Media up in arms as Canadian cops pose as journalists

July 30th, 2008 - 9:46 am ICT by IANS  

By Gurmukh Singh
Toronto, July 30 (IANS) Journalists do impersonate others to carry out sting operations. But police impersonating journalists to carry out its undercover operations? It has happened here in Canada. Police in Ontario province have been impersonating journalists for some time to carry out undercover operations.

The latest case to come to light involves a constable who posed as a journalist to have access to a rally by restive Mohawk native Indians to mark aboriginal protest day.

Furious at police for undermining the credibility of journalists, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has sought intervention of the minister of correctional services (police and jail) to rein in the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and stop it from impersonating reporters.

In a letter to minister Rick Bartolucci, CJFE said Constable Steve Martell pretended to be a journalist at a Mohawk rally held in conjunction with the Aboriginal Day of Protest in 2007. Later, testifying at the preliminary hearing of a rally leader, the constable said there are no guidelines for undercover officers as to what roles they can or cannot play when they are undercover.

In its complaint, the journalists’ body said police impersonation of journalists undermined the freedom and credibility of press.

Creating conditions where the public begins to believe that people who have identified themselves as journalists are actually undercover police officers, is an infringement of people’s right to a free press, it said.

“It is not the first time they (police) have impersonated journalists. They have been doing it for some time,” Julie Payne of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression told IANS.

“Who will trust a journalist and talk to him freely if he thinks that you are someone else? We want this practice by police banned. It should be off-limits to police,” she said.

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