Trends show a clear sign that Canada is allowing tendencies of an oppressive state where law enforcement’s action cannot be documented by independent journalists and instead they are slapped with bogus charges.
The Toronto Star: The arrest, detention and bogus charges against journalist Brandi Morin launched by the Edmonton police should concern everyone. On Jan. 10, Morin was interviewing indigenous elders and people inside an encampment in Edmonton for Ricochet media, when the police raid on indigenous encampments began.
Despite showing her credentials Morin was arrested, detained and kept in a cell at the police station for hours and charged with obstruction. Later Morin told me, an officer told her he had heard of her and knew her work.
The events Morin experienced that day was not only an escalation of police encounter for a journalist doing her job, but also what seems to be a carefully thought through intervention to the press’s ability to have access when the police is using force on citizens. Is it reasonable that after the police saw Morin’s press credentials and the condemnations of her arrest — which were all over social media while she had been in the police station — that the police had a reason to believe that she was “obstructing?”
Charging a journalist covering a public issue that impacts hundreds of thousands of Canadians lacks foresight and sincerity on many levels, but most importantly smells of maleficence. This is a deliberate charge to intimidate journalists covering important stories that bring vital insight into some of the most concerning and sensitive issues impacting Canadians lives today.
This is not the first time law enforcement in Canada has gotten in the way of journalistic work.
At Women Press Freedom, a New York-based advocacy group focused on press freedom and gender globally, we observe authorities impeding journalists to be an ongoing issue and unfortunately a growing trend in Canada.
Since 2019, according to Women Press Freedom, almost 70 Canadian women journalists have been intimated or harassed for doing their work: 39 of these incidents include smear campaigns and online harassment, 16 press freedom violations including assaults while on the job, and 17 of these have been violations and impediments conducted by law enforcement including police and RCMP. These numbers only reflect attacks on the press for women journalists and do not cover the overall picture, which is much more bleak.
In 2016, journalist Justin Brake was criminally charged for his coverage of an occupation by Innu and Inuit land protectors of a construction site for Muskrat Falls, a controversial $12-billion hydroelectric project in Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2021, Ian Wilms was arrested while covering a similar raid of homeless encampment. The same year journalist Amber Bracken and Micheal Toledano were arrested by RCMP while reporting on the escalating situation at Gidimt’en camp in Wet’suwet’en territory. During Fairy Creek several journalists were intimidated, harassed and impeded from reporting on the protests.
When it comes to police intimidation, impediment or arrests, we notice a consistent thread: number of journalists covering Indigenous stories and climate change-related stories dominate the chart. Brandi Morin has been targeted by RCMP and police on multiple occasions in the past few years, and in all these cases she was covering issues that impact lives of Indigenous Peoples.
These trends show a clear sign that Canada is allowing tendencies of an oppressive state where law enforcement’s action cannot be documented by independent journalists and instead they are slapped with bogus charges. These are clear intimidations, and if a reformation of these police actions are not called for now, it would harm other institutions in the country widely.
This calls for attention for all Canadian leadership, particularly those who care about this country’s democratic values. There is an urgent need for steps that ensure the police and law enforcement comply with the laws of democracy, in which journalists are not obstructed but respected and supported.
Morin was just doing her job. It is time that the Edmonton Police takes inspiration from that and do their job by respecting freedom of the press and dropping charges against her.
By Kiran Nazish Contributor
Kiran Nazish is the founding director of the New York-based Women Press Freedom and the Coalition For Women In Journalism.