After a two-day hearing outlining the ways RCMP have restricted media access at Vancouver Island’s Fairy Creek blockades, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled in favour of journalists.
The case was brought forward by a coalition of journalism organizations, including Canada’s National Observer. The coalition’s lawyer on the case, Sean Hern, successfully argued for a clause to be inserted in April’s B.C. Supreme Court injunction barring the RCMP from interfering with media access at Fairy Creek. The area, around Port Renfrew, B.C., has been sprinkled with blockades set up to oppose old-growth logging since August 2020, in the traditional territory of the Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations.
The coalition filing the legal application to the B.C. Supreme Court also includes the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), The Discourse, IndigiNews, Ricochet Media, Capital Daily Victoria, The Narwhal, APTN, and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. The application was filed in B.C. Supreme Court in May after continued RCMP interference with media attempting to cover the story, outlined in a timeline released by the CAJ.
It’s hopeful and welcome news for Canada's National Observer, said CEO and editor-in-chief Linda Solomon Wood, who added she looks forward to seeing how the situation at Fairy Creek will change moving forward.
“Looking out over the landscape in Canada today, we see so many things happening where, particularly with climate change (and other) areas where the public's interests are at stake and where people are up against very challenging situations, it's so important that journalists have the ability to get in there,” she said. “And to bring that story back to the public.”
Before the hearing, the coalition reached out to the RCMP asking to discuss concerns around press freedom, as well as specific options. However, Ethan Cox, editor and co-founder of Ricochet Media, explained the coalition got a letter in return stating that the RCMP didn’t have time.
Lawyers for both the RCMP and logging company Teal-Jones were at the hearing, arguing that the media restriction during Fairy Creek arrests was fair because in their eyes, media access was already adequate, they were worried about the safety of journalists, and that the law already outlines rights for media.
The ruling, although in favour of the media, doesn’t actually restrict the RCMP in specific ways, says Cox. Depending on what comes of media interactions with RCMP post-ruling, the group is prepared to return to court if access continues to be restricted.
CAJ president Brent Jolly says it’s an important ruling for the larger picture of press freedom in Canada. On Monday, Canadian Press photojournalist Chris Young was arrested while covering the eviction of 30 unhoused residents of Toronto’s Alexandra Park. There are other recent instances of police arresting journalists, such as in September 2020, when Karl Dockstader, the recipient of the 2020 CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowship, was arrested while covering the 1492 Land Back Lane occupation in Caledonia, Ont.
A set of written judgments is set to be released in coming days, said Hern, who explained that those will outline more specifics on why the judge ruled the way he did, as well as hopefully “... some helpful direction to the RCMP as to the court's perspective on exclusion zones.”
Ultimately, Jolly said the ruling is something to celebrate.
The coalition’s lawyer on the case, Sean Hern, successfully argued for a clause to be inserted in April’s B.C. Supreme Court injunction barring the RCMP from interfering with media access at Fairy Creek. #Logging #BC
“This is a really monumental achievement for this group and, in my humble opinion, sort of a strong affirmation that what we've been saying all along in this group, and amongst this group ... that the public's right to know is worth fighting for, and that democracy demands freedom of the press,” said Jolly.