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Case of Muskrat Falls journalist charged with mischief back in court – CP

by ahnationtalk on April 12, 20179 Views

Source: The Canadian Press
Apr 11, 2017

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. _ A case that has raised alarms among advocates for freedom of the press was back in court Tuesday in Labrador as an aboriginal leader urged the premier to intervene.

Journalist Justin Brake of The Independent, an online publication in the province, was charged with mischief over $5,000 and disobeying a court injunction after covering an occupation at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in October.

He is due back in court May 30 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

“He certainly plans to contest the charges,” Brake’s lawyer, Geoff Budden, said in an interview.

Brake was on scene when several people entered the Muskrat Falls site and took over part of an accommodation complex.

Crown corporation Nalcor Energy removed at least 700 people working on the grounds at the time as a precaution.

Demonstrators voiced concerns as they have for years about potential contamination of fish and other wild foods as land is flooded for a reservoir. Muskrat Falls is upstream from about 2,000 Inuit and other residents in the Lake Melville region who rely on hunting for much of their diet.

Brake was among 28 people charged with some 60 counts in total.

Provincial Supreme Court Judge George Murphy recently ruled Brake had no special status, and was no more entitled to enter the Muskrat Falls site than non-journalists.

Brake had filed an application arguing Nalcor was wrong not to identify him as a journalist when it sought and obtained a court order in October. It required demonstrators to argue in court why they should not be held in contempt of a previous injunction to stay a distance from the Muskrat Falls site.

Brake argued Nalcor failed in its duty of full and frank disclosure. He also cited the special status of a free press as enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Murphy disagreed.

“Mr. Brake did not have any special status in this case because of the fact he is a journalist,” he ruled. “He was no more entitled to violate the injunction order by trespassing on the Muskrat Falls construction site than were any non-journalists named in the contempt appearance order who trespassed on the site.”

A coalition of groups including Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Canadian Association of Journalists has condemned the charges against Brake.

“The charges are an outrageous assault by the RCMP on press freedom in Canada and must be withdrawn immediately,” the coalition said last month in a statement, adding they “could cause a chill in reporting on controversies over resource development projects and indigenous-led protests.”

Johannes Lampe, president of the Nunatsiavut Government in Labrador, on Tuesday urged Premier Dwight Ball to intervene on behalf of all those charged.

Lampe said in a publicly released letter to Ball that he’s not pushing for political interference.

“To be clear, I am not asking you to approach the prosecutors with this request, but I do believe that it would not be improper if you were to approach Nalcor to ask that consideration be given to dropping all charges.”

It would be a show of good faith and help improve relations with aboriginal leaders and the people of Labrador, Lampe said.

“Many of these people feel they have done nothing wrong, but were simply taking action to protect their health, culture and way of life and, as a result, have been branded criminals.”



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