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Journalist Brandi Morin walks out of the Edmonton Police Service headquarters after having to present herself for processing and fingerprinting on Jan. 30.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail

Brandi Morin never shies away from a hard story or a fight.

A fearless Indigenous author and journalist, Ms. Morin won a prestigious Edward R. Murrow award in 2022 for her work covering the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls’ crisis in this country. As a survivor of that very crisis, she is intimately familiar with what the colonial system has done to Indigenous Peoples – the violence, the imprisonment, the shunning and separation that emerged from two colliding worldviews – and it is from this lens that she covers every story she walks into.

On Jan. 10, Ms. Morin was at a freezing-cold, Indigenous-led encampment of fewer than a dozen people on a two-acre lot in Edmonton, interviewing Roy Cardinal, one of the spiritual leaders of this marginalized group. They are struggling to exist in their tents because they can’t afford housing on their own land.

Then, when the Edmonton Police arrived to take down the encampment, she started filming the standoff. She said that when officers told her to get behind the yellow tape that they had put up more than 40 feet away – too far away to continue recording – she identified herself as a journalist and refused to move. Ms. Morin felt that, as a member of the media, she could stand closer to record what was going on, and felt that she had to stay to bear witness to the sweep. She also knew that such “exclusion zones” are a major problem – a tool that law enforcement uses to block journalists from accessing the unfolding action, despite warnings against this kind of interference from two provincial appeals courts and the RCMP’s civilian complaints commission.

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Yet she found herself forcibly removed from the scene, arrested and charged with obstructing a peace officer – a criminal charge that carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail.

There are several serious issues concerning the arrest of Ms. Morin, but perhaps the grossest is the dangerous precedent of journalists being muzzled or threatened for telling the story of the lived experience of Indigenous Peoples.

This is a pattern we’ve seen across Canada. In 2016, Justin Brake was arrested while covering the occupation of the Muskrat Falls dam project in Newfoundland, leading to a four-year court odyssey before charges were fully dropped. In Wetʼsuwetʼen territory, RCMP officers have reportedly threatened, harassed and detained journalists including Jerome Turner of Ricochet Media and photojournalists Amber Bracken and Jesse Winter for covering the opposition to the Coastal Gaslink pipeline in recent years. And in 2020, Karl Dockstader, a reporter from Oneida Nation of the Thames, was charged with mischief and failure to comply with a court order during the 1492 Land Back demonstration in Six Nations.

Time and again, journalists have run up against law enforcement when they try to share the perspectives of Indigenous Peoples. Ms. Morin’s arrest is the latest chilling example.

“You always think there is a possibility of arrest because of the nature of this work but when it happens it is a different story,” Ms. Morin told me on Tuesday evening, after she had reported to an Edmonton police station to be fingerprinted and have her picture taken. “I never thought it would happen in Treaty 6.”

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She had until today to turn herself in for fingerprinting before a warrant would have been issued for her arrest. She knows full well that once her mug shot and information is in the police system, she becomes effectively criminalized – a double insult, given that Brandi is an Indigenous woman who was arrested just for doing her job, by police who also disproportionately criminalize us.

A coalition of journalism organizations have come forward to support Ms. Morin, including the Coalition for Women in Journalism, PEN Canada, the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Indigenous Journalists Association, which described storytelling as “our inherent right and an integral part to our right of self-determination, which must be recognized by colonial entities.”

Ms. Morin is waiting to see if she’ll have to defend herself in court or if the charge will be dropped. But she knows the outcome will affect us all.

“I don’t really think the public really understands the implications of violations of press freedom. It coincides with everyone’s freedoms and the erosions of democracies.

“We all know things have been shaky across the board. But the press is literally one of the pillars that holds up democracy. If that starts getting eroded, that needs to be a red flag as to where we are headed if we are being targeted or silenced by police.”

Practising journalism should not be a crime in Canada, but it threatens to become one. That harms everyone’s freedom.

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