OTTAWA / Jan. 14, 2020 / CNW — The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) is urging the RCMP to remain open and transparent, and allow media continued access to the exclusion zone in Wet’suwet’en Territory so the media can report fairly and accurately on events as they unfold.
The British Columbia Supreme Court has granted Coastal GasLink an interlocutory injunction against members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and others who oppose the company’s natural gas pipeline. RCMP have set up a 27- kilometer exclusion zone.
“We do not want to see a repeat of last year’s behaviour, when the RCMP used an exclusion zone to block journalists’ access, making it impossible to provide details on a police operation that was very much in the public interest,” said CAJ President Karyn Pugliese. “I urge the RCMP to respect the media’s Charter right to keep the public informed.”
In January 2019, an injunction ordered that no one could come within 10 metres of any person or vehicle related to the project. The RCMP, however, used the court order to restrict access to everyone, including journalists, from coming within 27 kilometers of the Gidimt’en camp while police moved in on demonstrators. RCMP have maintained their reason for doing so was to protect journalists’ safety, despite intelligence that little resistance was expected from the Hereditary chiefs, women and children at the camp. At least one reporter was told she could face arrest if she tried to step inside the exclusion zone.
Last month, the newspaper The Guardian reported that internal documents showed RCMP commanders instructed officers to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want” and stating that “lethal overwatch is req’d” ahead of the operation. In one document police admitted to hiding carbine rifles on the approach to the roadblock because the “optics” of the weapons were “not good”. RCMP said they have not seen the documents quoted in the article, and “cannot verify the validity of the statements made in the article or of the documents themselves.”
Since the January 2019 injunction, a landmark court decision commonly known as the Justin Brake case reaffirmed that special considerations apply to journalists covering a protest even when an injunction order has been issued. Considerations include considering if the person is engaged in good faith journalistic coverage, is not actively assisting the protesters, is not interfering with law enforcement and if the matters being reported on are of public interest.
In that case, decided by the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal in March 2019, Justice Derek Green vacated an injunction he found was improperly applied to journalist Justin Brake, who had been present as a journalist at an Indigenous-led demonstration against the Muskrat Falls Hydro project. Green also noted the importance of the media in advancing reconciliation and understanding of Indigenous peoples and issues stating that “particular consideration should be given to protests involving Aboriginal issues.”
“Both the Charter and the courts grant journalists a legitimate right to be on the scene and the RCMP must not use an injunction to shield itself from public scrutiny,” said Pugliese. “We will be watching closely.”
The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with more than 700 members across Canada. The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.