Justin Brake, journalist and editor for The Independent, had been covering indigenous lands rights protests against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador, Canada for several weeks. On October 21, a group of protesters broke through a gate to the facility and Brake followed them in order to cover the story. He later learned that he was listed on a Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador order demanding all protesters to vacate the Muskrat Falls property and threatening them with arrest for trespassing. Brake was not identified as a journalist in the order.
Brake’s lawyer appeared in court on November 1 to argue that the injunction and any possible charges be rescinded because Brake had been covering the protest as a journalist and had a constitutionally protected right to freedom of the press.
His next court appearance is scheduled for December 7.
“We are concerned that a journalist is being threatened with trespassing and contempt of court for merely doing his job covering an environmental protest of interest to the Canadian people, said Delphine Halgand, Director of RSF’s Washington, DC bureau. It seems these legal proceedings are being used to intimidate journalists and prevent them from covering such events, which is a serious violation of press freedom and access to information in Canada.”
In an interview, Brake told a reporter why he decided to follow protesters through the gate: “I didn't really hesitate, I knew that my duty, my responsibility as a journalist was to tell this story…People are finally coming together, and it's over this large hydro dam. So I knew that whatever was going to happen inside that gate was a story that the rest of the province and the country had to know.”
Brake’s story comes just one month after American journalist Amy Goodman was cleared of trespassing and riot charges for her coverage of Native American protests against the North Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States, showing a trend in both countries of attempting to block journalist coverage of Indigenous-led environmental protests.
This new violation of press freedom in Canada is one of many to occur over the past several months in the country. Canada is ranked 18th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, after falling 10 places in 2015.