Press freedom advocates are calling for the release of photojournalist Amber Bracken and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano, who were arrested Friday at a resistance camp established by opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline at a work site west of Prince George, B.C.
The RCMP confirmed Sunday the pair are still in custody, awaiting a court date Monday morning, along with 13 other people who were arrested Friday.
The RCMP have acknowledged both Bracken and Toledano identified themselves as independent journalists.
On Sunday, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a U.S.-based organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, issued a statement calling for the release of Bracken and Toledano. The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) weighed in on Saturday, demanding their release along with their belongings and footage.
Peter Jacobsen of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression said the courts have been “very clear … that the journalists are not subject to the injunctions.”
Bracken, a photojournalist working for the Narwal, won a CAJ award for her work in 2020 covering the Wet’suwet’en conflict with Coastal GasLink. Toledano is an independent filmmaker who has been working on a documentary on the conflict and resistance to Coastal GasLink since 2019.
Journalists’ rights protected by charter
On Sunday, two federal cabinet ministers expressed concern about the arrests. In a Twitter thread, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendocino said journalists play an essential role in Canada’s democracy. “In order to fulfill that role, journalists must be able to work free from threats, intimidation or arbitrary state action.”
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller also weighed in on Twitter, writing, ‘journalists have a right to cover current events in this country.
“This right is essential to our democracy. They should not be held or detained any longer than is necessary to verify that they are journalists.”
Journalists have a right to cover current events in this country. This right is essential to our democracy. They should not be held or detained any longer than is necessary to verify that they are journalists. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/cdnpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#cdnpoli</a> <a href=”https://t.co/8rAaVi8FSh”>https://t.co/8rAaVi8FSh</a>
Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, called the recent actions of the RCMP “absolutely shameful.”
The rights of journalists are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but Jolly says the CAJ, along with a coalition of media outlets, had to take the RCMP to court to modify the injunction at the Fairy Creek blockade on Vancouver Island to ensure access for journalists.
On Oct. 8, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson ruled in their favour, stating that RCMP exclusion zones at Fairy Creek had “seriously and substantially impacted important liberties within the injunction area, including the ability of individuals to circulate freely, and freedoms of assembly and expression, including freedom of the press.”
Members of the Wet’suwet’en established a resistance camp at a Coastal GasLink work site on Sept. 25, halting plans to drill a tunnel under the Wedzin Kwa, or Morice River.
On Nov. 14, the group informed Coastal GasLink they would be enforcing an eviction notice issued on Jan. 4, 2020 by hereditary chiefs of all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
Police said upon arrival at the resistance camp Friday, they read a copy of a B.C. Supreme Court injunction notice allowing pipeline construction to move forward and warned those inside to leave multiple times, before forcibly entering and making arrests.
A total of 29 people have been arrested so far along the Morice River Forest Service Road, south of Houston in B.C.’s northern Interior.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline, if completed, will span 670 kilometres across northern B.C., transporting natural gas from near Dawson Creek in the east to Kitimat on the Pacific Ocean. The company has signed benefit agreements with 20 band councils along the route of the project. But Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership says band councils do not have authority over land beyond reserve boundaries.