DispatchPress Freedom News

Pressing Vancouver police for accountability

World Press Freedom Canada continues to be concerned about oversight surrounding the Vancouver Police Department’s treatment of journalists during an operation to dismantle a camp for homeless people.

In December, we penned a letter to the Vancouver Police Board, expressing our serious concerns with its quick dismissal of a press freedom complaint against the Vancouver Police Department.  B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner is now investigating.

Late April 5, as municipal workers dismantled tents from an encampment in the city’s Downtown Eastside, police temporarily barred several journalists from accessing a portion of the street. The dubious explanation for this restriction was “safety and privacy.”

Canadian courts have made clear that constitutional guarantees of free expression include the right of media to cover protests and other police actions that occur in public spaces. In a review of the complaint about the alleged “exclusion zone,” the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner found it appears one was created by Vancouver police “for the purpose of excluding the public and the media” on April 5, and it was “unclear what lawful authority was relied upon” to do so.

Despite this finding, on Nov. 23, the Vancouver Police Board dismissed the complaint. It did so without having heard from any journalists who were at the scene that day, apparently relying on the testimony of police alone.

World Press Freedom Canada is disturbed by this lack of basic due diligence.

Our letter urged the Vancouver Police Board to investigate press freedom complaints more robustly and remind police that the press has a right to cover protests, injunctions and other areas where their action is required.

Vancouver police, we’ve got our eyes on you.