The RCMP must respect the freedom of the press

The arrest of two Canadian journalists shows us our rights are not as safe as we hoped

Two Canadian journalists were arrested, along with over a dozen protesters, on Friday Nov. 19 by the RCMP while covering the Indigenous protest on Wet’suwet’en land against the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia.

Amber Bracken, an award-winning photojournalist who was on assignment for The Narwhal, and Michael Toledano, a documentary filmmaker with a focus on Indigenous and environmental stories, were detained for the entire weekend. The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) called for their immediate release on Friday, and since then, the RCMP’s actions have prompted national outrage and international coverage.

Notably, these two arrests come just after the CAJ and other media outlets won a court challenge at the Supreme Court against the RCMP in July, with the judge ruling the police cannot interfere with journalistic coverage of the protests without indicating an operational reason for blocking the media’s access.

Detaining two journalists for covering an event is a violation of press freedom in Canada. This was a deliberate attempt to curtail coverage of the protest and the subsequent actions of the RCMP onsite, and these violations cannot continue to happen.

In an open letter, multiple media companies have urged the Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino and the Liberal party to hold the RCMP accountable for multiple breaches of press freedom rights, but even with overwhelming support for journalists, there needs to be more done to provide oversight for the RCMP.

Whether or not you agree with the protest against the pipelines in B.C., militant action against protesters and journalists is not the answer. Just last year, The Guardian uncovered the RCMP was prepared to shoot Indigenous activists participating in the protest against the Coastal GasLink pipeline. By forcibly limiting coverage of divisive events, vulnerable communities become exposed to extreme violence due to the lack of oversight.

As a student newspaper, we are grateful to see media organizations immediately react to protect journalists on the field. The Concordian stands with Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano in their pursuit to justice following the events this past weekend.

Photograph by Alex Hutchins

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