News

November 22, 2021 - Updated on November 24, 2021

Canadian Police Arrest Journalists Covering Pipeline Construction in British Columbia

Cole Burston / AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the arrests of two reporters — award-winning photojournalist Amber Bracken and documentarian Michael Toledano — who were detained on Friday, November 19 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in the Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia. RSF calls for the immediate release of these journalists, who were simply doing their jobs by reporting on the construction of a contentious natural gas pipeline.

In-keeping with a disturbing trend of arresting journalists covering environmental issues, on Friday night while covering a confrontation over a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia, RCMP officers illegally arrested journalists Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano, both of whom are known to the RCMP as credible reporters. The reporters have since been released. The RCMP stated the reason for arresting the two was because the reporters were “embedded” amongst the protestors, which has never been illegal in Canada, according the Canadian Association of Journalists. The two reporters were covering a blockade of protesters restricting access to a road that Coastal GasLink workers need to construct the pipeline.

“When journalists’ legally-protected right to report on current events is blatantly disrespected, we must call it as we see it: a total disregard for press freedom,” said the Executive Director of RSF USA, Anna K. Nelson. “In this case, Amber and Michael were covering a story of clear interest to the Canadian public, as a whole, and to the territory’s indigenous community, in particular. Their unlawful arrest is just the latest example of how the authorities in Canada are growing indifferent to the rights of journalists. The RCMP should drop all charges and take steps to ensure that their actions do not infringe on the press covering environmental protests moving forward.”

Police in Canada have pressed charges against other journalists for reporting on land conflicts between indigenous groups and government authorities. In February 2020, the RCMP arrested American documentary filmmaker Melissa Cox in New Hazelton, British Columbia, where Cox was filming Wet’suwet’en First Nation land defenders’ ongoing efforts to resist the gas pipeline from being constructed throughout their territory. The RCMP allegedly used excessive force against Cox, twisting her arm and tossing her camera to the ground. Cox was detained again this past week by the RCMP on Thursday, November 18, marking the second time she has been detained while covering a land dispute related to the Wet’suwet’en territory. Cox was later released without charges. 

Additionally, Karl Dockstader, an award-winning journalist from the Indigenous Oneida Nation of the Thames, was arrested in September 2020 in relation to his coverage of a land dispute on an Indigenous territory. The charges against Dockstader were withdrawn in December 2020. 

Last month, RSF and more than 60 environmental journalists of 34 different nationalities issued an urgent appeal to the United Nations to ensure respect for the right to cover environmental issues ahead of the United Nations COP26 climate change conference.

Canada is ranked 14th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.