Arrest/criminal charge

RCMP arrest and detain documentary filmmaker and photojournalist during pipeline protest on Wet’suwet’en territory

RCMP officers arrested and detained documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano and photojournalist Amber Bracken during a land rights protest on Wet’suwet’en territory.

The Nov. 19, 2021 arrests were made during an RCMP raid on the Gidimt’en clan, at the two-kilometre mark of the Marten Forest Service Road near Houston, B.C., according to RCMP documents

Toledano has been working on a documentary on the conflict and resistance to Coastal GasLink since 2019. Bracken (who sits on the Canada Press Freedom Project’s advisory board) was on assignment for The Narwhal. 

As police officers raided the camp, protesters were inside a cabin which had been built to block access to a proposed Coastal GasLink drill site. Toledano and Bracken were also inside the cabin, documenting the raid, The Tyee reported.

In a video taken by Toledano, he can be heard identifying himself to police as media, saying “I’m filming a documentary for CBC television.” 

“No problem, you’re under arrest,” the officer replies. A police dog can be heard barking in the background. 

“You’re under arrest. Put the camera down,” an officer said as Toledano leaves the cabin. 

Toledano again identified himself as a journalist working for CBC, and offered to show police his press credentials. Police twisted his wrists during the arrest and handcuffed him, Toledano said. 

The RCMP took Toledano’s camera equipment and escorted him away from the camp. 

Alongside arrested Indigenous land defenders, Bracken and Toledano were transported from the Houston detachment to Smithers, then to the Prince George correctional centre, over the course of four days. 

Toledano later tweeted that his “arrest (made at gunpoint) and incarceration were punitive and a blatant attempt to repress images of police violence against Indigenous people in Canada.” 

Bracken and Toledano, among Indigenous land defenders arrested, were transported from the Houston detachment to Smithers, then to the Prince George correctional centre over the course of four days. 

“I could have signed conditions on site, and continued to work. Instead, for a civil charge with minimal conditions, I was kept in holding cells in three cities for four days, fed minimally. People with dietary restrictions have barely eaten since being incarcerated on Friday,” Toledano later tweeted

Toledano said on Twitter that he believed the arrest was targeted. “One officer who I have encountered many times on Wet’suwet’en territory gloated about the arrest. When my handcuffs broke, and had to be hacksawed off, one officer said he would keep them as a souvenir.”

A Nov. 22 letter signed by more than 40 professional and press freedom associations, journalism schools and media organizations (including J-Source) urged federal public safety minister Marco Mendicino to investigate the arrests. 

Toledano was released on Nov. 22 after a bail hearing, a night before Bracken, who was released on Nov. 23. 

Both journalists were released on the condition that they appear in court on ​​Feb. 14, 2022 and that they comply with the terms of the 2019 injunction. 

The RCMP had also been tracking Bracken and Toledano in a law enforcement database, reported The Narwhal.

Upon release, Toledano said he was “pleased to find out that [his] camera and footage were not destroyed by the RCMP (and) will be publishing this footage as soon as possible.”

Toledano later clarified that he filed video, audio and photos to CBC The National and CBC News for the week leading up to his arrest. CBC’s coverage had identified him as an “independent filmmaker.” 

CBC was also not a signatory to CAJ’s Nov. 22 letter to the federal public safety minister. 

Coastal GasLink dropped the charges against Toledano and Bracken on Dec. 24.