“The actions of Niagara Regional Council members and police are an outrageous assault on media rights, and evidence of a disturbing disregard for the role of the press in a democracy.”
A Statement from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression on the Niagara Regional Government’s Assault on the Rights of the News Media
Re-Posted December 8th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
CJFE is deeply concerned by an incident in the Niagara Regional Council meeting in which city clerk Frank Fabiano seized notes and a computer belonging to St. Catharines Standard reporter Bill Sawchuk, allegedly on the orders of Chief Administrative Officer Carmen D’Angelo.
Niagara regional council in session. File photo by Doug Draper
Sawchuk regularly covers meetings and was in attendance when a regular session was moved in-camera to discuss a code of conduct violation by Coun. Andy Petrowski. After leaving the chamber, Sawchuk was notified by staff that he was suspected of surreptitiously recording the closed session with his laptop and that his device and notes were being seized.
After the seizure of his device, the reporter was ordered to leave the city hall building and threatened with police action if he failed to comply. After repeated inquiries by the Standard and their legal counsel, the laptop was eventually retrieved from the staff member’s office and returned.
The actions of Niagara Regional Council members and police are an outrageous assault on media rights, and evidence of a disturbing disregard for the role of the press in a democracy.
A reporter’s notes, sources and electronic devices should never be seized or searched except through enforcement of a court order, and only then under most narrow and rigorously scrutinized circumstances.
It remains unclear under what authority the Region believed it was authorized to seize the belongings of a journalist. Canada dropped to 22nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
CJFE calls on Mr. Fabiano and Mr. D’Angelo to provide an immediate and unconditional apology to Mr. Sawchuk.
We furthermore support MPP Cindy Forster’s request to Minister of Municipal Affairs to immediately investigate this attack on press freedom, and if necessary recommend policies to better protect the rights of media workers covering Niagara Regional Council.
About Canadian Journalists for Free Expression – Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is a Canadian organization founded in 1981 that works to defend and protect the right to free expression in Canada and around the world.
Our vision – To achieve universal respect for and protection of the right to free expression and access to information.
Our mission – CJFE monitors, defends and reports on free expression and access to information in Canada and abroad. Rooted in the field of journalism, we promote a free media as essential to a fair and open society. CJFE boldly champions the free expression rights of all people, and encourages and supports individuals and groups in the protection of their own and others’ free expression rights.
For more about the CJFE, visit its website at – http://www.cjfe.org/about-us .
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