APTN National News
Justin Brake isn’t special in the eyes of Justice George Murphy.
The Newfoundland and Labrador judge ruled Wednesday Brake’s status as a journalist didn’t protect him against contempt charges for covering an occupation of the Muskrat Falls hydro dam site last year.
“Mr. Brake did not have any special status in this case because of the fact he is a journalist,” said Murphy in his decision.
Brake is among dozens of people facing civil contempt charges after Nalcor Energy, a provincially owned corporation, asked a Newfoundland and Labrador court for an injunction last October as protests outside the Muskrat Falls site picked up steam.
Brake was named on the injunction and appeared in court on February 14. His lawyer, Geoff Budden, argued that Nalcor had not told the judge issuing the injunction that Brake was a working journalist and if that material fact had been known to the judge, he may have made a different decision.
Brake works for TheIndependent.ca and when land protectors defied a court injunction and broke the past the gates at Nalcor Energy’s construction site, he followed.
The group occupied the site for four days, shutting down project operations.
Brake reported from inside the occupation.
The RCMP were always aware that Brake was a reporter. He spoke to the RCMP during the occupation. He went live on Facebook and posted updates, stories and pictures on Twitter.
Murphy said it wouldn’t have mattered to him if Nalcor had said Brake was a reporter when applying for the injunction.
“Even if Mr. Brake’s status as a journalist was a material fact which ought to have been brought to the attention of the court, in the circumstances of this case I would not exercise my discretion to vacate (the injunction order),” he said.
Brake said in a statement he is disappointed.
“While I was in the midst of covering a story of enormous public interest, Nalcor used the law in such a way that effectively prevented me from continuing to show tens of thousands of readers and viewers, through my journalism, what was happening inside the occupied Muskrat Falls site,” he said.
The RCMP also charged Brake on Mar. 7 for mischief exceeding $5,000, and for disobeying a court order which
carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison according to the statement.
Organizations, politicians, journalists and grassroots citizens have spoken out believing the charges against Brake are an attack on press freedom.
Brake’s first appearance on the criminal charges is scheduled for April 11, while the civil matter is scheduled for May 5.