Arrest/criminal charge

Photojournalist detained while covering police clearing encampments in Toronto park Trinity Bellwoods

Toronto Police detained and confiscated the equipment of photojournalist Ian Willms while he was covering the eviction of people living in an encampment in Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Police had set up fencing to block access to an area in the park where officers and City of Toronto security guards were removing people from the park. Willms, who asked several times to access the fenced-off area, said police did not give him or other reporters a reason for denying them access to the park, and that there was no indication it was a “no-trespassing zone.”

Willms decided to climb over the fence to be able to document the forcible removal of encampment residents underway.

“I made a choice and went over the fence to better see what they were doing, which I couldn’t see even if I had a really strong telephoto lens,” Willms, who said the view from outside the enclosure obstructed the view of events, told the CAJ. “I did what I did to make sure there was accountability for the people in the encampment.”

Willms, who had identified himself as a journalist and showed police a press card from the National Press Photographers Association he was wearing around his neck, was then arrested.

Police first told Willms that he would be charged with trespassing, obstruction and causing a disturbance. Officers then put Willms inside a court services wagon, where they told him that he would be charged only with trespassing. 

After being driven around for 90 minutes, Willms was taken to the 11 Division police station, about a 5.5-kilometre drive from where he was arrested. 

Police recorded Willms’ information and then released him, according to CPJ. Police returned his confiscated equipment when he was released. 

Willms told CPJ that police warned him he would “face penalties” if he went back to the park, but did not tell him if he had been charged or provide any documentation about his arrest. 

“If you want my opinion, they wanted to stop journalists from observing their actions and because I stepped one step further than everybody else, they made an example of me,” said Willms in an interview with the Toronto Star.

In addition to Willms’ case, five other journalists who were covering the eviction told the CAJ that police denied them access to the fenced-off areas in the park. 

One freelance photojournalist said police shoved him and refused him access to the fenced area because his name wasn’t on a “pre-approved list.” Others told the CAJ that police said they wouldn’t be allowed back into the fenced-off area if they left. 

The City of Toronto planned to bar media from the park, according to an operational plan for the eviction published by Briarpatch magazine. The plan, written by City of Toronto staff, states that “Corporate Security and Toronto Police Service must not allow media in the fenced area.”