WASHINGTON – Beginning on February 6, journalists have reported that police were detaining and threatening to arrest those covering the RCMP’s activity toward environmental and indigenous rights protesters in the Wet’suwet’en territory of British Columbia, where police were attempting to enforce the injunction a court granted at the end of 2019 to allow pipeline company workers access to the territory unhindered. At least one journalist was detained by police, put in a police car and driven off the territory, while police told another reporter he would be arrested if he didn’t leave the injunction zone. Protesters have gathered to support members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation who oppose the construction of a gas pipeline through their territory.
The RCMP’s actions are in contravention of a March 2019 landmark court decision that reaffirmed special considerations apply to journalists covering protests even in injunction zones, with considerations including whether the person is engaged in “good faith” journalistic coverage, is not interfering with law enforcement or actively assisting protesters, and if the information is of the public interest. The justice who made this decision noted the importance of media coverage of indigenous issues, stating that “particular consideration should be given to protests involving Aboriginal issues.” Last year, RSF voiced similar concerns about the RCMP’s attempts to block press access to environmental protests led by members of Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
“Canadian journalists have a right to be present during indigenous rights protests, and the RCMP has shown a blatant disregard to the constitutionally guaranteed free press,” said Dokhi Fassihian, Executive Director of RSF’s North America bureau. “The protests happening in the Wet’suwet’en territory are critically important to the public interest, and court precedent acknowledges the importance of media coverage of issues related to Canada’s indigenous population.”
Thoughts a spokesperson for the RCMP told a reporter on February 6 that the police respect the rights of journalists and would make “every reasonable effort to allow media personnel to get as close as possible to the enforcement area,” journalists on the ground reported in the days that followed that police continued to interfere with their work. A documentary filmmaker tweeted on February 8 that the RCMP was “bullying journalists to repress images in real time.”
Canada is ranked 18 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.