The RCMP need to let journalists do their job

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve likely heard about the recent enforcement of a B.C. Supreme Court interlocutory injunction relating to the dispute between Coastal GasLink (CGL) and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs over development of the former’s unceded traditional territory.

The dispute has seemingly wedged its way into every facet of everyday life. It’s on social media when I wake up, what I write about when I’m at work and usually the last thing I think about before I go to bed.

That’s not a complaint. It’s been an incredible experience getting to immerse myself into the story and learn so much about an issue that is so important to so many within the region. And regardless of where you stand on the issue I think it’s one that resonates across not just the Bulkley Valley but the country itself. The world is watching, as they say.

That’s why I was so disappointed to hear that RCMP officers, at multiple points during their enforcement of the injunction, told reporters they had to stand at least 60 feet away from police (after previously being told five feet) and that they would be arrested if they filmed certain points of the injunction, including RCMP removal of a metal gate at the Gidimt’en checkpoint.

That sounds like something you’d hear out of North Korea or China, not a first-world country like Canada.

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When people think about what makes a free country so, concepts such as gender/racial equality and freedom of speech (which, as an aside, we don’t actually have in Canada — but that’s another column for another week) often come to mind.

Freedom of the press is another.

Freedom of speech, while essential to democracy, doesn’t help you much when there is no media there to cover your arrest by police during a peaceful protest. Likewise, a guise of equality is meaningless unless there are checks and balances in place to ensure it’s actually a reality.

An example that comes to mind are multiple investigations into the disproportionate amount of carding faced by people of colour in cities including Toronto and New York by papers such as The Toronto Star. While on paper things are equal, sometimes in-depth investigations reveal a very different story. The same can be said with many issues surrounding Indigenous rights and title, not just in the case of the Wet’suwet’en, but across Canada.

We are seeing the same thing with the hereditary chiefs in their conflict with CGL. Though many like to point to legal battles or court-ordered injunctions as making this a cut-and-dry example of police enforcing a legal order, often the most important aspects these stories are much more nuanced.

Some say the RCMP are fully justified in their actions. Others that they aren’t and their actions against the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on their yintah constitute crimes against humanity. In truth, the reality lies in the grey spaces between this black-and-white duality and blame lies much more with the courts and systems of governance which led to the band system in the first place.

But despite my respect for the essential service police provide to the public, I can’t defend them if their game plan for controlling information is to stifle another segment of the population that is just as essential to our country’s democratic well being.

Let’s not lie to ourselves. When police threaten journalists with detainment or arrest under the guise of alleged interference with their investigation (pretty tough to do if you’re 60 feet away from someone and all your energy is focused on taking photos or video) they’re not doing so because their wellbeing is at risk.

They are not doing so because your safety is at risk.

They are doing so because fear and force are excellent tools to usher in compliance and complacency and because the RCMP knows footage of the injunction enforcement is going to elicit an emotional response from people around the world.

I sincerely get it, you’re just doing your job. Your hands are tied by the courts and I can sympathize with that. But if you want the public to see that you have nothing to hide, don’t ask the people who report to the public to hide things.

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