CJFE Calls on Minister to Forbid Police Officers to Impersonate Journalists

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Honourable Rick Bartolucci, Minister
Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services
George Drew Bldg, 18th Flr
25 Grosvenor St
Toronto, ON, M7A1Y6

Dear Minister,

As the President of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to protect the right of the freedom of the press and of expression, I am writing today to request that you direct the Ontario Provincial Police to stop impersonating reporters.

The more recent case was disclosed last week when an OPP constable, Steve Martell, at the preliminary hearing of Mohawk protestor Shawn Brant, testified that he pretended to be a journalist at a Mohawk rally held in conjunction with the Aboriginal Day of Protest in 2007. Martell said that there are no guidelines for undercover officers as to what roles they can or cannot play when they are undercover.

OPP officers have said that the force will continue impersonating reporters whenever it wants to.

The concern of journalists, their unions and professional groups, is that when the police use this tactic they compromise the media's position as an independent third party, thereby threatening reporters' safety and their ability to gain access to stories and sources.

CJFE agrees with that belief but would also like to draw to your attention the view 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 rights to a free press.

Besides those arguments what kind of society are we developing where the police, whose role it is to maintain law and order and be a role model for youngsters, resort to misrepresenting themselves? What kind of example is this for the rest of society? 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.

Lastly, may we also point out that following the shooting of native rights activist Dudley George at Ipperwash in l995, the OPP promised to review the use of the impersonation of journalists. Martell's statement before the court shows that the OPP continues to use this anti-democratic and potentially very harmful deception.

That is why we are calling on you as the Minister responsible for the OPP to step in and direct the force to never again impersonate journalists.

I would be available to meet with you to discuss this issue more fully.

Yours Sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE President

Cc: Julian Fantino, Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police