GRANT BUCKLER | J-Source Commentary
[~] Justin Brake, a former reporter for the Newfoundland news site The Independent, wasn’t the only winner when the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal cleared him of a civil charge of contempt last week.
The ruling — an encouraging one for a news media that has undergone a spate of legal battles in recent years that call into question their rights as independent watchdogs — affirms the right of journalists to do their jobs.
Brake – who now works for the Aboriginal People’s Television Network – is still facing criminal charges of mischief and disobeying a court order, which the Canadian Association of Journalists has said should be dismissed immediately. So the story isn’t over. But this decision is a bit of good news, and a sorely needed one given recent examples of the law being used to make it harder for reporters to gather information firsthand.
Brake was charged in October 2016 after Indigenous protesters at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador broke a lock and entered the property of Nalcor Energy. He was there as a reporter covering the protests. When the protesters went through the gate, he followed the story he was covering.
Nalcor named him in its application for an injunction to get the protesters off its land, without noting that he was not one of the protesters, but a journalist. Ultimately, the appeal court’s decision referred to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and said that the need for reconciliation “places a heightened importance on ensuring that independently-reported information about (A)boriginal issues, including (A)boriginal protests, is available to the extent possible.”