Judge releases journalist arrested by RCMP during pipeline protest

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A B.C. judge has released one of two journalists arrested by RCMP at a pipeline protest camp last week as police sought to enforce an injunction.

Justice Marguerite Church of the Supreme Court of B.C., in Prince George, said she would release Amber Bracken from custody after the photojournalist agreed to comply with the terms of an injunction intended to keep protestors away from the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Bracken was one of two journalists detained by RCMP last Friday — arrests that sparked an angry response from advocates of press freedom across North America.

Church was slated to hear the case of the other journalist — documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano — Monday afternoon.

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According to a lawyer for Coastal GasLink, Toledano was also expected to be released on similar terms. Bracken’s next court date on the matter is set for Feb. 14, 2022.

The lawyer said that unlike other 27 people who were arrested at the resistance camp, Bracken and Toledano would be allowed to return to the area because they have a “justified reason to go back.”

‘Labelled as press’

Bracken’s lawyer, David Sutherland, took issue with the company lawyer’s contention that neither of the journalists had identified themselves as media immediately and were “crossing the line between being media and being protesters.”

Sutherland said Bracken, an Alberta-based journalist who has won awards for her work covering the Wet’suwet’en conflict, was well-known as a journalist to both Coastal GasLink and the police.

“She was labelled on her body as press,” said Sutherland, who said Bracken had pinned to her body a copy of an assignment letter from The Narwhal, the publication that hired her to cover the situation.

“Amber Bracken told me she was labelled as press and identified herself as press … so there’s no breach of the injunction at all.”

The Coastal GasLink pipeline, if completed, will span 670 kilometres across northern B.C., transporting natural gas from near Dawson Creek in the east to Kitimat on the Pacific Ocean.

The company has signed benefit agreements with 20 band councils along the route of the project. But Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership says band councils do not have authority over land beyond reserve boundaries.

The latest flashpoint in the conflict occurred at a resistance camp, known as Coyote Camp, that had halted Coastal GasLink’s plans to drill a tunnel under the Wedzin Kwa river.

The blockades stranded about 500 Coastal GasLink employees, causing water rations and fears over food shortages, after the company declined to comply with an eviction notice issued by the Gidimt’en Checkpoint, which controls access to part of the Wet’suwet’en territory. 

Last week, police dismantled blockades along the Morice River Forest Service Road that lead to two work camps by enforcing the terms of an injunction Church issued in December 2019.

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