Canadian journalist Ian Willms is seen before he was arrested while covering a police action in Toronto, Canada, on June 22, 2021. (Photo: Nick Lachance)

Photojournalist Ian Willms detained while covering police in Toronto

Washington, D.C., June 24, 2021 — Toronto police should explain why they detained photojournalist Ian Willms and drop any charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

At about 1:30 p.m. on June 22, police detained Willms, a freelance photojournalist, after he climbed into a fenced-off area while attempting to photograph officers forcing homeless people out of Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, and a statement by the Canadian Association of Journalists, a professional group and advocacy organization.  

The officers told Willms that he was being arrested for obstruction, trespassing, and causing a disturbance, and drove him around for 1.5 hours before bringing him to Toronto’s Police 11 Division office, he said.

Police entered Willms’ information into their system and then released him, but did not give him any documentation regarding his arrest or tell him whether he had been formally charged, he told CPJ. He said officers warned him that he would face penalties if he returned to report on the park.

“Canadian police should not detain or obstruct journalists who are doing their jobs and trying to report on matters of public interest,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “Officers should not have detained photographer Ian Willms in the first place, and should refrain from filing any charges in his case.”

Prior to entering the fenced-off area of the park, Willms told CPJ that he had repeatedly asked police if he could get closer to the area where officers were attempting to clear out homeless people, but said the officers did not respond.

At the time of his arrest, Willms said he had a press credential in a lanyard around his neck and identified himself to the officers as a member of the media. He said the police confiscated his camera and phone during his arrest and returned the gear upon his release.

Willms has contributed to The New York Times, National Geographic, Time, Bloomberg, and other publications, according to his website, which states that he also is working on a long-term project on the coronavirus pandemic for the photo agency Panos Pictures.

When CPJ called the Toronto police this morning, Jenifferjit Sidhu, a media relations officer, confirmed receipt of CPJ’s questions sent the previous afternoon and said she would forward them to the appropriate department for comment. CPJ did not receive any response by the time of publication.