Hamilton Police Arrest Two Journalists

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Two journalists were arrested by Hamilton Police Services earlier this week. The journalists were detained at the scene of a fatal crash, and were allegedly tackled by police before being handcuffed and forcibly removed from the scene. The two journalists were Global News videographer Jeremy Cohn and freelance photographer David Ritchie. Ritchie has been charged with obstruction of an officer and resisting arrest, while Cohn was released unconditionally.

CHCH News has reported Ritchie’s account of his and Cohn’s arrest. According to Ritchie, he was arrested after he “left his camera unattended and went back to his vehicle to change his batteries. When he returned, his camera was gone and a police officer admitted to taking it.” Ritchie further alleged that the police officer referred to media as “scum bags” and that he and the officer had a verbal altercation prior to the arrest. CHCH also reported Ritchie’s account of Cohn’s arrest: he “was told by police that he could not be standing where he was. When [Cohn] questioned the officer, he was put in handcuffs.”

Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt released a statement about the arrests, but included few details. The statement confirms that “there were interactions between a member of the Hamilton Police Service and members of the media responding to the scene”, but did not include any information about the nature of those interactions as the matter is now before the courts. The statement also says that Girt takes the arrest of any member of the media seriously, and is “reviewing this incident in the context of what transpired.”

Public access to information about government activities is of critical importance in any democracy, as it enables the citizenry to hold public officials accountable and to make informed choices at the polling booth. The ability of journalists to provide information to the public is particularly critical in the context of the exercise of power by state authorities such as police, as the public is often not positioned to acquire that information themselves and generally relies on journalists to do so.

While details have yet to fully emerge or be confirmed about the incident, these arrests take place at a time when Canada’s press freedom rankings are in precipitous decline. The rankings, created by Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit that promotes and defends freedom of information and of the press, assess Canada as ranked 22nd globally this year, down from 18th in 2016 and 8th in 2015.

Canadian Journalists for Freedom of Expression, a non-profit dedicated to the defence of the rights of journalists and of global press freedom, has released a statement condemning the arrests, calling for the charges against Ritchie to be dropped, and demanding an immediate public inquiry.

Ritchie is due to appear in court on June 15th.

This blog post was written by a CCLA summer student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA.