Washington, D.C., February 26, 2020 -- Canadian authorities should not file charges against journalist and filmmaker Melissa Cox, and should ensure that the press can freely cover matters of public interest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
At about 5 p.m. on February 24, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers arrested Cox, a documentary filmmaker and U.S. Citizen, while she was covering the blockade of a train track near New Hazelton, British Columbia, according to Michael Toledano, a member of the documentary crew, who spoke with CPJ, and a statement issued by the documentary’s producers.
Hereditary chiefs and their supporters blocked the track in support of indigenous groups opposing a proposed natural gas pipeline in British Columbia that would go through Wet’suwet’en Nation territory, according to news reports.
Corporal Madonna Saunderson, a police spokesperson, referred CPJ to a press release stating that 14 individuals were arrested for refusing to leave Canadian National Railway tracks near New Hazelton. Saunderson said she was not able to elaborate on who was arrested.
Cox was wearing a press credential from the National Press Photographers Association at the time of her arrest, the producers’ statement said.
“Canadian authorities should not file charges against Melissa Cox and should refrain from arresting journalists who are simply doing their jobs,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York. “Restricting reporters' ability to report is a form of censorship. Journalists should be allowed to freely cover ongoing opposition to the proposed pipeline through Wetʼsuwetʼen territory.”
Police detained Cox until about 2 a.m. on February 25 at the New Hazelton RCMP detachment, and released her on the condition that she keep at least 10 meters away from any Canadian National Railway property or work-site, according to the producers’ statement and an email sent from the documentary film’s official email address in response to queries from CPJ.
Cox was allowed to call a lawyer during her detention, the email said. She is required to appear in court on April 24, when authorities will announce whether they intend to file charges against her, according to the producers’ statement.
The statement said that police threw Cox’s camera to the ground and twisted her arm during the arrest.
The RCMP has previously threatened to arrest journalists who were covering police raids on Wet’suwet’en territory, as CPJ documented at the time.