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A member of the RCMP takes the handcuffs off reporter David Menzies from Rebel Media during a campaign stop for Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in Whitby, Ont. on Sept. 30, 2019.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Let’s give the Rebel News arrest and subsequent howling the Zapruder film treatment, shall we?

The main characters are Rebel on-air personality David Menzies, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and an RCMP officer.

We see Ms. Freeland walking toward the camera along a strip-mall sidewalk in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill. She’s accompanied by a young woman, presumably a staffer. Mr. Menzies strides into the frame, holding a microphone and asking, “Ms. Freeland, how come the IRGC is not a terrorist group?”

He’s talking about Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which families of the victims of Flight PS752 – shot down by the IRGC four years to the day from when Mr. Menzies was making these inquiries – want Canada to designate a terrorist organization.

Ms. Freeland keeps walking without breaking stride, and Mr. Menzies tries again: “Why is your government supporting Islamo-nationalism?”

Here, things get a little jumbled. Mr. Menzies is turned around so he can point his microphone at Ms. Freeland, and the RCMP officer enters the frame, walking directly toward Mr. Menzies, who bumps into him. Ms. Freeland and her staffer walk away, and the camera follows them.

Off-camera, we hear an agitated-sounding Mr. Menzies say, “‘Scuse me, what are you doing?!” and then the camera pans back to him. The scowling RCMP officer grabs Mr. Menzies and pushes him into a wall. “You’re under arrest for assault,” the RCMP officer says.

Ms. Freeland and the staffer walk out of the frame as the camera stays on Mr. Menzies, now surrounded by several police officers. Mr. Menzies asks why he’s being charged with assault when the officer bumped into him and points to his press credentials. The officer repeats that Mr. Menzies is under arrest for assaulting a police officer.

Once he’s in handcuffs, Mr. Menzies looks directly into the camera and says “Welcome to Blackface’s Canada” – referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who faced scandal over earlier photos of himself in blackface that surfaced during the 2019 election – “This is what they do to journalists.”

If we were in an episode of The Office, this would be the point at which Jim would turn and stare deadpan into the lens for a long moment.

Mr. Menzies did not even come close to assaulting that RCMP officer; he bumped into him slightly because he couldn’t see him. Mr. Menzies was subsequently released without charges, and the RCMP told the National Post that it is now looking into the actions of “all parties involved.”

The arrest should never have happened. But it was, pretty obviously, a policing problem, not anything else.

That has not stopped Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and some enthusiastic members of his caucus from trying to make this about freedom of the press and the jackboot of Justin Trudeau’s police state crushing the windpipe of the fourth estate.

Mr. Poilievre shared Rebel’s video online, writing, “This is the state of freedom of the press. In Canada. In 2024. After 8 years of Trudeau.” In a subsequent message, he elaborated: “Trudeau has divided media into two groups: those he’s bought off with bailouts and those he censors and has arrested.”

Conservative MP Michael Cooper chimed in: “When an independent reporter dared to ask Chrystia Freeland a question on government policy, he was promptly arrested. More evidence of creeping authoritarianism in PMJT’s Canada.”

This is all absurd and embarrassingly cynical.

To start with, this isn’t about a free press, because Mr. Menzies isn’t a journalist and Rebel News isn’t a news outlet by any reasonable definition of the term. They are not seeking answers to real questions or even advancing an ideological line of thought. They’re performance artists vamping for cash and attention, and the shtick they’ve perfected is that they are noble truth-tellers victimized by a vengeful government and the police state over which it presides.

In the video, when Mr. Menzies turned to address the camera after he was arrested, a blue banner appeared across the bottom of the screen that read “Help our legal fight” and directed viewers to It’s a special subsection of Rebel News featuring a dozen separate stories about the incident, along with a prominent box down the right side soliciting donations.

“Chrystia Freeland’s RCMP thugs just arrested and manhandled David Menzies,” the appeal read. “This madness needs to end, and the only way to get justice is in court.”

That isn’t journalism – it’s busking.

At one point on Thursday, the campaign was nearing its goal of 2,000 donations, and then the target moved to 3,000 donations. Ezra Levant, chief executive of Rebel News, told me in an e-mail that they don’t disclose the results of their crowdsourcing campaigns, but they fully intend to take legal action and he expects their costs to outstrip the funds raised.

Mr. Levant pointed me to other incidents of police being heavy-handed with Rebel staffers. “How many times do you think this can happen and still be a coincidence?” he said. “Trudeau and those close to him truly hate Rebel News.”

Ms. Freeland gave no indication that she wanted her RCMP detail to intervene – and if there was even a hint of such a thing on the tape, it would have been prominently highlighted; Rebel News has many talents, but subtlety isn’t one of them. Rebel video of another time police arrested Mr. Menzies, in 2021, is overdubbed with pounding drums and a chorus of opera singers building to a menacing crescendo.

Mr. Levant strenuously disagrees that his outlet and employees are not practising journalism. “Journalism isn’t a clique or a guild, it’s an activity,” he said. “And anyone with a cellphone and a Twitter account can be one.”

I wouldn’t have expected Mr. Levant to agree with me; it’s usually best not to wink at the audience from the stage.

But Mr. Poilievre knows better. It’s crass cynicism for him to pretend that this is a principled stand against the Trudeau-run police state accosting an earnest journalism outfit. There’s a reason former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said he would no longer do interviews with Rebel in 2017 after its soft coverage of the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and no Tory leader has publicly touched the outlet with a barge pole since.

But more to the point, Mr. Poilievre is not exactly a connoisseur of the free press. He’s spent much of the past two years entrenching the idea that any spiky coverage or questions he gets are lobbed by bought-and-paid for #JustinJournos, and taking cheap swipes at reporters trying to do their jobs.

If Mr. Poilievre wants to show solidarity with Rebel News and defend the free press that Mr. Trudeau denigrates, his next move is obvious: sit down for an exclusive interview with David Menzies.

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