By Grant Buckler
Media and freedom of expression organizations are protesting after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police charged Justin Brake, a reporter for The Newfoundland and Labrador Independent, with mischief and disobeying a court order for entering the site of a controversial hydroelectric project.
A group of Indigenous activists cut a lock at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric construction project on October 21, 2016, following weeks of demonstrations and a blockade. Brake followed the protesters into the site, where they occupied the work camp. He left three days later, after a Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador order named him in a court order, compelling authorities to arrest him if he remained.
Twenty-eight individuals including Brake have been charged. He was the only journalist to cover the protest from inside the Muskrat Falls site. For his coverage, he was nominated for the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission’s 2016 Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Award.
Brake is due to appear in court April 11. If convicted he could face up to 10 years in prison.
A joint statement from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, The Fahmy Foundation, the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Reporters Without Borders condemned the charges, calling them an outrageous assault on press freedom in Canada.
The statement said Brake’s reporting “provided the public with exclusive coverage on a matter of clear public interest.”
In a separate statement, Reporters Without Borders said: “It seems these legal proceedings are being used to intimidate journalists and prevent them from covering such events, which is the latest in a series of egregious press freedom violations in Canada.”
The Independent itself issued a statement condemning the charges. “These criminal charges ... are not only an attack on The Independent for doing important journalism,“ said Brake in the prepared statement, “they also amount to an attack by the RCMP on press freedom in Canada.”
Grant Buckler is a retired freelance journalist and a volunteer with Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and lives in Kingston, Ont.