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The offices of the Turtle Island News newspaper are seen after being hit by a truck and set ablaze in Six Nations Territory, Canada, on October 28, 2019. (Turtle Island News)

Arson attack damages indigenous newspaper office in Canada

November 6, 2019 11:28 AM ET

New York, November 6, 2019 -- Authorities in the Six Nations Territory in Canada should conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into an arson attack on the offices of the Turtle Island News newspaper, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

In the early morning of October 28, a truck rammed into the outlet’s newsroom in Six Nations Territory in Southern Ontario, and unidentified individuals doused the vehicle and the building with gasoline before setting it ablaze, according to a report by the paper and Turtle Island News publisher Lynda Powless, who spoke to CPJ via phone.

No one was hurt in the incident, but the fire caused at least $150,000 Canadian dollars (US$114,000) in damage, Powless said. Cameras, computers, documents, and the newspaper’s photo archive were damaged in the blaze, she said. The collision was captured on the outlet’s security cameras, Powless told CPJ, adding that police told her the truck had been stolen from the nearby town of Hamilton.

“Six Nations police must thoroughly investigate the recent arson attack on the offices of the Turtle Island News and determine whether it was connected to the outlet’s reporting,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna. “Such incidents, with property damage, can have dire consequences for local media outlets, and we call on local authorities to find those responsible and hold them to account.”

Six Nations Fire Chief Matthew Miller labeled the incident a targeted attack, according to a report by the Canadian Association of Journalists, a local trade group. Acting Staff Sgt. Derrick Anderson of the Six Nation Police told CPJ via phone that the incident was under investigation, and that no charges had been brought against any alleged perpetrators.

Powess said that she did not know the attackers’ motivation, but said that the outlet has received threats over its coverage of local wealthy individuals and official misconduct. She also said that the paper’s coverage of the recent national elections had been “controversial” with some readers, and added that, in 2003, a still-unidentified individual fired a gun into the newsroom in retaliation for its coverage of rape allegations against a family member of a local official.

Turtle Island News is the only national native weekly newspaper in Canada, according to its website.

When a reporter from the outlet called the police to follow up on the status of the investigation, an officer said they were busy with other matters, Powless said. She told CPJ that she believed the police were not taking the case seriously, and said that “everyone is looking over their shoulder” in the newsroom because the perpetrators have not been identified or arrested.

Anderson declined to comment on Powless’ characterization of the police force’s handling of the case.

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