The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) is extremely concerned about the treatment of journalist Jesse Rosenfeld who was reportedly beaten and arrested Saturday night while covering protests at the G20 summit in Toronto. According to many reports, this was just one of a string of violations of press and freedom of expression rights by security forces at the G20 summit.
According to TVO journalist Steve Paikin, the Saturday night demonstration on the Esplanade was peaceful, “Like an old sit-in. No one was aggressive, and yet riot squad officers moved in.” Paikin himself was escorted away from the demonstration by police, and witnessed police beating Jesse Rosenfeld, a freelance journalist from Toronto who identified himself with an alternative media centre pass. Rosenfeld was later arrested and held for almost 20 hours. He told CBC Radio’s “As It Happen” last night that he witnessed many other unprovoked beatings upon arrest and that his treatment reminded him of what’s it’s like to work as a journalist in the Middle East.
Many other reports have surfaced of mistreatment of journalists at the summit. Jesse Freeston, Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy, and Brandon Jourdan were all attacked by police, according to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), while National Post photographers Brett Gundlock and Colin O’Connor were arrested and others detained. In all, over 700 people have been arrested, many of them reportedly for pursuing peaceful avenues of protest. Information about the arrests, including the treatment of Jesse Rosenfeld, has not been forthcoming from authorities.
“When the government decided to host this major international event they took on the obligation of not only providing security to the thousands of foreign officials who flooded into Toronto,” said TWUC chair Alan Cumyn, “but also to create a safe atmosphere for engaging in debate: for peaceful protest, for fair reporting. On the first count, the summit was not disrupted. But the failure on the second count is serious, and speaks to the erosion of space for free public debate that now routinely surrounds large international events held in this country.”
TWUC has been concerned for some time about curtailment of the rights of reporters and writers commenting on such international events held in Canada. In November 2009 US journalist Amy Goodman was delayed by Canadian customs officials and interrogated over what she planned to say at a speaking engagement in Vancouver later that evening. It was clear to her that if she had said she was going to criticize the Vancouver Olympics at the Vancouver Public Library she would not have been allowed into the country. Similarly Dr. Chris Shaw was questioned, and intimidated, by police over criticisms contained in his book Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games.
“The use of violence by some protesters at the G20 was deplorable,” Cumyn said. “But security forces and our governments need to publicly support the principle of free, open and peaceful debate in our society at all times, especially when the world’s eyes are turned on us. Free speech does not work well when it becomes a convenience to be turned on or off.”
TWUC is joining other groups in demanding an independent and open public inquiry into the actions of the security forces at the G20 and the mistreatment of journalists and peaceful protestors.
The Writers’ Union of Canada is a national organization representing professional authors of books. Founded in 1973, the Union is dedicated to fostering writing in Canada, and promoting the rights, freedoms, and economic well being of all writers. For more information, please visit www.writersunion.ca .
For additional information:
Deborah Windsor, Executive Director
The Writers’ Union of Canada
416-703-8982 Ext. 221
dwindsor at writersunion.ca