Coastal GasLink Pipeline has discontinued a civil lawsuit against two journalists who were reporting on a protest at the company’s construction site in northern B.C.
Photojournalist Amber Bracken and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano were arrested by RCMP in November while covering an Indigenous protest against a natural-gas pipeline project on Wet’suwet’en territory as the police moved to enforce an injunction that would allow construction of the project to continue.
The journalists were held in custody for a weekend before being released, but they still faced a civil-contempt lawsuit by Coastal Gaslink. The case sparked an outcry over press freedom and heavy-handedness from the RCMP.
On Christmas Eve, Ms. Bracken said she received a notice of discontinuance for the proceedings, and a consent order that relieves her from the terms of her release from police custody. She said the order means she no longer has to abide by the Coastal GasLink injunction as a journalist or to appear in court.
“This development is a positive step but doesn’t address the three days we were detained and prevented from working, in violation of our Charter rights,” said Ms. Bracken, who was reporting for online magazine The Narwhal at the time of the incident. She argued that she shouldn’t have been arrested or charged in the first place, and called on the RCMP to be held accountable.
“This decision, not to pursue charges, is a discretionary choice on behalf of CGL, a pipeline company – we still need a definitive rebuke of police intimidation of journalists from our justice system.”
Mr. Toledano also said he’s pleased that his lawsuit has been dropped, but called on the RCMP to be held accountable for his initial arrest.
“While I’m pleased that my charges are dropped, I find it disturbing that police face no consequence when they use handcuffs and jail cells to repress images of their actions,” said Mr. Toledano in a statement.
“The seizure of unceded Wet’suwet’en lands is an incredibly significant story. Canadians need to be able to see what is happening in our name.”
Coastal GasLink, which is owned by Calgary-based TC Energy, confirmed its decision in an e-mail statement. “While Coastal GasLink has ongoing concerns with respect to the fairness and approach of these individuals, we do not believe, in this situation, further civil-court actions are merited.”
The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), which has previously criticized the arrest of Mr. Toledano and Ms. Bracken, welcomed the discontinuation of the lawsuit.
“The surprise of having these charges dropped on a Friday before Christmas is puzzling no doubt, but this is definitely an important moment for press freedom in Canada, but the work continues,” said CAJ president Brent Jolly, who continued to call on more oversight of the RCMP.
“Michael and Amber were performing acts of journalism … we’re glad Coastal GasLink has come to their senses.”
Federal politicians, including Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, also criticized the arrests of Ms. Bracken and Mr. Toledano in November.
Ms. Bracken has been recognized by the CAJ for her Wet’suwet’en coverage last year, and she won a World Press Photo Award for her work at North Dakota’s Standing Rock in 2016. Her work has appeared in many publications, including National Geographic, The New York Times and The Globe and Mail.
The arrests of the two journalists and roughly 29 protesters in November occurred as tensions had been rising over Coastal GasLink’s construction of a 670-kilometre pipeline, which would transport natural gas from the northeastern part of the province to a facility in Kitimat. Protests previously flared in early 2020 when protesters blocked highways and railways across the country to support Wet’suwet’en people fighting the pipeline project.
On Monday, Coastal GasLink said in a statement that demonstrators have returned to the construction area, reporting that between 10 and 12 camouflaged and masked protesters took over a service road and drill site, and that security officials left the area for “fear of their safety.”
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