— Barry Gray (@_barrygray_) May 16, 2017
CJFE is deeply concerned by the May 16, 2017, arrest of freelance photographer David Ritchie and detention of Global News videographer Jeremy Cohn by Hamilton Police Services. Ritchie is a freelance photographer well known and respected for his journalistic work throughout the Hamilton area. He is reportedly being charged with resisting and obstructing police. We call on Hamilton Police Services to drop the charges against Ritchie and demand an immediate public inquiry into the circumstances which led to the forceful detention and arrest of members of the media.
Ritchie's arrest was reported to the public on Twitter by his colleague Joey Coleman. Around 6:45pm on Tuesday, emergency responders from police, fire and paramedics responded to a collision between a pedestrian and a vehicle–a 10 year old girl was tragically killed after being struck by a vehicle. Members of the media, including Ritchie and Cohn, arrived on the scene shortly after. Multiple eyewitness reports reference an extreme use of force by police in tackling Ritchie and Cohn to the ground; some of these accounts have been supported and endorsed by onsite paramedics and various paramedics associations. A video posted online showed a handcuffed Ritchie kneeling on the ground while being aggressively handled by an officer. It is reported that Cohn was detained for an hour and a half before being released. All accounts indicate that the journalists did not cross a police line at the scene before they were detained. It remains unclear what led Hamilton Police Service (HPS) officers to believe that forcefully detaining two working journalists was a necessary or correct course of action.
Video: Clint Guitard
In a statement published by the Toronto Star, Global News said they are “very concerned by the circumstances” of the arrests and indicated an intent to follow up with HPS. CJFE made urgent calls to HPS’s media relations desk, duty desk and staff sergeants of HPS on the evening of May 16, but have yet to receive any comment.
"A snap decision by Hamilton police changed the reportage of this story from one about a community tragedy and a family's loss into a national touchstone in the battle for press freedom." said CJFE Executive Director, Tom Henheffer. "A pedestrian fatality is the news and needs to be reported as such. If you arrest a journalist in the course of that reporting, the story changes. These actions by police were a disservice to the family and the community the HPS purport to serve."
On April 26, 2017, it was announced that Canada dropped to 22nd out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, a worrisome decline from when Canada ranked in the top 10 countries only two years ago. Troubling police interactions with journalists are cited as a key reason for the stark decline, and recent incidents such as the aggressive and seemingly unwarranted arrest of Ritchie and Cohn are indicative of the presence of a systemic issue that will doubtless contribute to the weakening of Canada's press freedom and public access to information.
CJFE is deeply concerned by this occurrence and we reiterate a call for the immediate dismissal of charges against David Ritchie and for a transparent public inquiry into the conduct of the Hamilton Police Service during this incident. We further urge the Hamilton Police Service to consider instituting a force-wide media relations policy and train frontline staff on how to interact constructively with members of the press, and hope such an administrative process will give clarity about the crucial role journalists have in a democratic society.
A copy of this letter was sent to Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Chief of Police Eric Girt.
11:50 AM this piece was updated to include a quote from CJFE's Executive Director.