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Constable impersonates journalist; CJFE calls on minister to forbid police officers from using this tactic

(CJFE/IFEX) - The following is a 28 July 2008 CJFE press release:

CJFE Calls on Minister to Forbid Police Officers from Impersonating Journalists

(Toronto, July 28, 2008) - Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has called on Rick Bartolucci, the Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, to direct the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to stop impersonating reporters.

After a publication ban was recently lifted, CJFE learned that OPP constable Steve Martell had pretended to be a journalist at a Mohawk rally held in conjunction with the Aboriginal Day of Protest in 2007. While testifying at the preliminary hearing of Mohawk protestor Shawn Brant, Martell said that there are no guidelines for undercover officers as to what roles they can or cannot play when they are undercover.

This practice of impersonating journalists concerns CJFE for two reasons. First, this tactic compromises the media's position as an independent third party, thereby threatening reporters' safety and their ability to gain access to stories and sources.

Second, we believe that when police - city, provincial or the RCMP - pretend they are journalists they undermine a free press in Canada. For journalists to fulfill their basic role in a democracy to present, evaluate and investigate issues of public interest, they must be free of as many encumbrances as possible. Creating conditions where members of the public, or those who may be involved in a dispute with the government, are not able to trust that people who have identified themselves as journalists are not actually undercover police officers, is an infringement of everybody's right to a free press.

In his letter to the Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, CJFE President Arnold Amber stated, "Surely, there are enough police resources and proven investigative procedures available that misrepresentation and underhanded tactics such as these do not have to be used."

CJFE has called on Rick Bartolucci, as the Minister responsible for the OPP, to step in and direct the force to never again impersonate journalists.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and around the world. CJFE has a history of work on cases pertaining to media law and freedom of expression.

To read CJFE's letter to Minister Bartolucci, see: http://www.cjfe.org/releases/2008/28072008impersonation.html

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