Fairy Creek, the RCMP and a win for press freedom

A coalition of journalism organizations, including The Narwhal, has won a court victory over the RCMP’s actions at the Fairy Creek logging blockades in B.C.

“This is, without question, a watershed moment in the history of Canadian press freedom advocacy.” 

That’s the view of Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, after a coalition of journalism organizations, including The Narwhal, won a hard-fought court victory over the RCMP’s actions at the Fairy Creek logging blockades.

It’s a huge win for the role of the media in holding police accountable — and The Narwhal played no small role in bringing about this key Supreme Court of B.C. decision. (All of the media outlets in the coalition were independent publications, from IndigiNews to Ricochet.)

Things came to a head in May, when the RCMP imposed restrictions on journalists seeking to report on arrests in “exclusion zones” set up by police to enforce a Teal-Jones injunction against protesters fighting old-growth logging on Vancouver Island. Not only that, but it turns out the RCMP provided incorrect information to both journalists and the court about the conflict.

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In his ruling, Justice Douglas Thompson concluded that the RCMP failed to justify its “extensive” exclusion zones. The RCMP, he wrote, must “keep in mind the media’s special role in a free and democratic society, and the necessity of avoiding undue and unnecessary interference with the journalistic function.”

If this battle between media and the RCMP over access sounds familiar, it’s because it is; back in February 2020, officers prevented journalists from documenting arrests in Wet’suwet’en territory. In that instance, the RCMP was enforcing an injunction for Coastal GasLink pipeline construction, which was taking place on traditional Wet’suwet’en territory over the objections of hereditary chiefs and other land defenders. 

Journalists reporting on the Wet’suwet’en standoff were threatened with arrest and even detained in a van and removed from an area where enforcement was taking place. The RCMP backed down from those threats amid widespread backlash.

Now, with this Fairy Creek ruling, the RCMP will have to back down yet again.

“The ruling is important because it confirms that you have a right to know what’s happening when a police force conducts mass arrests at the site of a major conflict,” The Narwhal’s managing editor Mike De Souza told me. “It reinforces your right to see what’s happening on that scene, through the eyes of journalists.”

“Our coalition’s efforts expressly shows that journalists in Canada will not concede to having their free expression rights trampled upon by law enforcement,” Jolly said

“This decision is the sounding of an ominous warning bell to all law enforcement bodies across the country. We hope the days of impeding, curtailing or interfering with journalists are, now, in the rear view mirror.”

Take care and stand your ground,

Arik Ligeti
Audience engagement editor

Notes from Narwhals

closeup of dew on a leaf
Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

When we sent around a survey the other month, one thing we asked was: what motivates you to be a member of The Narwhal? The responses brought many smiles and tears of joy inside our little pod, so we thought we’d share a taste with all of you over the coming weeks.

“The best environmental watchdog we have in this country.”

“The Narwhal is one of the few publications that follows Indigenous activities to support the environment.”

“Talking truth to power is somewhat of a cliche, but I believe that we are in a new era of accountability and it is somewhat thrilling to contribute in a small way to the journalism of transparency that you have mastered.”

Do you have the means to support The Narwhal’s accountability journalism? Become a monthly member today for any amount you can afford.

This week in The Narwhal

Federal watchdog urged to investigate Canada’s ‘longstanding failure’ to stop B.C. Elk Valley coal mine pollution

aerial view of rocky mountain coal mine

By Judith Lavoie

A report from the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre says new proposed mines could further poison waterways and wipe out species at risk. Read more.

Finding the Mother Tree: ecologist Suzanne Simard offers solutions to B.C.’s forest woes

suzanne simard sitting in a forest

By Matt Simmons

From eating dirt as a child to discovering the mycorrhizal network below the forest floor, Simard has spent her entire career trying to find answers about how forests work; now, armed with those answers, she’s calling for change. Read more.

Environmental groups release details of Alberta inquiry draft report and accuse commissioner of climate denial

By Sharon J. Riley

Groups targeted in the so-called ‘anti-energy’ investigation allege the inquiry’s commissioner ‘lends his credibility’ to conspiracy theories, authoring a document that resembles a ‘rushed school assignment.’ Read more.

What we’re reading

Globe and Mail "What can Canada learn from Australia about fighting wildfires?"
Rolling Stone "The Oil and Gas Industry Produces Radioactive Waste. Lots of It"

Fresh Prince of Bel Air "is that victory I smell"

When you find out The Narwhal has won a court victory. Tell your friends to join you on the winning side by signing up for our newsletter!

If you refer three folks we will pop a Narwhal tote bag in the mail for you as a show of appreciation. Whaddya say?

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You’ve read all the way to the bottom of this article. That makes you some serious Narwhal material.

And since you’re here, we have a favour to ask. Our independent, ad-free journalism is made possible because the people who value our work also support it (did we mention our stories are free for all to read, not just those who can afford to pay?).

As a non-profit, reader-funded news organization, our goal isn’t to sell advertising or to please corporate bigwigs — it’s to bring evidence-based news and analysis to the surface for all Canadians. And at a time when most news organizations have been laying off reporters, we’ve hired five journalists over the past year.

Not only are we filling a void in environment coverage, but we’re also telling stories differently — by centring Indigenous voices, by building community and by doing it all as a people-powered, non-profit outlet supported by more than 3,500 members

The truth is we wouldn’t be here without you. Every single one of you who reads and shares our articles is a crucial part of building a new model for Canadian journalism that puts people before profit.

We know that these days the world’s problems can feel a *touch* overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like what we do doesn’t make any difference, but becoming a member of The Narwhal is one small way you truly can make a difference.

If you believe news organizations should report to their readers, not advertisers or shareholders, please become a monthly member of The Narwhal today for any amount you can afford.

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