Current Problems

Media and Reconciliation (84-86)

Indigenous reporter fears more journalists will be targeted after arrest as police cleared Canada camp

February 2, 2024

Brandi Morin was charged while reporting at encampment authorities arrived at to dismantle and could face two years in jail

NationTalk: The Guardian – A journalist in Canada who was arrested and charged while reporting on a police operation to clear an encampment for unhoused Indigenous people says she fears the charges will chill further reporting of marginalized groups.

Brandi Morin, an Indigenous journalist, was arrested on 10 January while documenting police efforts to dismantle the camp in the city of Edmonton.

Morin, an award-winning journalist who has written for a range of outlets including the Guardian, was interviewing the camp’s leader when police created a perimeter of yellow tape around the camp. As a scuffle broke out, an officer ordered her to join other reporters outside the perimeter.

Morin, at the time on assignment for Ricochet Media, said she refused to leave. “As someone who has covered police action against Indigenous peoples, I know of the violence and brutality that our people experience. It was important for me to be there as a witness,” she said in an interview.

A spokesperson for Edmonton police service said officers “repeatedly” directed Morin to an area where other journalists were gathered, warning that she would be arrested if she “refused to comply” with the orders.

“The EPS has made extensive efforts to ensure journalists have access to encampment closures. Journalists are allowed to capture footage while standing a safe distance from the worksite,” the statement said. “This is done to protect them from the unpredictable hazards of an encampment clean-up, such as explosions, fire, biohazards and weapons concerns, and to protect the privacy of encampment residents.”

Ricochet called the arrest “unlawful”.

Morin said that being arrested and then “paraded” before TV cameras to a police van was deeply humiliating. She was kept in a cell for five hours before she was released, after signing a promise to return for fingerprinting and a mugshot. She was given the chance to call Ricochet to arrange a lawyer and arrange for her daughter to be picked up from daycare.

She initially believed the charges would be dropped. But when it became clear the city’s police weren’t backing down, Morin returned to the police station on Tuesday. Morin was photographed and fingerprinted – and realized that she was now on the police database. “I thought about all of the violence against our people – and how police use mugshots of Indigenous women and youth when they’re missing, to identify them – and to criminalize them.”

Morin is due to appear in court on 16 February.

The Stony Plain-based journalist has made a career of reporting on climate crisis and Indigenous issues, documenting tailing pond leaks in First Nations communities as well as the national crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. But the emotional toll of the charges have weighed heavily on her.

“I am a strong person and a strong woman. But there have been moments where I have felt defeated. There have been moments when I’ve have felt like getting out of this work. And that terrifies me. Because if I do, they are successful in silencing me.”

PEN Canada said it was “deeply concerned” by the charges against Morin. “Canadian law protects journalists from arrest or detention when they are reporting on matters of public interest and not engaged in violent activity or serious attempts to obstruct police,” the group said.

Morin’s arrest comes as a British Columbia court prepares to consider another lawsuit that could have significant implications for Canadian journalists reporting in areas where police try to limit access.

Photojournalist Amber Bracken was detained in 2021 while covering a police raid on an Indigenous protest camp in British Columbia.

The Narwhal, an environmental publication that had commissioned Bracken, has sued Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), arguing Bracken’s rights were violated. The case is due to be heard in October 2024.

Courts in both Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia have been critical of how police apply injunction orders and ‘exclusion zones’ to journalists.

Earlier this week, the Canadian Association of Journalists called Morin’s arrest a “self-imposed ‘black eye’” for law enforcement “through ignorance or indifference, the invaluable role journalists play in a free and democratic society” “This pattern of behaviour must be stopped in its tracks,” president Brent Jolly said at a press conference.

Morin says she will plead not guilty to the charges. If convicted, she could face a maximum of two years in jail.

“For too long, our people’s voices were silenced. Their stories are starting to make headlines,” she said. “And this isn’t just about me. Every other journalist could be targeted. This is what we’re called to do as journalists: to hold powers to account and to go places that are contentious and difficult and tough. To do our jobs.”

Leyland Cecco in Toronto

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John Crace

Guardian columnist

John Crace, Guardian columnist