The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) calls on Toronto authorities to immediately drop all restrictions placed on Canadian Press photojournalist Chris Young and commit publicly to stop arresting reporters covering the removal of homeless encampments.
“This is the second time in less than 30 days where a Toronto journalist has been handcuffed and detained simply for doing their job,” said CAJ president Brent Jolly. “This is yet another attempt by the City of Toronto and police to intimidate journalists from covering their activity and it must stop immediately.”
Young was in Alexandra Park to cover a City of Toronto eviction of about 30 people who were living in the park as well as multiple arrests.
Young told the CAJ he had entered past a fenced area to document the evictions and a police officer he was familiar with gave him permission to stay and take photos. Shortly after that, however, corporate security from the City of Toronto arrived and told Young he had to leave. He told them he needed to be there to cover the evictions and displayed his CP press credentials.
After this, another city security officer arrived and told Young he would have to get back behind the fence. He said he was told by city workers and police he could leave willingly, or be arrested. Young told them he’d take the arrest, and was placed in handcuffs by city security, a power granted to them by provincial trespass legislation.
“I was marched out and released without charge, and given a trespass notice,” he said. Young was told he cannot return to the park for 90 days and this will prevent him from covering the evictions. “It’s obviously an infringement on press freedom and press rights,” he said, adding that removing journalists can allow abuses or violations to occur without a media witness.
These are the same tactics that Toronto police engaged in last month. On June 22, Toronto Police handcuffed and detained Ian Willms, an internationally recognized photojournalist, and confiscated his camera equipment as he was attempting to cover encampment evictions at Trinity Bellwoods Park.
City spokesperson Brad Ross said Young was arrested after being asked to leave multiple times and that the restrictions were necessary to protect the privacy of those being evicted from the encampment and to ensure public safety while debris was being removed. “We closed the park to everybody except those who were authorized to be in the park to do this work,” Ross said.
Toronto police told the CAJ they did not arrest or charge Young. Neither the city nor police agreed to the CAJ’s demand that journalists be given unfettered access to the park and that all restrictions on Young’s access to the park be dropped.
Young is an accomplished professional with over two decades of experience as a photojournalist. He’s worked for media outlets including the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, Forbes, the New York Times and Agence France-Presse.
Early Tuesday morning, the CAJ called on Toronto to stop trying to restrict press access to Alexandra Park. Ross told CAJ that media pool access is being organized to allow some photojournalists and television cameras into the fenced areas to cover the developing situation. The CAJ welcomes this, as well as Ross’ commitment to have a dialogue about broader media access.
Safety or privacy is a tired and baseless excuse to arrest and bar media from reporting on these evictions. Journalists are professionals who regularly cover dangerous events where police are present and understand how to report without compromising the safety of anyone involved. To suggest otherwise is insulting.
“We are deeply disturbed by the limiting of press access to these arrests as it prevents the media from creating a permanent record of these events and ensuring the public is well aware of the city’s actions,” said Jolly.
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.