, and without unnecessary interference, are upheld,” said Brent Jolly, CAJ president.
“The rule of law is a foundational principle of resilient democratic societies and the actions of law enforcement, in this case, were both excessive and egregious. Public agencies must always be held accountable for their actions. No one body or individual can ever be above the law’s reach.”
According to the lawsuit’s notice of claim, Bracken is seeking civil damages, arguing her wrongful arrest and detention violated her liberty rights under Section 7 of the Charter. She is also claiming that her right to be free from arbitrary detention, pursuant to Section 9 of the Charter, was breached. More broadly, the lawsuit also argues the arrest breached Bracken and The Narwhal’s rights to freedom of the press pursuant to Section 2(b) of the Charter, which was not reasonably justified.
“This lawsuit says loud and clear that the rights of journalists and news organizations to report stories in the public interest should never be subject to negotiation or left to the whims of those in positions of power,” said Jolly. “The legal action not only addresses what went wrong in November 2021 but also, if the court agrees, could serve to establish important legal precedents to ensure honest, good-faith acts of journalism are never criminalized.”
On several previous occasions, the CAJ has challenged law enforcement bodies for interfering with media access.
In May 2021, for example, the CAJ, in partnership with a coalition of news organizations and press freedom groups, including The Narwhal, filed a legal application opposing the RCMP’s use of illegal exclusion zones during enforcement of an injunction that prevented journalists from reporting on events in the Fairy Creek watershed, near Port Renfrew, B.C. Despite a B.C. Supreme Court judge’s orders to police not to interfere with media access, his directives were ignored by law enforcement on site.
“The CAJ supports the legal actions taken because they mark yet another wake-up call to law enforcement bodies that must acknowledge that journalists are not inconvenient accomplices but public watchdogs upholding the public’s right to know,” Jolly said. “Proactive measures must be taken prior to enforcement actions to ensure the standing of journalists is acknowledged and respected at all times.”
The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with over 1300 members across Canada.The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.
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Read the joint statement of The Narwhal and CAJ
Our thanks to Cision for sponsoring this announcement.