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Canadian journalist arrested under unusual circumstances

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is deeply concerned about the RCMP's arrest under unusual circumstances of New Brunswick-based journalist Miles Howe.

Howe was arrested on July 4, 2013, while covering the ongoing anti-fracking protest at the Elsipogtog First Nation in east-central New Brunswick. His camera and cell phone were seized. He was taken to into RCMP custody and held for five hours before being released with his equipment returned.

According to Howe, an RCMP officer with whom he was acquainted approached him and shook his hand. The officer then said he was placing Howe under arrest for having uttered threats against the same officer nearly two weeks earlier, on June 21, 2013. Howe says he was first told he was being charged with "threats" and "resisting arrest," then with "threats" and "evading arrest," and finally "threats" and "obstruction of justice."

Howe, a reporter for the Halifax-based Media Co-op, is the only journalist among at least 30 people who have been arrested in relation to the protests. Members of Elsipogtog First Nation and supporters are demonstrating against seismic tests being carried out by SWN, a company currently exploring for shale gas in New Brunswick. Howe has told CJFE that on June 30, prior to his arrest, he was approached by RCMP to become a paid informant reporting on the Elsipogtog community, an offer Howe refused.

“Once again, we see the police using questionable tactics when dealing with vulnerable communities,” says CJFE board member and lawyer Philip Tunley. “This appears to be another case of police impersonating journalists, or attempting to conscript them during the policing of Aboriginal protests. As such it is a serious violation of the freedom of the press, and the freedom of expression of Aboriginal people involved in public protest.”

CJFE is also troubled by several aspects of the policing methods used in the case, including:

*the two-week delay between the alleged incident and the arrest;
*the arrest being carried out by the officer claiming to have been threatened;
*the confusion over the charges given the time elapsed since the alleged incident;
*the seizure of Howe's equipment, enabling police to search images and text at will, without any warrant or other justification.

Taken together, these elements strongly suggest an attempt either to gather information from Howe about the protests and related incidents or to stop him from reporting about a controversial situation involving the RCMP. Howe has been covering the protest for over a month.

CJFE calls for all charges against Miles Howe to be dropped. Additionally, 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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