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Canadian news organizations are taking legal action for freedom of the press at Fairy Creek

A coalition of Canadian news organizations and freedom of the press groups, including The Narwhal, has announced that it will take legal action to give journalists substantial access to reports of continued demonstrations against deforestation of old growth in the Fairy Creek and Caycuse watersheds near Port Renfrew , BC

“Over the past week we have seen the RCMP repeatedly move the target posts on how journalists should be given access to cover this important story of public concern,” Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said in one Explanation.

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“Every day is a new day with new excuses from the RCMP as to why access is restricted. Enough is enough.”

The coalition legal action notice, led by the Canadian Association of Journalists, follows a formal letter the coalition sent to the RCMP on May 25. She urged the media to have fair access to the demonstrations and arrests and expressed grave concern about serious violations of the freedom of the press.

More than four dozen people were arrested this month in ongoing civil disobedience actions, which include chaining on forest bridges, cutting down road infrastructure, and hanging in trees.

“We have documented reports from numerous journalists who have been denied access to the RCMP enforcement area due to the widespread use of restricted areas,” the coalition letter said. “When journalists are given access, that access has been restricted in a way that significantly prevents them from doing their job.”

In April, forest company Teal-Jones received a court order to allow the arrest and removal of protesters from access points to planned logging in the Fairy Creek area, the only intact old growth watershed on south Vancouver Island.

The RCMP then set up a restricted area that restricted access to a protest camp in the Caycuse River Valley – one of several areas where members of the Rainforest Flying Squad and its supporters have been camping since last winter to stop logging – and informed members In the press, they were “invited” to meet an RCMP press officer on a golf course in Honeymoon Bay to sign up and take a guided tour of a “designated media area” near the blockades.

In an email from RCMP Corporal Chris Manseau, Jesse Winter, a freelance journalist who covered the blockades on The Narwhal, was told that he would need a police escort to the media zone on a daily basis and that “the on-site media officer will be advised, what time the group has to leave the enforcement area. “

“No one will be allowed to stay. You can, however, choose to return the next day and be redirected back to the designated media area,” the email read. “Due to the schedule and logistics, these plans may vary. We cannot guarantee you access if you are not there on time, but we will ensure that we let you know in good time if the meeting times change. “

Ricochet media editor Ethan Cox (unrelated to the author) said the RCMP has been using wide restricted areas to disrupt media representatives in several provinces for at least eight years.

“A precedent and the RCMP regulator say this is beyond the authority of the force, but it keeps happening,” said Cox. “What is at stake here is nothing less than the public’s right to know.”

Carol Linnitt, editor-in-chief of The Narwhal, said there was an apparent lack of clarity regarding freedom of the press in omission zones.

She said the risk to journalists was highlighted by the case of journalist Justin Brake, who was prosecuted under civil and criminal law for reporting on indigenous opponents of the Muskrat Falls dam in Labrador. Brake, who documented the activities of protesters when they broke through a gate to march on a construction site in violation of a restraining order, was eventually relieved of mischief after a 2019 court ruling found he was doing his job as a journalist rightly done.

According to Linnitt, journalists have an unconditional responsibility to cover events of public interest and it is unacceptable for the RCMP to set arbitrary conditions on how journalists fulfill this social role.

“It is also unacceptable for journalists to be threatened with arrest or locked in police lockdowns with limited freedoms,” she said.

“Freedom of the press is particularly important at a time when police powers themselves are the subject of media coverage of the public interest. How the RCMP responds to civil disobedience is a fundamental concern of democracy and the police themselves should not be allowed to set the parameters of press coverage. “

Canadians are paying close attention to police activity in the Fairy Creek and Caycuse catchment areas, Linnitt said. “If the RCMP wants to standardize the protocols for press coverage of protests and the enforcement of injunctions, it should do so in order to protect the integrity of broad journalistic freedoms.”

On May 18, the CAJ issued a statement asking the courts to limit the RCMP’s powers to issue injunctions.

The coalition’s letter to the RCMP underscored that the ability of journalists to access and report on matters of public interest is strongly protected under Canadian law and is essential to the proper functioning of democracy.

“Orders like those of Fairy Creek are not intended to interfere with these legal rights and interests and must not be enforced by the RCMP in such a way that journalists are unnecessarily prevented or hindered from exercising these rights and fulfilling their livelihood function,” wrote the coalition.

The coalition also includes Capital Daily, Canada’s National Observer, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), The Discourse, and IndigiNews.

Manseau did not respond to The Narwhal’s request for comment, and the RCMP had not acknowledged receipt of the coalition letter at the time of publication.

A person is arrested for refusing to adhere to a police-ordered media protection zone at an old logging blockade in the Caycuse River Valley on Vancouver Island.

Photo: Jesse Winter / The Narwhal

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