By: Joe Strupp
The editor of a Canadian newspaper is filing a complaint with local law enforcement over a police officer who posed as one of his reporters in order to lure a suspect to a meeting where he was arrested.
Dean Broughton, editor in chief of 24 Hours, a free daily in Vancouver, B.C., says the action taken last weekend by Vancouver police hurts his paper’s reputation.
“We strongly object to the police using such tactics,” Broughton told E&P. “It undermines our credibility.” He said the newspaper is preparing a complaint to be filed with British Columbia’s Police Complaint Commissioner, the province’s version of a police review official.
According to Canadian Press reports, David Cunningham, described as an “anti-poverty protester,” was arrested Saturday after agreeing to meet a police officer in a public location in Vancouver. The report states that the unidentified officer called Cunningham posing as a reporter from 24 Hours to arrange the interview.
“When Cunningham arrived, he was arrested so that he could be issued a peace bond after he allegedly threatened members of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games organizing committee at a protest on Wednesday,” the CP story stated.
Last week, Cunningham, a member of the Anti-Poverty Committee, organized a protest at offices of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympics, CP reported. During the protest, he told the crowd that the committee knew where the Olympic organizers lived and worked and would take their demonstration directly to them.
Broughton said the action has sparked mixed responses from the public, resulting in some 50 e-mails and letters to the paper since Saturday. “A lot of people are for and against,” he said. “Some say, ‘let the cops do what they will.'”
Critics, ranging form the British Columbia Civil Liberties Union to a criminology professor have condemned the action, while the Canadian Association of Journalists issued a strong attack on the practice Tuesday. “The police’s actions in this case were reprehensible,” CAJ president Paul Schneidereit said in the statement. “They’ve shown a callous disregard for the media’s ability to do its job, which can only be undermined by these foolish, play-acting escapades by police officers who should know better.”
Schneidereit added that “impersonating a journalist is destructive on several levels. First, potential sources may refuse to speak to a reporter in the future, fearing they are not who they claim. That means information vital to the public interest may never get publicized. Second, journalists trying to do their jobs could now be in greater danger from those who, believing those journalists may be police officers, then threaten their physical well-being.”
Vancouver Police spokesman Tim Fanning told reporters this week that the action occurred “so that Cunningham would be by himself in a public space so that neither he nor the officers would be injured as he was taken into custody,” Canadian Press reported. He was held for five hours.
“Because of his nature and the fact he’s always giving media interviews they felt that would certainly get him to a spot where they would be able to arrest him safely,” Fanning told reporters, adding that he did not believe “the outrage from the person on the street over the issue would be the same as it has been from the journalistic community.”
Broughton said that Cunningham’s public persona is such that he would welcome a public arrest, not needing to be lured out. “I don’t know why they would use that tactic with him,” the editor said.