Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested American documentary filmmaker Melissa Cox on February 24 in New Hazelton, British Columbia, where Cox was filming Wet’suwet’en First Nation land defenders’ ongoing efforts to resist a gas pipeline from being constructed through their territory. At the time of the arrest Cox was filming tribal chiefs and supporters blocking railroad tracks that run through New Hazelton as an act of solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. She was wearing a press pass. During her arrest, the RCMP allegedly used excessive force, twisting Cox’s arm and tossing her camera on the ground. While police did not charge Cox, she is required to appear in court on April 24, when authorities will decide if they plan to file charges. Fourteen people were arrested during the Gitxsan’s solidarity protest that night.
“RSF is deeply alarmed to learn the RCMP arrested a documentary filmmaker while she was covering the protests taking place in support of Wet’suwet’en Nation,” said Dokhi Fassihian, Executive Director of RSF’s North America bureau. “The authorities should not file charges against Melissa Cox. And further, the police must ensure journalists covering the Wet'suwet'en protests can do their work without fear of punitive action.”
Earlier this month, journalists had reported that the RCMP had been detaining and threatening to arrest those that were reporting on the protests in Wet’suwet’en territory. Protests began earlier this year after it was announced that a gas pipeline was set to be constructed throughout the First Nation’s territory. The RCMP has since been attempting to enforce a court-granted injunction to allow the pipeline workers to operate unhindered. The crackdown on reporters in the area is in direct opposition to a 2019 court decision that affirmed special considerations apply to journalists covering indigenous protests, even in injunction zones.
Canada is ranked 18 out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.