Ontario Provincial Police arrest journalists after tension rises at 1492 Land Back Lane
Karl Dockstader, a member of the Oneida Nation and journalist, was arrested on Sept. 2 while covering the occupation of the land development Mackenzie Meadows. Dockstader is an award-winning journalist who works for One Dish, One Mic.
The day after Dockstader’s arrest, Courtney Skye, who is Six Nations and a freelance journalist, was also arrested. The independent media outlet Azaadi Now has also made a statement that one of their production members was arrested on Sept. 9.
Since July, Land Defenders have occupied land along the Haldimand Tract, bordering the town of Caledonia and the Six Nations reserve, near Toronto. The occupation is referred to as ‘1492 Land Back Lane,’ referencing the year Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, beginning centuries of colonization.
The Haldimand Tract was granted in 1784 to the Six Nations after they had allied with the British during the American Revolution.
“Through a series of colonial manoeuvres, the land is now slated for a housing development named Mackenzie Meadows,” noted Shree Paradkar, writer for The Star.
The Land Defenders assert that the land is rightfully theirs, yet Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt claimed in a public statement that no land was stolen, and everyone has legally paid for the land they own. Mayor Hewitt stated that he believes the federal government is responsible for any mismanagement of land claims.
“I am tired of hearing about stolen land and that we are guilty of stealing land,” he wrote. “I look forward to the peaceful end to this ILLEGAL occupation, and I will not support lifting the injunctions until all roads, railings and property are completely vacated.”
The injunction was granted by the Supreme Court in July, calling for Land Defenders to leave the development. Then on Aug. 5, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) attempted to clear out the Land Defenders, who resisted by setting construction equipment ablaze and barricading roads.
This resulted in the OPP firing rubber bullets at the crowds — which can cause severe injuries and, in rare cases, death.
A press release regarding Dockstader’s arrest stated that he was arrested for mischief and failure to comply with the court order.
“He understood that as a journalist, as long as he didn’t actively assist the land defenders that his status as a journalist would protect his work,” read the statement.
Dockstader had partnered with Canadaland to explore the systemic anti-Indigenous racism in the RCMP and the OPP, and how those issues are at play at 1492 Land Back Lane, where he was arrested.
Skye, who was charged similarly to Dockstader, tweeted, “I was sitting on the banks of the Grand River with my auntie/sis. I was literally arrested within feet of our river in my homelands.”
“To me it’s fairly cut and dry that this is an overreach of the OPP,” said Alan Conter, a journalism professor at Concordia. Conter believes that the OPP overstepped and never should have arrested the journalists.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. Conter stated that there is legal precedent from the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal ensuring that journalists aren’t barred from areas with injunctions and are safe from arrest during demonstrations.
“Another overreach by the police in terms of criminalizing journalistic behavior,” said Conter.
Conter said he will be flabbergasted if Dockstader’s appeal against his charges don’t go in his favour, yet Conter admits that it’s never a good idea to guess what will happen.
“The OPP should drop the charges and save Ontario justice from the embarrassment,” he said.
Conter said that it’s vitally important that journalism students are taught about how the authority of police are used to block investigations, and not just for Indigenous issues. He believes that if a journalist is facing aggression and detainment from the police, the best thing to do is to comply and then take the police to court afterwards.
“It’s an attack, in civil society the media is one of the pillars of society,” said Dr. Catherine Richardson, a Métis director of the First Peoples Studies at Concordia. Dr. Richardson said that the media gives accurate accounts and informs the public on issues and events, an integral aspect of democracy.
“Arresting journalists is another way of stifling dissent,” she said. “It serves the interests of the elite to stop journalists reporting.”
Dr. Richardson believes that one of the reasons the police are becoming more militarized is because of the rise of the right wing, and that some of the wealthy elite invest in this militarization to police Indigenous movements.
When asked if she believes only Indigenous journalists should report on issues like 1492 Land Back Lane, she explained that while non-Indigeous journalists don’t have the same inside perspective as Indigenous reporters, non-Indigenous people usually have the advantage of more access to resources, money, and legal aid.
She said the most important thing that non-Indigenous journalists must do is their research to better understand the complexity of Indigenous issues.
Visuals by Taylor Reddam