Two journalists were arrested and detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia on Friday night while reporting from Wet’suwet’en territory. Both remain in custody.
Since last year, the media has covered the RCMP raids on the territory, indigenous rights, and the police eviction of land defenders who are blocking the clearing of primary forests in the area.
Photographer Amber Bracken was working for The Narwhal when she was arrested. Also arrested was filmmaker and photographer Michael Toledo, a freelance reporter who has been living in the Wet’suwet’en territory to make a documentary on what indigenous peoples face in the region.
The Narwhal said in statements posted on Twitter that they are “extremely disturbed” to learn that Bracken was arrested and that the RCMP is refusing to release her in violation of her charter rights.
They also confirmed to the Star that Bracken carried a formal letter of assignment and was clearly identified as a member of the media. Narwhal editor-in-chief Emma Gilchrist said they contacted the RCMP to inform them that Bracken was working as a journalist covering the Gidimt’en camp.
“We strongly condemn the RCMP for this behavior and all violations of press freedom in this country,” he said in an emailed statement.
Carol Linnitt, co-founder of The Narwhal, said in statements posted on Twitter early Saturday morning that Bracken will be transported from Houston, BC to Smithers and then Prince George to face a bail hearing on Monday.
Linnitt said Bracken was reporting from within an interdiction zone.
“The fact that the RCMP knows without a doubt that (Bracken) is a journalist and was on the scene to report for a publication and they still refuse to release her, infuriates me incredibly,” he said.
In a press release published Friday night, the RCMP said they observed “additional obstructions” around a drilling site and told those inside the structures to leave or they would face arrest after reading one. ” judicial order of the Supreme Court of BC “. They said that the people “did not comply” and were detained. Eleven people were arrested, including two independent journalists, they confirmed.
A total of 15 people were arrested Friday for “violating” the court order, they said.
Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), says the two arrests are unjustified.
“It is totally and absolutely shocking to what extent the RCMP is going to prevent journalists from covering events that are happening in the public interest,” he said.
Jolly says neither he nor the attorneys for Bracken and Toledo have been able to contact the couple.
Bracken and Toledo are currently being held in Smithers, BC, and are scheduled to be transported to Prince George for a bond hearing on Monday, according to Jolly.
Last year, Bracken won the CAJ President’s Award along with two other reporters for their “moral courage” in defending press freedom in the Wet’suwet’en territory.
In July, the Canadian Association of Journalists, a nonprofit organization that works to defend press freedom and connect reporters across the country, along with many other journalism organizations, won a judicial challenge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on Freedom of the Press in the Fairy Creek Area. .
They urged the court to modify a court order that would tell the RCMP to stop restricting media outlets in the area without an operational reason to do so. The judge’s final decision agreed with the media groups, explaining that the RCMP had not been able to prove why they had to exclude the media from covering the region.
The media have argued that they need to be present to document police actions in the territory, where the people of Wet’suwet’en say they never gave up or surrendered their land.
Jolly says recent arrests show the ruling has fallen on deaf ears.
“It has been completely ignored,” he said. “At this point, we are trying to figure out what kind of actions we can take. But right now, what we want is for Amber and Michael to be released immediately. “
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