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Obstruction charge withdrawn for Alberta reporter covering homeless camp clearing

Edmonton Crown prosecutors are withdrawing an obstruction charge against a reporter. Brandi Morin was arrested in January while she was on assignment to cover the police clearing of a homeless encampment in Edmonton. Homeless people and supporters have a stand off as police prepare to clear homeless encampments in Edmonton, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

EDMONTON — A journalist arrested during the police clearing of a homeless encampment said Friday she's relieved an obstruction charge against her has been dropped.

But Brandi Morin said the experience of being held and having a possible court date and conviction hanging over her has left a mark.

"I am still going to do the work and I'm still going to go out there," she said.

"But I don't know if I'm going to be so emboldened. That could change. I just need some time."

On Jan. 10, Morin was conducting interviews at an Edmonton homeless encampment when city police arrived and began clearing it out, setting up a cordon of yellow tape around the site to exclude the public. 

Her employer, Ricochet Media, says police asked Morin to leave. When she refused, explaining she was interviewing residents of the encampment, she was arrested.

She was held for about five hours, said Morin's editor Ethan Cox. 

"Brandi did nothing wrong," he said.   

Morin faced one count of obstructing a police officer. That charge was withdrawn Friday morning, she said. 

The news was overwhelming.

"I was so relieved," Morin said. "I was wailing, crying. I just completely lost it.

"That pressure of being criminalized, I'm so grateful that pressure is gone."

Cox called the decision to withdraw the charge a victory for press freedom in Canada.

"It's tremendously gratifying to see the Crown acknowledge what we knew all along," he said.

But he said it's another example of police using the power of arrest to intimidate and remove journalists who are doing their jobs. 

"Many times now police have done this, where they arrest a journalist and they put forward a charge which ends up getting dropped before it gets to court. This amounts to a kind of harassment against journalists to prevent them from reporting on police activities."

Freelance photojournalist Amber Bracken and The Narwhal magazine have filed a civil lawsuit against the RCMP after Bracken was arrested and detained while on assignment in November of 2021. Bracken was photographing a camp of Wet’suwet’en band members protesting a gas pipeline through their lands when she was arrested and held for almost five days. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2024.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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