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Journalist Brandi Morin and her lawyer Richard Mirasty speak to the media outside the Edmonton Police Service headquarters ain Edmonton on Jan. 30.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail

An Indigenous journalist who was arrested during a high-profile sweep of homeless encampments by Edmonton police says she believes she was targeted as part of “a troubling pattern of police aggression and censorship of journalists,” particularly those covering Indigenous issues.

“It’s an abuse of power, absolutely,” said Brandi Morin, a freelance reporter who has worked for outlets including the Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times. “It’s them wanting to send a clear message to impede press freedom in this country.”

Ms. Morin was on assignment for Ricochet Media at the time of her arrest on Jan. 10.

In the story she wrote for Ricochet, Ms. Morin said she had been doing interviews at an Indigenous-led encampment when police arrived. She said an Edmonton Police Service officer ordered her to leave and join journalists on the other side of the police tape, which was too far away for her to film, “or even really see what was happening.”

“I identify myself as a journalist, and state clearly that I have a right to be there. They should be well aware that high courts in two provinces have found police use of these ‘exclusion zones’ to thwart media coverage of their actions unlawful,” she wrote. “I’m then grabbed and manhandled, before being cuffed by another officer and led away, paraded like a criminal in front of the TV news cameras.”

Ms. Morin was charged with obstruction of justice, and released from custody several hours later. She went to Edmonton police headquarters on Tuesday to be fingerprinted and have her mugshot taken.

“I always knew that there was risk of arrest because of the type of stories that I cover, but until it happens to you, you don’t understand the emotional and psychological impact that it has,” Ms. Morin said afterward, speaking to a group of reporters outside the police station. “And I think that it is a tactic that they use to send that message. To impede, to insult, discredit and to intimidate the media.”

Defence lawyer Richard Mirasty, who is representing Ms. Morin pro bono, said his client was “simply trying to report a story of great interest to many people – in particular, the Indigenous community, because the encampment was primarily Indigenous people.”

“I think the average Canadian, right-thinking Canadian, would agree that this is wrong,” he added.

He said he hasn’t yet received disclosure – the Crown’s case against Ms. Morin – but that the arrest is “a bad look” for the justice system.

“Putting her behind some line or arresting her and keeping her away from that, then that story doesn’t get told,” Mr. Mirasty said. “It’s really, as she said, an attempt to silence media from reporting what is happening on the front lines.”

The Edmonton Police Service did not respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Morin – who has won a number of awards for her reporting, particularly stories related to Indigenous issues – said she believes police, including the RCMP, have been “pushing to overstep their power against the press for many years now.”

Her arrest has been condemned by at least eight press organizations from around the world, including the Canadian Association of Journalists, Journalists without Borders, Amnesty International and PEN Canada.

At a news conference Monday, CAJ president Brent Jolly placed Ms. Morin’s arrest in the context of a broader trend.

“The brazen actions of the Edmonton Police Service are the latest example of a self-imposed ‘black eye’ in an ever-growing number of examples where law enforcement agencies in Canada have ignored, whether through ignorance or indifference, the invaluable role journalists play in a free and democratic society,” he said. “This pattern of behaviour must be stopped in its tracks.”

In December, Richard Vivian, a reporter and editor with GuelphToday, had his camera and a memory card seized and was detained by police at the scene of a traffic fatality. Edmonton photojournalist Amber Bracken is involved in a continuing lawsuit against the RCMP related to her arrest while covering pipeline protests on Wet’suwet’en territory for The Narwhal in 2021.

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