An RCMP officer falsely claimed in an affidavit that journalist Brandi Morin had lied to police while on assignment covering protests at Fairy Creek.
In the affidavit, RCMP media relations officer Elenore Sturko swore that Morin lied in order to get two activists through a police checkpoint controlling access to a protest camp. Sturko claimed that Morin had told her that two activists Morin was travelling with were also members of the media and should be allowed to enter a protest camp.
Morin had filmed the conversation with Sturko and was able to prove that she had in fact told the officer that the two women were not media and were the subjects of a profile she was writing for Ricochet Media.
Sturko’s affidavit was included in the RCMP’s response to a lawsuit filed by the Canadian Association of Journalists and other media organizations challenging police obstruction of media workers during the Fairy Creek protests.
In a written submission to the B.C. Supreme Court, CAJ described the allegation as “essentially an attack on Ms. Morin’s credibility” as well as Ricochet’s.
The RCMP later acknowledged the error and told the judge hearing the CAJ lawsuit that Sturko’s allegation was inaccurate, reported The Narwhal.
“During the hearing the mistake was acknowledged in court. So to be clear, Sgt. Sturko was quick to identify the mistake and ensure same was raised and corrected during the hearing before the Judge,” RCMP spokesperson Dawn Roberts told The Narwhal.
This incident took place during protests against old-growth logging on southern Vancouver Island, on the territory of the Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations, between Aug. 9, 2020 and Sept. 28, 2021.
Police enforcement, arrests, and most media coverage of the blockades took place after logging company Teal-Jones obtained an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court on April 1, 2021, which banned blockades of logging activities in the Fairy Creek and Caycuse watersheds.
By Aug. 2021, the Fairy Creek blockades and protests were approaching the record for the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada’s history, reported The Narwhal.
Concerns over press freedoms arose during police enforcement in 2021 due to numerous incidents where media workers were denied access to raid sites, intimidated and arrested by the RCMP.
On May 26, 2021, the Canadian Association of Journalists and a coalition of news organizations and press freedom groups, including Ricochet Media, The Narwhal, Capital Daily, Canada’s National Observer, APTN, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, The Discourse and IndigiNews, said they planned to take the RCMP to court over excessive restrictions on media.
The court ruled in their favour on July 20, 2021, with B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson affirming media rights by adding a clause to the injunction instructing the RCMP not to interfere with press access unless there was a clear and genuine operational reason to do so.
Despite the court order, RCMP officers continued to restrict media access. Police arrested a Victoria Buzz photojournalist and seized his equipment at the main Fairy Creek blockade on Aug. 10, 2021, and threatened to arrest media workers or refused to allow them through police lines on multiple occasions after the ruling.
On Sept. 28, 2021, a B.C. Supreme Court justice refused to extend the initial injunction, saying RCMP enforcement of the order “led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties, including impairment of the freedom of the press to a marked degree.”
On Jan. 26, 2022, the B.C. Court of Appeal reinstated and extended the injunction to Sept. 26, 2022.
The B.C. Supreme Court later extended the injunction again until Sept. 26, 2023. In that decision, Justice Thompson reiterated his earlier criticism of the RCMP’s media obstruction, noting that the RCMP’s “expansive exclusion zones, and associated checkpoints and searches, were unlawful, and that the degree of interference with liberties of members of the public and the media was substantial and serious.”