The arrest of two journalists who were covering the protests at the Coastal GasLink pipeline work sites in northern B.C. last week has brought back to light the importance of press freedom.
Photojournalist Amber Bracken and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano were among the 15 or so people arrested by RCMP at a Wet'suwet'en Nation protest that blocked access to the construction site of a contentious natural gas pipeline project. The arrests were made as RCMP claimed the protestors were violating a 2019 injunction that forbids obstruction of work on the pipeline.
Bracken's arrest came despite her possession of a press pass and a formal letter of assignment from The Narwhal – the magazine she was shooting for, who had also alerted police ahead of time that she would be covering the protest.
Arresting journalists for doing their jobs is unfortunately nothing new – just read some of the recaps of the protests and riots that took place in the United States in 2020. It's easy to see how a police officer can mistakenly arrest a journalist in the heat of the moment. In the chaos of a riot or protest, it's easy enough for protestors to pose as media, or for journalists to be mistaken as protest participants.
However, keeping arrested journalists in custody needs to stop. Bracken and Toledano were reportedly in custody for three days before being released, even though they provided proof of their media credentials immediately after being arrested. There needs to be a better process in place where journalists are able to be released from custody immediately after providing proof of work-related identification.
The case has rightfully alarmed advocates for press freedom, who claimed the incident is a violation of the arrested journalists' charter rights and the RCMP acted with impunity.
We agree. As journalists, Bracken and Toledano were providing a crucial service at the Wet'suwet'en protests, providing boots-on-the-ground reporting and being the public's objective eyes and ears. It's reprehensible that they were punished for that.