OTTAWA – The land was theirs, the indigenous protesters said, and so they tried to prevent the housing project near Niagara Falls from proceeding – burning tires to block a highway, slogans sprayed on construction company’s equipment and an excavator on fire put .
The demonstrations didn’t get much national attention, but Karl Dockstader, a local indigenous reporter, thought it was a big story.
As the protests grew larger over the summer, he returned to the site repeatedly and eventually decided to pitch a tent nearby to provide more detailed coverage.
Then he received an email from the Ontario Provincial Police. They wanted to meet with him.
When he showed up, the police arrested him and charged him with criminal harm and harm an injunction against the blockade. Now that he is waiting for the case to be resolved, Mr. Dockstader, co-host of a weekly talk radio program dealing with indigenous issues, is himself prevented from covering a major indigenous event in his own backyard.
The arrest of Mr Dockstader is one of four recent arrests of reporters covering indigenous protests in Canada, as well as journalism and journalism Civil rights groups immediately jumped to his defense. The Canadian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but does not offer any special protection for the press.
“It’s an abuse of power,” said Brent Jolly, the president of Canadian Association of Journalists. “And it’s a pretty effective way for them to end the debate.”
Pamela Palmater, an attorney for Mi’kmaq who holds a chair in indigenous law at Ryerson University in Toronto, said the arrests also suggest silencing coverage of indigenous issues, which increases the country’s efforts under prime ministers Justin Trudeau seeking a reconciliation could undermine indigenous peoples for past mistakes.
“It prevents our stories, our page and our version from being published, whether it is an indigenous or a non-indigenous journalist who has been arrested.
“Achieving the goal of reconciliation requires a better understanding of the problems of the Aborigines and Native Americans.” The judges wrote. “This places greater emphasis on having independently reported information on Aboriginal issues, including Aboriginal protests, as widely available as possible.”
The court also sharply criticized the court for failing to take into account Mr Brake’s status as a journalist. Write that a temporary injunction “can restrict the freedom of the press and, in appropriate cases like this one, the protection of the rights of indigenous interests”.
In February, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested Melissa Cox, a New York documentary filmmaker, in an indigenous railroad blockade in British Columbia, again said she broke an injunction. A court dismissed the charges last month without explanation.
About two weeks after Mr. Dockstader was arrested, another reporter covering the blockade, Starla Myers, was also arrested by Ontario police and charged with two criminal cases of mischief and violation of a court order.
Ms. Myers, a member of the Mohawk Turtle Clan and a nurse who also works for the Mohawk’s own website Real Peoples Media, is now subject to similar restrictions as those placed on Mr Dockstader.
The office of Secretary of State for Relations, Carolyn Bennett, did not comment directly on the arrests, but said that in reconciliation, “we believe that the best way to resolve open issues is through respectful and collaborative dialogue,” added: “A strong, independent and free press is essential. “A spokeswoman for Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford referred questions about the arrests to police.
The indigenous press in Canada includes the national Aboriginal Peoples Television Networkthat reached more than 11 million subscribers, and one Indigenous unit within the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the national broadcaster as well as dozens of smaller outlets such as Mr. Dockstaders Show and numerous podcasts.
Not only do these outlets employ indigenous journalists, they are often the first or only news organization to cover indigenous affairs.
“The arrests are particularly outrageous when the small number of indigenous journalists in this country is also prevented from covering their own stories,” said Dr. Palmater.
Mr. Dockstader, 40, is co-hosting with Sean Vanderklis “A plate, a microphone” That was a podcast, but became AM radio station CKTB a year ago. The show focuses on local indigenous issues in Caledonia, Ontario, including the community of Six Nations of the Grand River.
This community has a decades-long history of Land Claim Disputess.
Mr. Dockstader, a Haudenosaunee member of the Oneida Bear Clan, grew up in southwestern Ontario and Buffalo, New York, and worked as a cook for about 15 years.
He started hosting the radio show about two years ago. Earlier this year he and Mr. Vanderklis won a prestigious Indigenous Journalism Fellowship, providing them with training from the C.B.C. enables.
Mr. Dockstader is also the coordinator of the language program at the native friendship center in Fort Erie, Ontario, which provides services and activities for indigenous people in the city.
The story he covered began on July 20 when about a dozen people gathered to block the construction of a housing estate that they claim is being built on indigenous land. Like one Blockade elsewhere in Ontario earlier this yearThey hoisted the flags of the Six Nations and painted “1492 Land Back Lane” on a construction container, a bogus reference to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in America.
Mr Dockstader and Mr Vanderklis drove to the protest on the first day.
“These things start out as tiny things and you just never know what’s going to happen,” said Dockstader.
After a police raid on August 5 that resulted in arrests, more demonstrators came, leading to blockades on more streets. In total, Mr. Dockstader made 15 trips to the construction site.
At the end of August, Mr. Dockstader decided to pitch his tent.
“I was interested in developing a relationship with those in charge instead of just walking around taking pictures, posting cool things and getting clicks,” he said. “I was only there to document what happened and to take a deeper dive.”
The on-site presence contradicted the order, but before the charges were brought earlier this month, Mr Dockstader’s attorney told police that he was there as a journalist rather than a protester.
In an email, Constable Rod Leclair, a police spokesman, declined to provide details on Mr Dockstader’s case, but said that “Activities outside of their reporting purpose could bring media personnel to court for violating a court order and other applicable offenses. “
Police say Mr Dockstader was charged with a criminal accident over events on August 29, the last day he was at the blockade.
“There was a concert and a lacrosse game,” said Mr Dockstader of that day. “I posted a video on my social media feed that was sort of a look back at the week. And I honestly thought I was free and clear. “
He is now prevented from returning to the blockade and interviewing people connected to it. His lawyer is trying to revise these terms.
Ms. Myers, the other journalist arrested after reporting from the website, said she acted only as an observer and went to the restraining land after reporters and camera crews from major media outlets did so.
“Sometimes when you tell these stories people feel uncomfortable,” she said. “What do you do with people who make you comfortable? You charge them up and silence them. “
Mr. Dockstader is expected to appear in court in November.
“For me,” said Dockstader, “I have laid down the hard line of protecting journalists so that the police do not decide at their own discretion what journalism is and what is not.” But they clearly seem to want to get into that area. They just don’t care. “