History in Real Time: The arrest of Brandi Morin and what it means for the future of journalism.

February 15. 2024.  History in Real Time: The arrest of Brandi Morin and what it means for the future of journalism.

There are moments that have a ripple effect which reaches every corner of the city and calls everyone near the area of effect to question what they thought they knew. Barely into the beginning of the new year, there was such a moment for the people of Edmonton, Canada.

Seasoned journalist Brandi Morin had no way of knowing what a life-changing day January 10, 2024, was going to be for her. She expected to end her workday as usual, returning to the comfort of her home. However, her most recent investigation project quickly took a whole other turn.

It all goes back to the recent order for the removal of 49 homeless encampments. A string of protests has spread across Edmonton, as this means the removal of over 100 people and 200 structures such as tents and other shelters. These orders have left those taking refuge in them wondering where they are going to live now.

This is where Morin’s story comes in. On January 10th, working for Ricochet Media, she was covering the removal of one of the encampments specifically designed for the indigenous peoples of Edmonton. While gathering footage and conducting interviews, she was called into question for entering an area that had been taped off by police, as she wanted to get a closer view to see what was going on. She identified herself as a journalist and remained in the area, which would normally give her exception to be there. Instead, she found herself in the back of a police car in handcuffs on the way to the police station, where she was held for five hours and charged with the obstruction of a police officer.

While she has been released since, her ordeal is far from over. Obstructing a police officer is no small charge. The sentence usually ranges from a 500 dollar fine to a prison sentence of up to one year, or both.

Since this incident, the Edmonton Police Department has faced significant criticisms. It’s no secret that the subject of police matters has been a heated one for some time now. There has been significant disagreement about what the proper police responses to criminal justice matters are. This heated discussion has only been boosted by the Brandi Morin incident.

Legal consequences are one of the most essential parts of upholding a cohesive society. However, it is just as important to discern whether the person in question has done something worthy of these consequences to prevent misuse of power.

Several human rights groups have banded together to contest Morin’s arrest, going so far as to raise concerns for what it means for Canadian democracy. Their plight is that if a person can be brought up on unwarranted charges, they can face legal ramifications including prison time for crimes they did not commit. This gets even more concerning when the conversation goes to crimes with lengthy or even lifelong punishments. These groups argue that it is much more likely to escalate than people realize, and that once said escalation starts it will be extremely difficult to stop.

They encourage the courts to get to know Brandi Morin and see how easy it is to differentiate her from a criminal. In fact, she has no previous blemishes on her record. Her body of work testifies an accomplished journalist, and indigenous groups have credited her with giving them a platform to be heard in places they may not have ordinarily.

Morin has dedicated the last decade of her life to this cause and has won prestigious awards for her work including the Indigenous Journalists Association (IDA). The Indigenous Journalists Association (IJA) has expressed support for Morin, and calls for the young mother and accomplished journalist’s charges to be dropped.

Despite how distressing this situation is, this is not the first harsh circumstance Brandi Morin has been through. In fact that’s the state her story begins in, as a survivor of the missing and murdered Indigenous girls movement, dedicating her current life to speaking out for the voices that were silenced by death. She rose from a position without influence or safety into paving a journaling career through her own merit.  The thought of all that hard work and dedication being derailed by one misunderstanding is frightening for anyone who shares this profession.

However, as relevant as Morin’s story is, it is for from the only recent case. In addition to her, two other people were arrested that day. In a completely unrelated incident, Richard Vivien recently had his equipment confiscated and was threatened with arrest for very similar circumstances. This slew of incidents leaves the IJA and other such interest groups with one question: how protected are any rights to freedom if one of the first amendment rights hang in the balance?

Along with fear of the loss of freedom, charges like these can hinder one’s career and credibility in future work. It will also make future press workers afraid to do their job, therefore bringing down the quality of their work, as they will be unable to get the full story out.

Journalists have arguably one of the most important jobs, and that is to educate the people of what is going on in the world around them. Facts must be presented to the public as they are, with any possible proof to back their claims. When citizens are not sufficiently informed, important news stories can easily be compromised or suppressed. The IJA calls the journalism field’s stability if those working in it continue to come up against such hindrances and are afraid to be met with legal trouble for fulfilling a case they’ve taken on to the best of their ability. The Canadian Association of Journalists share the same sentiments.

Indigenous journalists have made their stance clear. They want the freedom to report on matters relevant to their community and make their people be heard, on their traditional territories. They believe the only way for their people to determine their fate is to be able to tell their stories from their perspectives and have those stories be heard by colonial entities.

Journalists and their activists are gathering around in this time to share their plight. They maintain that their job relies on the credibility of their every claim. Recording the actions of all parties involved, including the police, is essential to telling the full and accurate story. This means every integral piece of their stories must be supported with photo, video, or documented evidence. Video footage is the most important type of evidence because it is the most difficult to successfully tamper with, making them the most solid pieces of evidence you could obtain as a researcher. Without access to video, quality suffers tremendously.

What this could mean for the future goes much farther than just Brandi Morin. These groups and others have been in contact with all Edmonton law enforcement entities in the pursuit to change the outcome of this legal matter. They strive for all journalists and other press entities to be free to work without legal ramifications.

As for Brandi Morin, she is set to appear in court. It is yet to be seen how this case will play out, whether or not the charges will stick, and what will be her fate.