Two media advocacy groups say charges against a pair of Ontario journalists arrested on the job are an assault on freedom of the press.
The groups say Aylmer Express publisher John Hueston and his son, editor Brett Hueston, were arrested last year while trying to report on a vehicle crash on a road near Lake Erie.
The vehicle had driven over a cliff, and the province’s Special Investigations Unit was called in to determine if the crash had been caused by a chase from Ontario Provincial Police.
The advocacy organizations say the Huestons drove past a road closure sign in order to get closer to the scene, but did not interfere with the ongoing police investigation and had minimal interactions with officers that consisted only of asking where to park and take pictures.
The groups say the journalists were arrested and charged with criminal obstruction of a peace officer, charges the pair plan to fight on Thursday in a St. Thomas, Ont. courtroom.
The OPP says it cannot comment on a matter that is before the courts, but the advocacy organizations say the charges violate freedom of the press and set a dangerous precedent.
“The OPP’s decision to charge a father and son team who run a community newspaper is a stunning and unacceptable assault on press freedom and the public’s right to know,” said Karyn Pugliese, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists. “We urge the OPP to immediately withdraw all charges against the journalists.”
A similar call came from the Ottawa-based Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom, who “condemned” the charges against the father and son as an “unacceptable assault” on journalists’ right to work effectively.
The OPP was cleared of any involvement in the crash, which was ultimately ruled a suicide.
Const. Adam Crewdson said the force could not comment on the particulars of the Huestons’ case, but said provincial police valued the media’s role.
“The OPP strives for a good working relationship with our media partners,” he said in a statement. “The media-police relationship is very important to the OPP as they help us inform the public on policing matters, public safety concerns, traffic initiatives and much more.”
The Huestons’ trial is expected to last only one day.
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press