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Why The Narwhal and Amber Bracken are suing the RCMP

In filing this lawsuit, our goal is to clear a path for all journalists in Canada to do their work without risk of police interference

Many of you may remember the moment: it was a chilly winter day in November 2021 when news broke that photojournalist Amber Bracken had been arrested by the RCMP while reporting for The Narwhal from Wet’suwet’en territory in northwestern B.C.

Uproar ensued: international media attention, outrage from press freedom organizations and an all-hands-on-deck legal effort to get Amber out of jail. Thousands of people wrote letters to federal and provincial officials demanding Amber’s release and hundreds donated to aid in her legal defence.

After three nights in jail, Amber was released. About a month later, just before Christmas, charges against her were quietly dropped. But the battle didn’t end there.

Today The Narwhal and Amber Bracken have filed a lawsuit in British Columbia’s Supreme Court against the RCMP for wrongful arrest, wrongful detention and violation of our Charter rights.

As a small, non-profit news organization, we didn’t want to have to bring a lengthy, expensive litigation against one of the most powerful organizations in our country. But ultimately we realized we had no other choice. To not move forward with this case would be to turn our backs on what’s right — and to turn our backs on all the stories that happen in remote places without the watchful eyes of journalists, due to the chilling effect of arrests like these. 

Bracken’s arrest is part of a troubling pattern of RCMP infringing on press freedom, whether at the Fairy Creek logging blockades, where RCMP used illegal exclusion zones to prevent journalists from reporting on arrests, or at Land Back Lane in Ontario where journalist Karl Dockstader was charged for failing to comply with an injunction while reporting from the frontlines of the conflict.

All too often, these incidents also involve Indigenous Rights. Previous court rulings have been clear: the arrest of Indigenous Peoples on their lands concerns every single person in this country — and should be a matter of public record, not hidden behind police lines.

Investigating problems. Exploring solutions
The Narwhal’s reporters are telling environment stories you won’t read about anywhere else. Stay in the loop by signing up for a weekly dose of independent journalism.
Investigating problems. Exploring solutions
The Narwhal’s reporters are telling environment stories you won’t read about anywhere else. Stay in the loop by signing up for a weekly dose of independent journalism.

Our case aims to establish meaningful consequences for police when they interfere with the constitutional rights of journalists covering events in injunction zones, including both journalists’ liberty rights and the freedom of the press as protected by section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In filing this lawsuit, our goal is to clear a path for all journalists in Canada to do their work without risk of police interference. 

Let’s be clear: we would never have been able to take this bold step without the support of our thousands of readers, donors and members. Today, when we walked into a courthouse in Vancouver to file our court documents, we imagined thousands of you walking with us, hand in hand in this mission to hold the RCMP accountable.

This is going to be a long journey, and we invite you to walk with us. Here are two ways you can join us:

  1. Register to attend our live online event on Wednesday, featuring myself, Carol Linnitt, Amber Bracken, legal counsel Sean Hern and Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.
  2. Make a donation to our legal defence fund for this case.  

If you have burning questions about the case, check out our FAQ page. If you can’t find your answer there, send us an email.

Thank you for your support as we work to defend press freedom in Canada.

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
We’ve got big plans for 2024
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

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