Group calls for journalists’ protection following attacks

Reporter files formal complaint for assault

Group calls for journalists’ protection following attacks
The Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec called the events over the weekend “unacceptable” and said journalists should never be intimidated for doing their job.

The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) condemned the attacks against journalists covering anti-mask protests in Quebec City and Montreal in Quebec this past weekend and called for police to sanction protesters that intentionally put journalists' health and safety at risk.

“The physical assault, harassment and intimidation of journalists have no place in a democratic society and constitute attacks against freedom of the press, which cannot be ignored,” said Brent Jolly, president of the CAJ.

CAJ noted that Karianne Bourassa, a TVA journalist, was assaulted by two protesters who hugged her against her will while she was reporting on an anti-mask protest in Quebec City. Both protesters were not wearing a mask and ignored physical distancing rules when they interrupted her live broadcast.

Formal complaint

On Wednesday, Bourassa filed a formal complaint for assault, according to a Global News report.

“She’s happy to see that so many people supported her,” said René Verret, Bourassa’s lawyer. “The decision she made is not about public opinion, but it’s important, I think, to send a message to everyone that journalists need to be respected.”

The Quebec City police chief, Robert Pigeon told reporters Thursday that the men have already been identified, but now that they have Bourassa’s testimony, the police have opened an official investigation, according to the report.

CAJ also condemned the verbal harassment and intimidation reported against multiple teams of journalists covering protests this past weekend. In Quebec City, Radio-Canada's Hadi Hassin received multiple insults. In Montreal, TVA’s Yves Poirier also received the same treatment, with people even hurling beer cans at him, according to the group.

“The health and safety of journalists is paramount to a well-functioning democracy,” said Jolly. “It is our hope that the police will respond to the seriousness of these acts in the days to come.”

CAJ also pointed out that police have laid criminal charges against at least a half dozen Canadians for behaviour they said posed a direct risk of spreading COVID-19 to their members, and hoped similar behaviour was observed during last weekend's anti-mask protests.

Echoing sentiments

The group also noted that several groups have also condemned the attacks against journalists.

Le Groupe TVA denounced the acts against their reporters and camera people and strongly objected to the infringement of press freedom. The Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec called the events over the weekend “unacceptable” and said journalists should never be intimidated for doing their job.

The Syndicat canadien de la fonction publique called on news organizations to review their practices to ensure the safety of journalists assigned to cover potentially perilous events, and CAJ echoed this sentiment.

Safety of journalists

In April, the four Groups of Friends on the Safety of Journalists at UNESCO in Paris, the United Nations in New York and Geneva and the OSCE in Vienna called on all states to protect journalists’ and media workers’ safety, safeguard a free and independent media and ensure unhindered access to information, both online and offline, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

They noted that public health needs public trust which can only be achieved with a free, independent press able to do its job.

“Trust cannot be achieved without transparency and accountability provided and guaranteed by a free media. Conversely, free and independent media has an important role in pushing back against disinformation by providing access to accurate, fact-based and verified information,” said the group. “In this context, it is essential that governments and private entities address disinformation, foremost, by providing reliable information themselves.”

In June, groups of Canadian news workers expressed their anger over how the police the U.S. have treated Canadian journalists, and journalists in general, who are covering the protests which have followed the death in police custody of African American man George Floyd.

Also, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) released the results of a survey it conducted, which found that COVID-19 has increased gender inequalities in the media.