A group representing Canadian journalists says it is shocked by the level of hatred, verbal harassment and physical confrontations some news reporters have experienced while covering protests against public-health measures cross the country.
Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said some form of hostility has always been a part of the job. But the scale of hate on display during the recent protests is unprecedented.
“It’s something that we really need to wake up to and understand the impact of disinformation and some of these ideas that are being sprouted online that have become mainstream,” Mr. Jolly said.
The more than three weeks of protests started with a truck convoy in Ottawa, before spreading to border blockades and other protests in Western Canada, Quebec and the Prairies.
Glen McGregor, a CTV News journalist in the parliamentary press gallery, said protesters have been hurling obscenities at him and disrupting his live broadcasts since he first started covering the demonstrations in Ottawa. But he said people became more hateful as the protest went on, with one person spitting in his direction during a live broadcast that had to be shut down earlier this week.
“Every time we had to go on camera, there was a little bit of dread because we knew we were going to be facing this,” said Mr. McGregor, noting his colleagues have been told to kill themselves and one reporter for a French-language broadcaster was shoved from behind while reporting live.
He said the nature of TV reporting, which involves large cameras, lighting and broadcasting gear, means crews like his own are a magnet for disruptive behaviour. Mr. McGregor said he bought noise-cancelling earbuds to help keep his concentration when he’s trying to work while protesters are screaming in his ear.
He also pointed out camera operators are some of the most vulnerable people in these situations, since they’re looking through a lens while recording and don’t have a sense of what’s happening around them.
In a press conference on Sunday, Ottawa interim police chief Steve Bell said there is one active investigation related to a journalist who was allegedly subject to abuse while covering the protest.
Mr. Bell urged reporters and news organizations to report any other illegal activity, and said the Ottawa Police Service would take the issue seriously.
Mr. Jolly said the abuse also complicates a reporter’s job because they sometimes have to rely on police help to safely exit hostile environments. However, journalists are also holding police accountable, and they would prefer not to rely on an officer’s support.
Other journalists, such as print and web reporters, said they were able to avoid being harassed since they didn’t stand out as much as TV crews.
Further west in Surrey, B.C., protesters at a border demonstration swarmed a CBC camera and yelled “shame on you” in one video posted to Twitter by a CBC reporter.
At an anti-vaccine mandate protest in the Interior B.C. town of Osoyoos, Global News reporter Yasmin Gandham said a middle-aged protester walked up to her unprompted and spat on her after telling her to get out of the country. Ms. Gandham is a Punjabi-Canadian.
“It was honestly such a shock, in the moment I didn’t even know how to react,” said Ms. Gandham, adding it was unsettling for someone to treat her “like garbage for absolutely no reason.”
“They have no idea who you are and no idea even what story you’re reporting, but they see media and they’ve already made up their mind about you.”
Mr. McGregor said the outright hostility also makes it difficult for reporters to tell the protesters’ side of the story, since many of them don’t want to engage.
“We want to hear their voice and understand their perspective, but we can’t do that because they’ve bought into this idea that we won’t tell the truth,” he said.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.