The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) condemns the Toronto Police’s attempts to obstruct multiple journalists from scrutinizing their activity in a public park today, including the detention of one photojournalist.
Five journalists at the scene told the CAJ that their access to the fenced areas in the park was blocked by police. One freelance photojournalist who was wearing a vest with “news” written on it said he was shoved aside by police while covering the events. The same photojournalist said he was told by police he couldn’t access the area because he wasn’t on “a pre-approved list.” Others told the CAJ they were told if they left the fenced area they would not be allowed back in the area “for security”.
At around 1:30 p.m. E.T. on June 22, police also detained and handcuffed Ian Willms, an internationally recognized photojournalist, and confiscated his photography equipment as he attempted to cover police clearing homeless people out of Trinity Bellwoods Park.
Willms told the CAJ he was standing outside a fenced area around the homeless encampments, about 100 metres away from a large gathering of police around a group of homeless people. He asked police multiple times to enter the area and was denied. Willms said police provided him and other reporters no clear, legal reason for the restricted access. He added there were no signs claiming it was a no-trespassing zone.
Willms said his view of what was happening inside the fenced area was obstructed by the crowd of police and trees, and he wanted to enter to observe the actions of police.
“I made a choice and went over the fence to better see what they were doing, which I couldn’t see even if I had a really strong telephoto lens,” he said. “I did what I did to make sure there was accountability for the people in the encampment.”
Video footage and eye-witness accounts show that Willms was immediately detained by a group of officers despite clearly identifying himself as a journalist by holding up his press card from the National Press Photographers Association. Police handcuffed him behind his back and transported him in a court service truck for an hour and a half to 11 Division.
Willms was told at the park he was being charged with trespassing, obstruction and causing a disturbance. Later on in the truck, he said he was told the charge was just trespassing. At the station, Willms said he was released and told he was not allowed to go back to the park today and that he could be fined if he was arrested for similar behaviour there again.
“The Toronto Police have no right to detain journalists who are covering events of public interest,” said CAJ president Brent Jolly. “Today’s events were a complete overreaction. Toronto Police used a hammer to swat a fly.”
Willms is the recipient of over 30 accolades including a National Newspaper Award for best news photograph and a National Magazine Award for photojournalism. His work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, The Walrus, and The New York Times.
Toronto Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This arrest marks at least the second time this month that Canadian police have restricted journalists in an unacceptable fashion. On June 2, the CAJ, along with a coalition of news organizations and press freedom groups, filed a legal application to allow journalists substantive access to cover a demonstration against the logging of an old-growth forest currently taking place in the Fairy Creek watershed, near Port Renfrew, B.C.
“Canada is a democracy. The media has the constitutional right to cover police activity,” Jolly said. “We have said this too many times now, but any efforts that prevent journalists from scrutinizing police actions must always be strongly denounced.”
For further information: Brent Jolly, CAJ president, 289-387-3179, email@example.com
The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing more than 900 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.