When journalism is a crime

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A Newfoundland-based reporter faces criminal charges for apparently doing his job:

A journalist with Newfoundland online news outlet The Independent, Mr. Brake was in the midst of an intensive stint of reporting on the tensions inflamed by Muskrat Falls, the controversial Labrador-based hydroelectric project, on the day he filmed protesters cutting through a locked gate. When they flooded onto the project site in spite of an injunction blocking trespassers, Mr. Brake followed and continued to film.

While other media remained at the gate, Mr. Brake embedded himself with a largely Indigenous group of protesters (which he refers to as “land protectors”) while they occupied workers’ accommodations. He live streamed their protest for several days.

As a result of his work, Mr. Brake now finds himself at the lonely centre of a rare legal scenario thought to be unprecedented in Canada. More than a year after covering the protest, Mr. Brake is fighting both civil and criminal charges for violating the injunction that protesters ignored. He is thought to be the only journalist ever to have been charged both civilly and criminally for reporting on a matter of public interest in this country.

“To lay criminal charges against journalists is a very rare thing to do,” said Paul Schabas, a Toronto-based lawyer with expertise in media and constitutional law. “Here it strikes me as particularly extraordinary given that they are also proceeding with a civil remedy,” said Mr. Schabas, who is not involved with Mr. Brake’s case. “What’s the need to also pile on a criminal charge?”

[…]

Duncan Pike, co-director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, said Mr. Brake’s case is “incredibly dangerous for press freedom in Canada.”

“Canadians are very complacent with the state of our freedoms and think that these things don’t happen in Canada – that reporters don’t get arrested for their coverage,” Mr. Pike said, adding: “He was there as a journalist, doing his job.”

Brake was (and is) undeniably sympathetic to the protestors’ cause, but I am troubled to see him being punished for following a newsworthy event.  This is like a reporter interviewing Osama bin Laden being charged with harboring a fugitive.

Will people troubled by the state of free speech on campus speak out against this?

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