PRINCE GEORGE, British Columbia — A photojournalist and a documentary filmmaker have been released by a Canadian judge, three days after being arrested while covering police enforcement of an injunction against pipeline protests in northern British Columbia.
Amber Bracken, who had been on assignment for B.C.-based outlet The Narwhal, and documentarian Michael Toledano were released on the condition that they appear in court in February.
“My arrest and incarceration were punitive and a blatant attempt to repress images of police violence against Indigenous people in Canada,” Toledano tweeted.
“I have no doubt that my arrest was targeted. One officer who I encountered many times on Wet’suwet’en territory gloated about the arrest.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement that two people who “later identified themselves as independent journalists” were arrested after refusing to leave “building-like structures” near a drilling site for the natural gas pipeline, which is under construction.
The arrests came after citizens of the Gidimt’en clan, one of five in the Wet’suwet’en Nation, set up blockades along a forest service road Nov. 14.
Police said the road was cleared on Thursday.
Opposition among Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to the 670-kilometer (416 mile) pipeline sparked rallies and rail blockades across Canada early last year, while the elected council of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and others nearby have agreed to the project.
A memorandum of understanding had been signed between the hereditary chiefs and the federal and provincial governments, easing tensions up until now.
The pipeline would transport natural gas from Dawson Creek in northeastern British Columbia to Kitimat, British Columbia It is more than halfway finished with almost all the route cleared and 200 kilometers (121 miles) of pipeline installed, Coastal GasLink has said.
The Canadian Association of Journalists condemned the arrests of Bracken and Toledano. In an open letter signed by several dozen news outlets and press freedom organizations, it called on Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to “bring about a swift resolution respecting journalists’ fundamental rights.”
Asked about the arrests by reporters in Ottawa, Mendicino said it was not for him or the government to adjudicate the case or to direct police operations on the ground, but it’s important that journalists can do their jobs without interference.
British Columbia Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said a free press is critical to democracy and he hoped the situation would not escalate.
The Native American Journalists Association issued a statement Tuesday, calling for a refocus of news coverage of Wet’suwet’en and arrests
"The Native American Journalists Association condemns the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for standing in the way of news gathering and storytelling by arresting journalists on Wet’suwet’en Yintah.
"We are also deeply concerned that the news attention on Indigenous people occupying and using their traditional unceded territory only sees heightened media attention when there are police raids and arrests."