Coastal GasLink drops charges against journalists arrested on Wet’suwet’en territory

Emma Gilchrist
Pipeline company Coastal GasLink dropped civil contempt charges laid against two journalists who were arrested while reporting on conflict in Wet'suwet'en territory. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

Dec. 24, 2021

Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano were detained for three nights, attracting international scrutiny of ongoing RCMP violations of press freedoms

Charges have been dropped against journalists Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano, who were arrested and detained for three nights on civil contempt charges while reporting on militarized police raids on Wet’suwet’en territory in northwest B.C. on Nov. 19. 

Their arrests drew international media attention and marked an escalation in an ongoing battle between journalists and the RCMP over the right to report from within injunction zones without risking arrest.

The plaintiff, Coastal GasLink pipeline, owned by TC Energy, filed earlier this week to discontinue proceedings against the two journalists on charges of civil contempt of court. Bracken and Toledano have also been relieved of the terms of their release, which included agreement to appear in court on Feb. 14, 2022, and to obey a Coastal GasLink injunction. 

Bracken, who was on assignment for The Narwhal at the time of her arrest, said she’s relieved the charges have been dropped, but the fundamental issue hasn’t been resolved. 

“I should never have been arrested or charged, let alone detained, in the first place,” Bracken said. “I can’t get those days of my life and work back. Nothing in these proceedings provides any feedback to RCMP for their gross interference with journalists, so what’s stopping police from just doing it again?”

As The Narwhal reported at the time of Bracken’s arrest, the RCMP were tracking her and Toledano in a database of police investigations, a practice which raises questions about the RCMP’s characterization of journalists who report on social conflict or within injunction zones. At the time of their arrests, the RCMP seized recording devices and professional equipment from both journalists, actions that prevented the public from witnessing police conduct during the raid where more than a dozen land defenders were also arrested.

Black backpacks and a bag sit on a wooden floor
Photojournalist Amber Bracken’s camera equipment was disposed of at a dump site after her arrest by the RCMP. Bracken recovered her gear, covered in mud and ice and clearly displaying her press credentials, after being released from police custody.

Although the charges against Bracken and Toledano have been dropped, The Narwhal, the Canadian Association of Journalists and other news organizations are exploring other legal avenues to hold the RCMP accountable and ensure arrests of journalists don’t continue happening. 

“It’s a huge relief that sanity has prevailed, and that the erroneous charges against journalists Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano have been dropped,” said Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists. “We hope this moment serves as a reminder that the right to report freely, and without interference, is a legal right that will never be subject to negotiation.” 

In August, The Narwhal, the Canadian Association of Journalists and a coalition of media filed a successful legal challenge against the RCMP, which asked the courts to remind law enforcement of the rights of media to report on the Fairy Creek logging blockades

In two scathing written rulings, B.C. Supreme Court’s Justice Douglas Thompson determined that the vast exclusion zones, affiliated checkpoints and media restrictions set up by RCMP officers at the injunction area are unlawful and “seriously and substantially” impacted important liberties. 

Justice Thompson refused to extend the injunction when he issued his second decision in September, stating the way the RCMP continued to violate charter rights when enforcing the injunction was causing a “depreciation” of the court’s reputation. 

[Top photo: Pipeline company Coastal GasLink dropped civil contempt charges laid against two journalists who were arrested while reporting on conflict in Wet'suwet'en territory. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal]