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Video of mounted police ordering journalist to “shut up” at protest raises press freedom concerns: human rights groups

Video of mounted police ordering journalist to “shut up” at protest raises press freedom concerns: human rights groups

Legal experts say they are concerned about a widely shared video showing an RCMP officer telling a reporter to shut up while covering protests against ancient logging on Vancouver Island “where you are gone.”

Ora Cogan, who reports on the protests for Teen Vogue, posted the video to Twitter earlier this week. He shows her talking with a constable as he appears to move a group of protesters along a gravel road in the Fairy Creek watershed.

In her tweet, she says she asked the officer why media access was restricted.

The video shows him telling her, “We already told you the rules. You have to remain silent while you are doing your job, or you are gone. You should not talk to us or engage with us. You have to be independent. and quiet. “

This interaction is unacceptable to Veronica Martisius, policy staff attorney at the BC Civil Liberties Association, who said journalists have the right to do their jobs free from police interference.

“For an officer to order a reporter not to enlist … and threaten this reporter, that if you do enlist I’m going to fire you, that’s totally inappropriate,” she told CBC News.

“This officer has a choice of whether or not to answer questions, but you can’t order a reporter and tell him how to do his job.”

The Canadian Association of Journalists also said it was “very concerned” about the content of the video and that it was gathering information on the situation.

“Journalists are not supposed to be silent,” the national organization said in a tweet on Wednesday.

The video is just the latest example of police actions at the Fairy Creek roadblocks that have raised concerns about press freedom.

RCMP officers have been on the scene since May, enforcing a court injunction against blockades preventing logging company Teal Jones from mining its 595 square kilometer concession on southwest Vancouver Island.

During this period, some of the RCMP’s actions aimed at restricting the activities of journalists at protest sites have already been declared illegal by the courts. Earlier this month, a judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia has ruled that the police had no legal authority to deny access to the Fairy Creek watershed to reporters or members of the public.

“The police have the right not to be embarrassed”

Regarding Cogan’s video, however, another legal watcher urges viewers not to jump to conclusions.

Kevin Westell, a criminal defense attorney in Vancouver, agreed there were reasons to be concerned about the officer’s actions.

“Every time you see a member of the press being treated so laconically and receiving an order of this nature, the hair stands on end at the back of his neck,” he said.

But he was hesitant to give a final opinion on whether the officer’s actions were appropriate, saying context is important.

“Police officers have the right not to be obstructed at work when trying to discharge their duty,” Westell said.

Police use a jackhammer to remove a person tied to a logging road near Port Renfrew, B.C., during a protest against ancient logging in the area on May 26, 2021. (Michael Mcarthur / CBC News)

He argued that if an officer legitimately felt that a reporter asking questions was interfering with his ability to maintain public safety, the officer might be justified in saying he should be silent, but only then.

“At the same time, if this policeman sets general ground rules about the whole situation, saying that a policeman has the right to order a member of the press never to speak, that’s a big deal. something else. It would be completely inappropriate, ”Westell said.

The mounted police are also asking people to consider a possible missing context.

RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Chris Manseau told CBC News he couldn’t comment on an officer’s actions based on a short video.

“In anticipation of other videos continuing to surface, I caution anyone who views them and reads the comments to keep in mind that they do not fully capture the events leading up or following the interactions,” he wrote in an email.

Agent refuses to identify himself

Meanwhile, another aspect of Cogan’s video also raised questions about the conduct of the police.

The video shows her asking the officer for her name, but he refuses to give it.

This does not suit Martisius.

“They have to identify themselves. How else could people follow up on a complaint if they are unable to identify the officer they are complaining about?” she asked.

As for Manseau, he argued that the gendarmes could put themselves in danger when they disclose identifying information.

“Members have, in previous and current operations, been targeted online, subjected to doxx and harassed when asked for their names, generally,” he said.

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