A photographer representing the media was arrested at the headquarters of the Fairy Creek blockades on Tuesday morning.
Colin Smith, a photographer representing Victoria Buzz, said he was arrested on the morning of August 10th after tensions grew near the main site and headquarters of the old-growth logging protests.
According to Smith, he had done what most media were required to do when they covered the blockades.
“After checking in with media liaisons I was escorted with other media into the injunction zone where they had an exclusion zone set up 100 feet away from an extraction happening,” said Smith.
Smith observed the extraction and took photographs when RCMP began to focus their efforts on vehicles blocking access to the area.
With piles of garbage and objects scattered, and numerous deep trenches dug up, the scene prohibited vehicles from further access. According to RCMP, protestors linked arms and sat across the road when police began to read the injunction.
This is when Smith said tensions flared.
“The injunction was read and land defenders kept their stand. Then police started pulling defenders apart. The commanding officer got close to me and told me to move back. He grabbed me by my camera straps, pulled me and then two officers came by to take over,” said Smith.
“I yelled ‘Media!’ but they just took my camera gear, searched me, and then took me to an on-site processing area.”
After about an hour and fifteen minutes, Smith was freed, and most of his gear was returned to him, save a drone.
When Smith attempted to go back to the exclusion zone and find his drone, the commanding officer refused his re-entry.
“You know, I’ve been documenting the situation for two months, and some of these officers know me. When I tried to get my drone back, they escorted me, and my arresting officer looked for it, but they wouldn’t just let me look for it on my own,” said Smith.
Since the incident, Smith has gotten his drone back but is quite shaken up.
“As a working journalist they shouldn’t have put a hand on me. Some days they’re horrific, and other days they’re better. But when the Commanding officer’s goal is defeat, this is what you get,” said Smith.
In May, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) challenged the RCMP in the BC Supreme Court over fair access for media after journalists were being restricted access at the old-growth blockades.
The judge sided with the coalition of journalists against Teal-Jones and the RCMP. Still, at least two other journalists have been arrested since May.
Asked whether he was surprised, considering the judges decision in favour of CAJ, and Smith said no.
“Am I surprised? No. They are an active force trying to clear the area. For them, the less eyes on them, the better,” added Smith.
Meanwhile, the RCMP are maintaining their position that protestors are causing the majority of damage.
In the RCMP’s daily update yesterday, Chief Superintendent John Brewer said, “The destruction of the roads with these massive trenches being dug up by protesters, as well as the piles of garbage being scattered is appalling.”
“For people who claim to be stewards of the land, they have certainly created severe environmental damages to these grounds, which will take great efforts to clean up,” he adds.
According to RCMP, a total of 23 individuals were arrested. 10 of whom RCMP said were breaching the injunction and later released in Lake Cowichan after signing release conditions.
The rest were released in Port Renfrew or Lake Cowichan without being processed, yet no mention of the arrest of Victoria Buzz’s photographer was produced.
When asked, spokesperson Sgt. Chris Manseau of the RCMP told Victoria Buzz that the names and occupations of persons arrested is a breach of privacy, regardless of whether or not that person is a member of the media.
“We understand that an individual taking pictures among those about to be arrested (now known to be a photographer with Victoria Buzz, Colin Smith), did not move or comply with police directions, which were provided at least six times.” Manseau said.
“It is important to note that regardless of the individuals intentions or occupation, listening and adhering to police direction during active enforcement is required.”
Sgt. Manseau added that enforcement actions, like this incident, are documented by body worn cameras.
RCMP have made it clear that there are no conditions that would limit his re-entry into the injunction area.