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Authorities drop case against Cree-Iroquois journalist

Giovanni Torre -

Canadian authorities have dropped their case against Cree and Iroquois journalist Brandi Morin.

Ms Morin's lawyer Richard Mirasty was to appear in court in amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton) on Friday to enter a plea of not guilty on her behalf, and set a date for trial. Instead, he was told Crown prosecutors had withdrawn the charge.

Ms Morin said "I'm just so relieved".

"So thankful for everyone who stood by me. I was present to report, and I did nothing more or less than my job. It's gratifying to see the Crown finally acknowledge that I did nothing wrong," she said, as reported by Ricochet Media.

On Twitter, Ms Morin posted a video after the news and wrote: "I have a WONDERFUL UPDATE!!! My charge of criminal obstruction was withdrawn this morning!!! A huge win for press freedom; amplifying the forgotten and silenced and holding powers to account!!!! Teniki (thank you) to God, my lawyer Rick Mirasty, my editors & all orgs & people who stood beside me!!! STOODIS (let's do this)".

Ms Morin was arrested and charged on January 10 while conducting interviews for Ricochet Media at an Indigenous unhoused encampment in amiskwacîwâskahikan.

Police had arrived after Ms Morin and set up a large exclusion zone around the area, while she was already within the zone.

The respected First Nations journalist filmed without incident as police spoke with camp residents. When the discussions broke down police attempted to arrest camp leader Roy Cardinal, at which point an officer demanded Ms Morin leave and pushed her repeatedly. When Ms Morin noted that she was doing her job and had a right to be present, she was grabbed, handcuffed and held for five hours, and charged with obstruction of a police officer.

Brandi Morin being arrested. Image: Brandi Morin's TikTok ( @bmorinstories )

Several Canadian and international journalism, press freedom and human rights groups had called for the charge to be dropped, including the Canadian Association of Journalists, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Sans Frontières, Indigenous Journalists Association, PEN Canada, Amnesty International Canada, Coalition for Women in Journalism and Journalists for Human Rights.

Before the charge was dropped, Reporters Sans Frontières USA executive director Clayton Weimers said "it is bad enough that police arrested a journalist for doing her job, but it is outrageous that prosecutors would even consider pursuing the charges against Brandi Morin".

"These tactics are meant to intimidate independent reporters and this case is tantamount to criminalizing journalism. It will set a dangerous precedent for a country that otherwise ranks high globally on the RSF World Press Freedom Index," he said.

Canada's largest private sector trade union, Unifor, had also called for the charge to be dropped, describing the prosecution as a threat to "Canadian news democracy".

Ricochet Media managing editor Andrea Houston said the Crown "had no reasonable prospect of conviction on the evidence, so it's no surprise they withdrew the charge".

"But it should never have taken this long to drop a charge that amounts to an attempt at intimidation of the media by the Edmonton Police. The stress and financial costs over the past nearly two months have been significant, and we hope that no working journalist is ever put through such an ordeal again," she said.

Unifor noted prior to the charge being withdrawn that when reporters are unable to do their jobs, it "can lead to censorship and a chill in news coverage and can result in fewer important stories published and broadcast".

The case against Ms Morin is one of a series of incidents in which officers have attempted to restrict media access during police operations. Courts in two Canadian provinces, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's own oversight body, have found these restrictions to be unlawful.

Award-winning photojournalist Amber Bracken is currently suing the RCMP for arresting and holding her in custody for four days for covering a police raid in Wet'suwet'en territory.

Ricochet Media senior editor Ethan Cox said Canadian police "need to come to terms with the law, as interpreted by multiple courts: journalists have a right to be present, and to report on their activities from a reasonable distance".

"Holding journalists outside of massive exclusion zones is unconstitutional and unlawful. Taking that a step further, and arresting and charging journalists for doing their jobs, is nothing less than an assault on press freedom," Mr Cox said.

Canadian Association of Journalist president Brent Jolly welcomed the news on Friday.

"This is a moment of reckoning regarding the efforts of police to prevent journalists from covering events in the public interest," he told Ricochet Media.

"This doesn't excuse the treatment of Brandi up to this point, but it is an instructive moment for law enforcement agencies across the country. Journalists have the right to be present when actions and events in the public interest are taking place. And they have the right to report on those events."

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