When Emilee Gilpin, managing editor of IndigiNews, received a video of violent arrests by RCMP members at the so-called Fairy Creek Blockades, she knew she needed to be there to witness.
For the past two weeks, RCMP officers have been enforcing a court injunction by arresting people demonstrating against old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek and Caycuse watersheds near Port Renfrew, B.C. in Pacheedaht and Ditidaht territories on southern Vancouver Island.
When Emilee arrived to document what was left of the camp following arrests this weekend, she was prevented from entering. A media relations officer told her that journalists would be escorted into the site only when law enforcement was active. Earlier that day, other journalists had similarly been prevented from gaining access to the demonstration area.
Shortly after, arrests were made — without journalists present to document what happened.
This was just the latest tactic by police to prevent journalists from reporting on how they are enforcing a court injunction won by the Teal-Jones forestry company. Demonstrators say they are protecting one of the last remaining old-growth watersheds in the region.
Last week, RCMP officers used tarps to block journalists’ view of arrests and prevent them from doing their job. Most recently, they created a pen to corral journalists at a distance from where arrests were taking place.
This is why IndigiNews and its sister publication The Discourse have joined a coalition of other media to take legal action to ensure journalists aren’t prevented from doing their jobs by police. We are joined by the Canadian Association of Journalists, Ricochet Media, The Narwhal, Capital Daily, Canada’s National Observer, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE).
“Over the past week, we’ve repeatedly seen the RCMP shift the goal posts on how it plans to allow journalists access in order to cover this important public interest story,” said Brent Jolly, CAJ president. “Every day is a new day with new excuses from the RCMP about why access is limited. Enough is enough.”
“The ability of journalists to access and report on matters of public interest receives strong protection under Canadian law,” the coalition wrote to RCMP in a letter yesterday. “Injunctions, such as the one in place at Fairy Creek, are not intended to interfere with those legal rights and interests, and must not be enforced by the RCMP in such a way that unnecessarily prevents or impedes journalists exercising those rights and performing their vital function.”
The coalition called on the RCMP to:
- Immediately end the practice of applying exclusion zones to journalists. All members of the media must be able to freely access protest sites where events of interest to the public are unfolding. This access must not be contingent on the availability of a media liaison officer.
- Journalists must be allowed to be close enough to participants in the unfolding events to record video and sound, conduct interviews and take photographs. This distance should be sufficient to avoid any accidental interference with officers performing their duties. We draw your attention to the work of police forces in cities across Canada, who routinely arrest protesters engaged in unlawful conduct without restricting media access to the area in any way.
- Refrain from using physical obstructions that block the view or prevent the media from capturing audio. Do not hold up tarps around arrests, place loud generators between journalists and arrests or position officers to block cameras.
- Journalists must be allowed to move freely on site, as long as they do not interfere with the execution of RCMP activities. This means that journalists should not be corralled or forced to move as a group or with a police escort. By forcing working journalists to be chaperoned by a police escort, the RCMP is compromising journalists’ ability to freely gather information.
- The equipment of journalists must not be seized or otherwise interfered with.
- You must immediately cease arresting or detaining journalists within injunction zones for asserting their right to document events.
RCMP responded in a letter dated May 27, 2021. It says that “significant steps were taken to ensure fair access was provided to journalists” in preparing for the enforcement. It says that “journalists have been allowed beyond the access control point without escort.”
The letter also says that police will continue to use tarps to protect police tactics from view, and that generators are necessary to power their tools. It details examples where RCMP say people misrepresented themselves as journalists to gain access. The letter says that interested media organizations have been provided with information on how their journalists can prove their credentials to gain entry into the exclusion area.
“We hear your concerns but we have also heard from other members of the media and their agencies that media access has exceeded their expectations and has been a reasonable and fair approach,” it says.
As we fight for the right of journalists to document what’s happening in our forests, the arrests continue. Legal observers and police liaisons were included in the 55 people arrested Tuesday, Emilee Gilpin reported for IndigiNews.
“I’ll be there to witness,” says Emilee. “These are remote logging roads with no cell reception. There is a pattern of escalation happening in the second week. It’s really outside the public’s eye.”
Readers can help make IndigiNews’ and The Discourse’s work possible, by making a one-time contribution towards our legal challenge. All funds will go to cover legal costs and on-the-ground reporting expenses.