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Journalist ‘conflicted’ after arrest tied to coverage of Caledonia occupation

An Indigenous journalist says he's among many that have been charged with disobeying a court order by attending the McKenzie Meadows residential development site in Caledonia, Haldimand County, Ontario.
An Indigenous journalist says he's among many that have been charged with disobeying a court order by attending the McKenzie Meadows residential development site in Caledonia, Haldimand County, Ontario. Lisa Polewski / Global News

After frequently visiting the McKenzie Meadows construction site in Caledonia for over a month and reporting the ongoing Haudenosaunee occupation, reporter Karl Dockstader says he’s now avoiding the area.

“So there’s a greater risk for me than for any other member of the media of physically stepping foot on the site,” Dockstader told Global News.

“So I’ve avoided the area now for 11 days.”

The freelance journalist and co-host of the well-known Indigenous radio show One Dish, One Mic believes his mischief and failure to comply with a court order charges are tied to his interactions with protesters.

Read more: More arrests made by OPP as Six Nations group continues to occupy Caledonia residential development

“I was eating with people, I was singing songs with people at the camp,” Dockstader said.

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“When you’re on-site for 24/7 for six straight days as basically a visitor, I mean non-news interactions are going to happen.”

Dockstader’s charges are just a couple among many that have been laid by Ontario Provincial Police amid an occupation at 1535 McKenzie Road in Caledonia tied to a land claim dispute that’s been going on for more than 50 days.

A group from six nations, that identifies itself as ‘land defenders’, have dubbed the site ‘1492 Land Back Lane’ and say it’s on Haudenosaunee territory that was never legally signed away to the Crown.

As of Tuesday, OPP say two court injunctions are currently in effect and prohibit anyone from being on the property.

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Dockstader said he opted to embed himself with the 1492 Land Back Lane protesters in the hopes of seeking balance to the story by giving a perspective from “people on the other side.”

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In a press release on Thursday, Dockstader said he believed as long as he “didn’t actively assist the land defenders” he wouldn’t be doing anything wrong by engaging them at McKenzie Meadows.

He went on to say that a video he posted chronicling his week with protesters may have led to his charges.

The radio host said he learned of his arrest on Tuesday Sept. 1 after OPP sent him an email telling him to contact police. On his subsequent phone call to a constable, he was told that authorities were going to proceed with charges.

Const. Rodney LeClair told Global News that, so far, 20 people have been arrested in connection with the court injunction that was granted to developer Foxgate earlier this summer.

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On Tuesday, the police service released a statement saying it was “committed to the freedom of the press” but warned that failure to comply with the court orders could result in criminal charges.

“We value and strive to have collaborative relationships with our media partners,” LeClair said.

“Engaging in activities outside of their reporting purpose, could subject media personnel to charges in relation to violation of a court order and other applicable offences.”

Read more: Indigenous journalist, academic speak out against charges in Caledonia, Ont., land dispute

Courtney Skye, a policy analyst with Ryerson University and a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, says she’s facing the same charges. She was arrested by OPP after leaving the site on Thursday.

Skye had also been going to and from the site during the summer since it was in her area of expertise and contributed her work as a commentator.

“Because of the conditions that are placed on me by the police is that I can’t actually go to the site anymore,” Skye told Global News.

“And I can’t go to any other protests either. It’s really stifled my ability to do work, to do the work that I do.”

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President of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) Brent Jolly says the charges are “troubling” and believes that journalists have a constitutional right to be present in places where events are taking place that is in the public’s interest.

Read more: Highway 6 bypass in Caledonia, Ont., has reopened: Ontario Provincial Police

“Relationships need to be built. And in that case, you know, that’s where there has been some gray area in this one,” said Jolly.

“This is Karl making a concerted effort to build trust with people whom he’s covering.”

Because of the charges, Dockstader now says he’s “conflicted” on how to proceed on further covering the occupation

“I absolutely believe that the best way to do reporting is in person,” Dockstader said, “I still believe that there are elements of this story that are underreported.”