CPJ calls on Canadian police to release detained journalists

Supporters of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, who are trying to stop construction of British Columbia’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, march to the Royal Bank of Canada headquarters during a protest in Toronto, Ontario, Canada November 19, 2021. REUTERS/Kyaw Soe Oo

Washington, D.C., November 21, 2021—The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) Friday arrest and detention of two journalists covering land rights protests in northern British Columbia.

Photojournalist Amber Bracken, who was on assignment for the environmental news outlet the Narwhal, and independent documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano were covering ongoing demonstrations against the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through Indigenous Wet’suwet’en territory at the time of their arrests, according to the Canadian Association of Journalists.

Staff Sergeant Janelle Shoihet of the RCMP told CPJ in an email today that the journalists remain in custody and will appear in a Prince George court tomorrow.

“We are alarmed by the overnight detention of two journalists by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” said CPJ U.S. and Canada Program Coordinator Katherine Jacobsen. “The RCMP should immediately release Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano and offer a full explanation as to why they were detained in the first place.” 

As CPJ has previously documented, the RCMP has previously restricted media access to demonstrations on both Wet’suwet’en territory and territory belonging to other First Nation groups.

Toledano has been living in Wet’suwet’en territory as a member of the media for the last three years to make a documentary about the protests there. He was arrested while filming on the Morice RIver Forest Road despite identifying himself as a member of the media, according to a letter emailed by the film’s producers to supporters of the project and copied to CPJ. “We are deeply disturbed by the RCMP’s arrest of Mr. Toledano, which is part of a pattern of detentions, arrests and efforts to limit the access and mobility of journalists that we have witnessed across the country over the past month,” the producers said.

Staff Sergeant Shoihet said it would be up to the judge at Monday’s court appearance to determine the release of the journalists.  

November 22 update: Justice Marguerite Church of the Supreme Court of B.C., in Prince George, said today she would release  Bracken and Toledano from custody after they agreed to comply with the terms of an injunction intended to keep protesters away from the pipeline construction. CPJ’s Jacobsen welcomed the release order, but said that compelling the journalists to comply with the injunction was a blatant attempt on behalf of authorities to prevent them from covering land rights protests  in Wet’suwet’en territory.