The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom condemns the criminal charges brought against Aylmer Express publisher John Hueston and reporter/editor Brett Hueston.
The OPP’s decision to charge the publisher and editor of a family-owned, community newspaper for attempting to report at an accident scene is an unacceptable assault on freedom of the press. It is part of a disturbing trend among Canadian law enforcement to use arrest and charge journalists who are doing their jobs.
On June 23, 2017, a car drove off a cliff at the south end of Springfield Road above Lake Erie. The following day, a Special Investigations Unit was brought in to determine if an OPP police vehicle had been in pursuit at the time of the crash. The death was ultimately determined to be a suicide, clearing the OPP.
On June 24, while the investigation was ongoing, John and Brett Hueston drove past a road closed sign and arrived on the scene, which is not unusual for local reporters. A plain-clothed officer on the scene told journalists they could not take photos and needed to move their car. John Hueston asked for the officer’s identification, was referred to her superior, who after a short discussion ordered arrest of the two journalists. They were arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail at the Elgin OPP detachment where they were held for three hours until the crash scene had been cleared. Their cameras were also confiscated.
John Hueston, 67, and Brett, 33, now face charges of criminal obstruction of a peace officer. A trial is set for Wednesday, June 27, 2018 at the Ontario Court of Justice. It is expected to be a one-day trial.
The two maintain they did not interfere with the investigation, never went closer than 50 metres to the site of the investigation and only spoke to officers to ask where they could park and take photos.
The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom is an Ottawa-based non-profit group that advocates for the protection of press freedom and freedom of expression, both in Canada and abroad.