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Press freedom groups condemn charges against Newfoundland journalist

Justin Brake reporting from Muskrat Falls in Labrador in a photo from fall 2016. PHOTO: Janet Cooper. (CNW Group/Canadian Journalists for Free Expression)

Janet Cooper/CNW Group/Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

A Newfoundland and Labrador online publication says one of its reporters has been charged in connection with last fall's occupation of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

The Independent posted on its website that Justin Brake is charged with mischief exceeding $5,000 and disobeying a court injunction.

Brake covered a protest and occupation by people opposed to plans to create a reservoir.

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He was among 28 people that the RCMP charged Wednesday with some 60 counts relating to the October 2016 protest.

An RCMP news release said when unlawful acts occur during a demonstration, police must ensure public safety, preserve the peace and enforce the law.

Brake, who is to appear in court April 11, said the charges are an attack on freedom of the press.

"These new charges deliver yet another blow to the integrity of Canada's police agencies, including the RCMP, when it comes to protecting, not hurting, press freedom," Brake said in the post on the Independent website.

"They should be withdrawn immediately. If they are not, we will fight them vigorously in court."

A coalition of journalism groups, including Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Canadian Association of Journalists, issued a statement Thursday night condemning the charges "in the strongest possible terms."

"The charges are an outrageous assault by the RCMP on press freedom in Canada and must be withdrawn immediately," the statement said, adding they "could cause a chill in reporting on controversies over resource development projects and indigenous-led protests."

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During last fall's protest, dozens of protesters entered the Muskrat Falls site in central Labrador and occupied an accommodation complex, prompting the company to remove at least 700 workers from the grounds.

Nalcor, the Crown corporation in charge of the megaproject, moved to get an injunction against many of those who entered the site.

The Independent's statement said Brake was named in a court order threatening he would be arrested if he did not leave the Muskrat Falls. The statement said he did so, though the Independent has asked the courts to rule on whether Nalcor should have indicated that Brake was on the Muskrat Falls site as a working journalist.

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