A “monumental achievement” for press freedom
Court upholds media’s right to report in Fairy Creek
On Tuesday, the Canadian Association of Journalists (ACJ), along with several independent media organizations and press freedom groups, declared a victory for media rights and the public interest over journalists’ ability to access at the Fairy Creek Dams.
Linda Solomon Wood, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of National Observer, told a joint press conference with CAJ and Ricochet: Change (and other) areas where public interests are at stake and where people are facing very difficult situations – it is so important that journalists have the opportunity to step in and bring this story back to the public.
On April 1, a logging company, Teal Cedar Products Ltd., obtained an injunction to ban roadblocks on access roads in an old growth forest in British Columbia where Indigenous land defenders and their allies blocked roads for prevent the felling of trees.
The RCMP took a broad and rather aggressive view of this injunction with respect to the media and their ability to witness protests and enforcement action against them, establishing exclusion zones that the press could not enter without. police authorization. The disputed area is around Port Renfrew, British Columbia, on the traditional territory of the Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations.
Pro bono representative of the press coalition, lawyer Sean Hern successfully argued for a clause to be inserted in the April injunction that would ask the RCMP not to obstruct media access to Fairy Creek . (See full text below.)
In addition to the CAJ, the coalition supporting the legal claim to the BC Supreme Court included The Discourse, IndigiNews, Ricochet Media, Capital Daily Victoria, The Narwhal, APTN and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. The request was filed in May after continued RCMP media interference trying to cover the story.
A written court decision will be available within 30 days. In the meantime, Presiding Judge Justice Douglas Thompson made comments in court that he hoped would serve as a guide for the RCMP and the media until the written decision is rendered.
Justice Thompson noted that public access was the primary concern of the Fairy Creek blockade injunction. He further stated: “I am not convinced that the geographically large exclusion zones and associated access control points have been justified as being reasonably necessary to give the police the space they need. “
The judge continued: “I am exercising my discretion to make the order requested by the media consortium, on the grounds that in making operational decisions and in exercising its discretion regarding the removal and arrest of violators of the ‘Order, the RCMP will be reminded by the presence of this additional language to keep in mind the special role of the media in a free and democratic society, and the need to avoid undue and unnecessary interference in the journalistic function.
CAJ’s Brent Jolly said at the press conference after that “there aren’t a lot of situations where you have a David and Goliath situation and David ends up coming out on top, so it’s a really monumental achievement for this group.”
In a follow-up interview with Canadaland, Jolly said that “to challenge the RCMP and have a judge on our side for our arguments that the public’s right to know is worth fighting for is truly monumental.”
When asked where the big mainstream media like CBC, Canadian Press or Postmedia are doing, Jolly said, “What we’ve heard from a lot of people behind the scenes is that there was [the amendment to the injunction] … I think there was a bit of trepidation at first, because it wasn’t something the CAJ has traditionally done.
“It’s kind of a test case, and maybe the independent media was more interested and engaged, and some of the historical players wanted to see how it went,” Jolly explains. “I have heard from many people who are eager to read [the judge’s decision]. “
Less than three hours before the decision, Chris Young, a photojournalist with the Canadian Press, was arrested as he tried to cover the story of homeless settlements being displaced in Toronto.
The new term to be added to the injunction as “3A”:
In the exercise of their discretion under this Order, the police will not obstruct, reduce, delay or interfere with access to any part of the injunction area by members of the media who attempt to gather information and obtain photographic and video evidence for their publications, unless there is a authentic The operational rationale of the police that demands it, and in these cases, as little as possible in recognition of the rights and vital role of the media in Canadian society.
The original terms of the injunction issued on April 1
Photo by Jolly adapted from the original.