While reporting for Ricochet Media, Kyle Darling and Michael Simkin were denied access to the Caycuse protest camp in old-growth forest on southern Vancouver Island, at the site of an imminent police raid on May 17, 2021.
Simkin and Darling were stopped at a roadblock when they tried to enter the exclusion zone, which the RCMP described as a “temporary access control area,” reported Ricochet.
When the journalists asked police to contact a supervisor by radio and confirm that media was not allowed, the officers refused, according to an affidavit later filed with the B.C. Supreme Court.
Instead, police told the journalists to drive an hour and a half to get back into cell service range and call the RCMP media liaison sergeant. This prevented the reporters from covering the events that took place during the initial day of RCMP enforcement of the old-growth demonstrations.
An RCMP spokesperson told Ricochet in the afternoon of May 17 that the “temporary access control area” was not a media exclusion zone, but at the same time, no journalists would be allowed inside.
RCMP Chief Superintendent Dave Attfield later said this denial was “due to a misunderstanding of (his) direction regarding media access and occurred early on in the implementation of the access control point at Hatton Creek,” according to an affidavit he filed with B.C. Supreme Court.
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.”