For Your Consideration - Thom Barker

For Your Consideration - Thom Barker

A win for freedom of press, but a small one

Thom argues people should stand up for all journalists regardless of opinion about individual ones

It was nice to see Coastal GasLink (CGL) do the right thing last week in deciding not to pursue charges against two journalists who were arrested in November covering a police action against pipeline opponents near Houston.

Unfortunately, even in doing so, the company equivocated.

“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.”

That’s kind of like an apology that says, “I’m sorry you took what I said the wrong way.”

It is not for Coastal GasLink, or anybody, to judge the legitimacy of what a journalist is doing in the field.

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It is not for CGL, or anybody, to assume that a journalist has taken sides in a situation (even if they have).

Personally, I take a much more matter-of-fact approach to the stories of this conflict. This is what happened, this is what the various parties had to say about it.

That is legitimate, objective journalism. Present the facts, let the readers decide.

But we are a newspaper, that is not to say it is not just as legitimate to document the perspectives of the people on the ground.

In fact, if we had the time and resources, I would love to do the kind of in-depth, perspective-based stuff Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano were doing.

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The fact that I can’t, makes me personally appreciate even more that there are people out there doing different things than what we’re doing. I want to see and hear what the various perspectives are.

More importantly, as a citizen of Canada, I want to know what government agencies are doing in our name.

The RCMP is a federal government agency. In the context of CGL, police are acting on behalf of the province, specifically the provincial supreme court, which granted the injunction that led to the arrests.

It is unfortunate, but perhaps understandable, that in the heat of the moment, a journalist might be momentarily detained.

It is unconscionable, that they should be arrested and even more so held in jail over a weekend.

I really want to give the RCMP the benefit of the doubt, that this situation is an overzealous officer exercising poor judgment and not a deliberate policy of trying to conduct their operations secretively.

Unfortunately, the repeated behaviour of setting up “exclusion zones,” supposedly for our safety, frankly, makes me suspicious.

We, in the media, are professional adults, we will worry about our own safety, thank you very much.

We, in the public, have a right to know what our government agencies are up to.

If they are taking a measured approach and using only the necessary, proportional force the situation warrants, they should welcome our presence, not eschew it.

The CGL decision was a victory for freedom of the press, but whether it is meaningful or not, will depend not on whether private companies press charges, but whether public authorities stop trying to impede our ability to do our jobs.

Regardless of how any individual may feel about the two particular journalists in question, everybody should be behind them, and us, as a matter of constitutional principle.

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