A reporter from Canada was detained and accused while covering a police mission to remove a campsite for homeless Indigenous individuals. She expresses concern that these charges will discourage future coverage of marginalized communities.
Indigenous reporter Brandi Morin was taken into custody on January 10th while covering the police’s attempt to break down the camp in Edmonton.
Morin, an award-winning journalist who has written for a range of outlets including the Guardian, was interviewing the camp’s leader when police created a perimeter of yellow tape around the camp. As a scuffle broke out, an officer ordered her to join other reporters outside the perimeter.
At the time when she was working for Ricochet Media, Morin stated that she declined to depart.
In an interview, she stated that she has witnessed the violence and brutality faced by Indigenous peoples during police actions. It was essential for her to be present as a witness.
The spokesperson for the Edmonton police service stated that they repeatedly instructed Morin to go to an area where other journalists were present and warned her that she would be arrested if she did not follow their orders.
“The EPS has taken great measures to guarantee that reporters can enter encampment closures. They are permitted to film from a secure distance away from the work area,” the statement stated. “This is a precautionary measure to shield them from potential dangers during encampment clean-ups, such as blasts, fires, hazardous materials, and weapons, and also to safeguard the privacy of encampment inhabitants.”
Ricochet described the arrest as unjust.
Morin stated that the experience of being arrested and publicly displayed on television before being taken to a police van was extremely degrading. She was confined in a cell for five hours before being released, under the condition that she would return for fingerprinting and a mugshot. She was also afforded the opportunity to contact Ricochet in order to secure legal representation and make arrangements for her daughter to be picked up from daycare.
At first, she thought the charges would be dismissed. However, when it became evident that the city’s police were not relenting, Morin went back to the police station on Tuesday.
Morin had her picture taken and her fingerprints recorded – only to discover that she was now part of the police’s database. She couldn’t help but think about the mistreatment of Indigenous individuals by law enforcement, and how mugshots of Indigenous women and young people are often used to locate them and portray them as criminals.
Morin has a court appearance scheduled for February 16th.
The journalist from Stony Plain has dedicated her career to covering environmental and indigenous issues, including the leakage of tailing ponds in First Nations communities and the widespread problem of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. However, the emotional burden of these charges has taken a toll on her.
I possess great inner strength as a woman. However, there have been instances where I’ve felt overwhelmed and defeated. There were times when I considered leaving this job, which is a scary thought because it would mean they’ve succeeded in silencing me.
PEN Canada expressed significant worry over the accusations against Morin.
According to the group, Canadian legislation safeguards journalists from being arrested or held in custody while covering topics of significance to the public, as long as they are not involved in violent behavior or purposefully obstructing law enforcement.
Morin was taken into police custody at a time when a court in British Columbia is expected to deliberate on a separate case that could have major consequences for Canadian journalists covering regions where law enforcement restricts entry.
In 2021, photojournalist Amber Bracken was arrested while reporting on a police operation at an Indigenous demonstration site in British Columbia.
The Narwhal, an environmental magazine that hired Bracken, has filed a lawsuit against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), claiming that Bracken’s rights were infringed upon. The court will hear the case in October 2024.
Judges in both Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia have expressed disapproval of the way police enforce injunction orders and ‘exclusion zones’ against journalists.
Earlier this week, the Canadian Association of Journalists referred to Morin’s arrest as a self-inflicted “blemish” on law enforcement. They criticized the authorities for either being unaware or unconcerned about the crucial role journalists have in a society that values freedom and democracy.
At a press conference, President Brent Jolly stated that this specific behavior needs to be put to an end.
Morin states that she will enter a plea of not guilty in regards to the accusations. If found guilty, she may potentially receive a sentence of up to two years of imprisonment.
She stated that our voices were silenced for a long time, but now our stories are gaining attention. This issue affects not only me, but all journalists who could be targeted. As journalists, it is our duty to hold those in power accountable and to report on contentious, difficult, and challenging topics. It is our responsibility to do our jobs.