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Forceful arrest of Canadian reporter documenting transit accident

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is concerned about the arrest and treatment of Toronto Star journalist Alex Consiglio, charged with trespassing for taking photos on June 2, 2013 of an injured GO Transit officer at Union Station in Toronto.

According to the Toronto Star article published this morning, Consiglio followed police officers rushing to the track level at Union Station, where he saw two GO Transit officers on the tracks. After taking a photograph of one of the injured officers, Consiglio was asked by police to leave the scene and he complied.

After leaving the station, Consiglio then photographed one of the transit officers being removed on a stretcher by paramedics. It was after this photo that he was arrested and issued a ticket for trespassing. The paper also reports that he was put in a headlock while being handcuffed, although he has said that he was not resisting arrest.

A spokesperson for Metrolinx, which GO Transit operates as a division of, noted that news photographers are required to obtain permission before taking any photos at Union Station; although this does not apply to citizens using cameras or smart phones who could be documenting the same event. Consiglio has told CJFE that he clearly identified himself as a reporter well before he was arrested. The unreasonable requirement that journalists first seek permission makes it harder for a working reporter to cover a news event than anyone else.

"The requirement that a journalist should get written, or any permission, from a Metrolinx media relations person is an unreasonable expectation when there is sudden breaking news. Given the need for immediacy in taking a photo of a sudden development the requirement that permission should be obtained is tantamount to not allowing photo coverage of a public interest story in a public place," says CJFE Board member and lawyer Peter Jacobsen. "Additionally, the use of force appears to be somewhat in excess of what was required according to the reports we have seen. Journalists must not suffer intimidation for doing their job."

Consiglio appears to have been arrested for simply doing his job as a reporter - an occurrence that is routine in police states but has no place in a constitutional democracy. The rapid escalation to arrest and use of force in this case is an intimidating means of silencing journalists. CJFE is extremely concerned by any use of these tactics and the threat they pose to press freedom in Canada. CJFE calls for a full and transparent investigation into this incident and additional training for police officers on how to deal with the media.

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