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Charges no longer proceeding against journalists arrested at B.C. pipeline protest

Photojournalist Amber Bracken and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano won’t be charged
Gidimt’en Checkpoint, a Wet’suwet’en group opposing the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, released this photo with a statement in which they claim to have reoccupied the pipeline site near Houston from where they were ousted last month by the RCMP. ( Gidimt’en Checkpoint/Facebook)

Charges are no longer being pursued against two journalists who were arrested last month while reporting on the RCMP’s enforcement of an injunction at a pipeline construction site in northern British Columbia.

Documents filed with B.C. Supreme Court this week show the company building the Coastal GasLink pipeline filed notices to discontinue the proceedings against photojournalist Amber Bracken and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano.

The pair had been charged with civil contempt of court and were conditionally released by a judge three days after they were arrested along with members of the Gidimt’en clan, who oppose the construction of the natural gas pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory.

Bracken and Toledano are no longer required to appear in court in February or to comply with the terms of the injunction first granted in December 2019, specifically they will be allowed within any exclusion zones set up by RCMP during possible future operations.

Media lawyer David Sutherland, who represented Bracken, said it is important that journalists are allowed to do their jobs unencumbered.

“The RCMP knew she was a journalist before the arrest, but they were told again as it was taking place,” Sutherland told Black Press Media. “There is no risk that non-journalists masquerade as journalists. RCMP have a pattern of interfering with journalists seeking to cover paramilitary operations. Amber Bracken calls them “the greens” and worries that, without coverage, Canadians and courts won’t know what is done in their names.”

The company still questions the nature of Bracken’s and Toledano’s presence with protesters at the site of the arrests.

“While Coastal GasLink has ongoing concerns with respect to the fairness and approach of these individuals, we do not believe, in this situation, further civil court actions are merited,” said a statement from TC Energy, who owns and operates Coastal GasLink.

The RCMP did not comment on CGL’s decision, but at the time of the two journalists’ arrests, Chief Supt. Warren Brown, commander of E Division (B.C.) told CBC News police would never arrest anybody for being a journalist.

“If they’re engaged in good faith and in newsgathering activity, they’re not going to be arrested,” he told Carolina de Ryk, host of CBC’s Daybreak North. “But … if they are going to actively participate, assist and advocate for protesters, they’re going to be arrested. If they’re aiding and abetting, obstructing, interfering with those seeking to enforce the law, they’re going to be arrested.”

Opposition among Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to the 670-kilometre pipeline sparked rallies and rail blockades across Canada last year, while the elected councils of the Wet’suwet’en bands have agreed to the project.

In a Supreme Court decision earlier this month CN Rail won the right to privately pursue criminal charges against three individuals who participated in a blockade of CN tracks in Hazelton in February 2020.

CN went to court when prosecutors declined to pursue charges against the protesters saying it was “not in the public interest.”

The pipeline would transport natural gas from Dawson Creek in northeastern B.C. to a processing facility in Kitimat.

It is more than halfway finished with almost all of the route cleared and 200 kilometres of pipeline installed, Coastal GasLink has said.

The Canadian Press with files from Thom Barker