An Indigenous journalist is facing charges related to a court injunction at the site of a contentious residential development in Caledonia, Ont.
Starla Myers of Six Nations of the Grand River, who is a reporter with Real Peoples Media, has been charged with two counts of mischief and one count of disobeying a court order.
The court injunction was granted to Foxgate Developments in July after a group from Six Nations began camping on the site, dubbing it 1492 Land Back Lane and saying it’s on unceded Haudenosaunee territory.
A second injunction has also been granted that prohibits anyone from setting up road blockades in Haldimand County. That was granted after demonstrators set up blockades on two major roadways in Caledonia in support of the group, known as ‘land defenders’.
OPP say they’ve charged 23 people with various offenses related to both of the injunctions, including disobeying a court order, mischief, causing a disturbance, intimidation, or obstructing a peace officer.
In a video posted to Real Peoples Media’s Facebook page and filmed before she turned herself in to police on Tuesday, Myers said her arrest interferes with her ability to report on the occupation.
“I’m not to travel freely within my territory, to be able to report, to be able to tell our stories, from a real person’s perspective,” said Myers.
“If you’re not allowing the press to cover what’s newsworthy, what’s relevant, to inform people of what’s really happening on the ground, then how are we supposed to make informed decisions?”
Global News has reached out to Myers for an interview, but did not hear back by the publishing deadline.
In a statement to Global News, OPP Constable Rodney LeClair said he could not comment on the circumstances surrounding any of the arrests, including Starla Myers, as the charges are now before the courts.
“I am aware of the exaggerated and inaccurate information on social media,” he wrote.
“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.”
LeClair said anyone who engages in criminal activities or activities prohibited by provincial law may be arrested or charged, including reporters.
He added that OPP are “committed to the freedom of the press and respects the important role the media has in the community.”
“We value and strive to have collaborative relationships with our media partners.”
Myers isn’t the first Indigenous journalist to face charges related to the McKenzie Road injunction.
Karl Dockstader, a freelance journalist and co-host of the well-known Indigenous radio show One Dish, One Mic, was arrested on Sept. 2 and charged with mischief and disobeying a court order.
Dockstader told Global News that he had been covering the land defenders’ occupation of the Caledonia site since it began, engaging with the group and joining them for meals and conversations in an effort to gather their perspective to add some balance to what was being reported in the media.
Now that he’s facing charges, Dockstader said he’s conflicted about how to cover the story.
“I still believe that there are elements of this story that are underreported,” he said. ” I mean, I’ve made no bones about the fact that I’m a Haudenosaunee man of the Oneida Nation.”
“I haven’t hid or concealed that fact, because I think that that’s actually an important part of storytelling. I mean, there’s a certain type of journalist status quo that’s been behind the decision-making process in reporting-style journalism. And I definitely was seeking to balance that out by giving the perspective of people on the other side of the line.”
Courtney Skye, a policy analyst with Ryerson University’s Yellowhead Institute, was also charged with mischief and disobeying a court order after visiting the site frequently to inform her work as a commentator.
She also expressed frustration that her arrest means she can’t continue doing her work.
“I can’t imagine anywhere else … I should be at this point in time of my career,” Skye said during an interview on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show. “Because there’s such complex governance issues, there’s complex history, and there’s going to be precedent-setting law and policy that’s going to take place around this.”
“Because of the conditions that are placed on me by the police, I can’t actually go to the site anymore. 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.”
An independent media organization called Azaadi Now said one of its production members was also charged following the release of a ‘feature episode’ about 1492 Land Back Lane.
“The OPP has issued a criminal charge of mischief and failure to comply with the court injunction order (which prohibits anyone from visiting the land back camp) against our team member,” the organization wrote in a release.
“This charge and the order has the effect of preventing our team member from reporting on developments at 1492 Land Back Lane. Criminalization of free press is a dangerous route to go for any democracy. Unfortunately, this is the direction Canada has chosen.”
The court injunction, which was extended toward the end of August, will be back before a Superior Court judge on Oct. 9.