Nanaimo, July 20, 2021/CNW/ – Today’s decision by the British Columbia Supreme Court to grant an application to modify an injunction, which was brought forward by the Canadian Association of Journalists, in partnership with a coalition of news organizations and press freedom groups, is a resounding affirmation of media rights and the vital role journalism plays in upholding the public interest.
The press coalition had asked the court to add a clause to the injunction order granted to logging company Teal Jones in April, instructing the RCMP not to interfere with media access absent a bona fide operational reason for doing so.
In his decision, Justice Thompson agreed with the press coalition, stating: “I am not satisfied that geographically extensive exclusion zones, and associated access checkpoints, have been justified as reasonably necessary in order to give the police the space they need.”
He continued: “I exercise my discretion to make the order sought by the media consortium, on the basis that in making operational decisions and exercising its discretion surrounding the removal and arrest of persons violating the order, the RCMP will be reminded by the presence of this additional language to keep in mind the media’s special role in a free and democratic society, and the necessity of avoiding undue and unnecessary interference with the journalistic function.
“This is, without question, a watershed moment in the history of Canadian press freedom advocacy,” said Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.
“The RCMP have now been told by two different courts, as well as their own oversight body, that their treatment of journalists is unacceptable in a free and democratic society. It is our hope that this latest defeat will prompt the RCMP to reexamine their approach with regards to allowing journalists to do their jobs.”
Lawyers representing the RCMP and Teal Jones both opposed the application by the press coalition. The RCMP argued that media access was adequate. Teal Jones argued the press coalition lacked standing to intervene in the injunction proceeding.
Affidavits submitted by journalists as part of the proceeding painted a picture of arbitrary and unreasonable restrictions on access which sometimes saw media excluded entirely from the area. When they did get access they were chaperoned at all times, corralled in holding pens that were often far from the action and threatened with arrest if they moved.
Today’s victory by our coalition in the B.C. Supreme Court does not compel the RCMP to immediately change their practices, although it does compel them to reexamine them. The CAJ and its press coalition partners, however, hope that future injunctions will contain similar language that explicitly allows for journalists to freely access sites where events of interest to the public are unfolding.
“Our coalition’s efforts expressly shows that journalists in Canada will not concede to having their free expression rights trampled upon by law enforcement,” Jolly said.
“This decision is the sounding of an ominous warning bell to all law enforcement bodies across the country. We hope the days of impeding, curtailing, or interfering with journalists are, now, in the rear view mirror.”
“This problem, of the RCMP using broad exclusion zones to exclude journalists and restrict media access, has long been a thorn in the side of the media,” said Ethan Cox, an editor with Ricochet Media.
“In Wet’suwet’en last year, multiple journalists were unlawfully detained by the RCMP and the force was condemned by most major international press freedom groups, and yet they employed the very same tactics this year at Fairy Creek.”
The CAJ and members of the press coalition look forward to working with the RCMP, as equal parties, to establish suitable media policies that enable a free flow of information to the public, in particular during the enforcement of court injunctions.
Today’s successful court action was initiated by a coalition of press groups that includes the Canadian Association of Journalists, Ricochet Media, Capital Daily Victoria, The Narwhal, Canada’s National Observer, APTN News, The Discourse, Indiginews and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
The application was also supported by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Coalition for Women in Journalism.
The judge’s written reasons will be published online within 30 days. The coalition will disseminate them once they are publicly available.
The coalition will be hosting a press conference to answer media questions about the case this afternoon at 3 pm ET/Noon PT. To join the conference, please click here.
The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing more than 1000 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.
For more information or interviews:
President, Canadian Association of Journalists (on behalf of the coalition)
Editor, Ricochet Media