Canadian police arrest Indigenous journalist covering land rights movement

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the arrest of Indigenous Canadian journalist Karl Dockstader in relation to his reporting on an Indigenous land dispute in southern Ontario. RSF calls on the Ontario Provincial Police to drop all charges against him. 
Karl Dockstader, an award-winning journalist from the Indigenous Oneida Nation of the Thames, was arrested on September 2 in relation to his coverage of a land dispute on an Indigenous territory. Dockstader had spent half the summer documenting Indigenous land defenders’ efforts to resist construction of a residential development on Haudenosaunee land. The Ontario Provincial Police charged him with criminal mischief and failure to comply with a court ordered injunction. Police have banned him from returning to the site under threat of further charges. A court date has been set for Nov. 24.

“It is deeply disappointing that the Ontario police have chosen to disregard Karl Dockstader’s legally-protected right to report on this matter, which is of clear public interest to Canada and Indigenous people in the region,” said Daphne Pellegrino, Advocacy Manager of RSF’s North America bureau. “The Ontario Provincial Police should drop these charges and ensure that their actions do not infringe on the press covering such events moving forward.”

This is not an isolated incident. In recent years, police have pressed charges against two other journalists for reporting on land conflicts between Indigenous peoples and government authorities. In February, American filmmaker Melissa Cox was arrested while documenting Wet’suwet’en land defenders’ efforts to block the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, though her charges of mischief and trespassing were recently dropped. In 2016, reporter Justin Brake faced civil and criminal charges after covering an Indigenous-led occupation of the Muskrat Falls site. Following his case, a court decision by the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal affirmed that special considerations apply to journalists covering indigenous protests, even in injunction zones. Brake’s charges were dismissed in June.

Canada is ranked 16 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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