Environment

BC judge rules media has a right to access the Fairy Creek blockades

Capital Daily is part of a coalition of media partners that took the RCMP to court to ensure right to access

By Jimmy Thomson
July 20, 2021
Environment

BC judge rules media has a right to access the Fairy Creek blockades

Capital Daily is part of a coalition of media partners that took the RCMP to court to ensure right to access

By Jimmy Thomson
Jul 20, 2021
RCMP block the road into the Caycuse watershed. Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily
Environment

BC judge rules media has a right to access the Fairy Creek blockades

Capital Daily is part of a coalition of media partners that took the RCMP to court to ensure right to access

By Jimmy Thomson
July 20, 2021
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BC judge rules media has a right to access the Fairy Creek blockades
RCMP block the road into the Caycuse watershed. Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

Capital Daily, as part of a coalition of independent media outlets and the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), has won a court case that will force the RCMP to grant media unrestricted access to the Fairy Creek blockades. The judge ruled that such access must be granted unless there is a genuine operational or safety reason to restrict it. 

"I am not satisfied that geographically extensive exclusion zones, and associated access checkpoints, have been justified as reasonably necessary in order to give the police the space they need," Justice Douglas Thompson explained in court. "I exercise my discretion to make the order sought by the media consortium, on the basis that in making operational decisions and exercising its discretion surrounding the removal and arrest of persons violating the order, the RCMP will be reminded by the presence of this additional language to keep in mind the media’s special role in a free and democratic society, and the necessity of avoiding undue and unnecessary interference with the journalistic function."

The decision was welcomed by the partners who had taken the police to court.

“This is, without question, a watershed moment in the history of Canadian press freedom advocacy,” said Brent Jolly, president of the CAJ, in a statement. 

“The RCMP have now been told by two different courts, as well as their own oversight body, that their treatment of journalists is unacceptable in a free and democratic society. It is our hope that this latest defeat will prompt the RCMP to reexamine their approach with regards to allowing journalists to do their jobs.”  

Jackie Lamport and Emily Vance, producers of the Capital Daily Podcast, record in the field at the Fairy Creek protests.

The court challenge dates back to the spring.

Early in the morning on May 17, Capital Daily received word that RCMP officers were moving in to begin arrests at the Fairy Creek blockades. The move had been in the works for weeks, following an injunction against the blockaders in early April, which allowed the police to remove anyone preventing forestry workers’ access to their worksites.

But far from the site of the arrests, we were prevented from covering the action by RCMP officers who had blocked the road. Insistence that court precedent had already established the media’s right to cover police actions was disregarded—as were phone calls to the media officer in charge of coordinating access.

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The experience was far from the only example of heavy-handed control over reporters’ ability to do their jobs. Reporters were corralled, controlled, misled, monitored, and blocked from observing police tactics as the RCMP conducted the arrests. Reporters have been kept in pens—ostensibly for their own safety—far from the action they are there to report on. RCMP officers have shared conflicting and false information with media outlets, multiplying the cost and complication of covering police actions in remote locations. Police also threatened reporters with arrest if they failed to obey these restrictions.

“This problem, of the RCMP using broad exclusion zones to exclude journalists and restrict media access, has been a thorn in the side of the media since the Brake case,” said Ethan Cox, an editor with Ricochet Media who was part of the core group organizing the court case, in a statement alongside the CAJ.

“In Wet’suwet’en last year, multiple journalists were unlawfully detained by the RCMP and the force was condemned by most major international press freedom groups, and yet they employed the very same tactics this year at Fairy Creek.”

Capital Daily joined the court challenge along with The Narwhal, Canada’s National Observer, APTN News, The Discourse, Indiginews, and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression in order to force the addition of a clause to the injunction that would guarantee media access to the site of arrests. Lawyer Sean Hern, QC, represented the coalition on a pro bono basis.

The coalition had first sought to work with the RCMP to establish better protocols, but a letter sent by the media group was rejected by the police. After a two-day hearing, the coalition’s request for a clause ensuring access to be added to the injunction, has been granted.

Even as this decision is being announced, police in Toronto are preventing media access to parks in which they are clearing encampments—demonstrating that RCMP tactics are not theirs alone, and underscoring the need for media to fight for reasonable access at all levels, anywhere police are exercising their power on behalf of the public.

Editor's note: Jimmy Thomson is a board member of the CAJ. He recused himself from all CAJ discussions regarding the decision to proceed with the case.

contact@capitaldaily.ca

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BC judge rules media has a right to access the Fairy Creek blockades