It was a test of Canada’s freedom, democracy and the public’s right to know. On this occasion the test was passed.
Early reports indicate that Aylmer Express journalists Brett and John Hueston have been found not guilty with respect to charges of obstructing police on June 24, 2017 when they passed through a road-closed sign in order to attend the location were a vehicle had reportedly driven off a cliff into Lake Erie. The driver died in the incident. Questions centred around the actions of police and whether their chase of the vehicle played a role in the death. The Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU) subsequently concluded that the driver committed suicide and police were not blamed.
The Hueston’s had an encounter with police wherein they were asked to leave the site of where the deceased’s vehicle was being pulled out of the water. As a result of a disagreement in which the Huestons indicated they had a right to be present, police charged them with obstructing their investigation. The resulting trial commenced in the summer of 2018 and a verdict was reportedly reached today, although the details of the judge’s decision are not yet known.
The case raises some important questions. It is paramount that police be able to perform their duties in an unhindered manner. One can understand the importance of preserving evidence and documenting it before it is destroyed. On the other hand it is also important that the actions of police be made available for the public’s scrutiny, as best as reasonably possible. Thus the need for specialist and independent journalists who can report on those actions.
The details of the actions of police and the journalists on the day of the occurrence are unlikely to be made publicly available to the degree that one can definitely conclude that a proper understanding has been gained. Hopefully, such a detailed account was properly developed through the introduction of evidence by the prosecution and defense, resulting in the court being able to make a judgment on a sound, objective basis. What information had been made publicly available led me to believe that the Huestons were wrongly charged and that police over-steeped their authority. Whether in fact that was the case still remains not fully revealed, but the court’s decision would suggest so.
What remains is how the future will unfold. The Huestons will likely remain to report on local issues and they will likely encounter the same police officers who were involved in this incident. A satisfactory solution cannot be gained by the simple judgment of the court alone. It relies on both, the journalists and police, to come to an understanding of their important and independent roles. On the part of the police, there has to be an understanding that the seemingly irritating presence of reporters and cameras must be endured as part of everyday police work. It cannot be escaped because of the importance that has to be placed on the public’s satisfaction that police are performing their duties as they should. This is not always pleasant as one can imagine instances where a photograph or video taken at a misleading occasion can lead to difficulties to police who must commence a difficult explanation of why something is not what it appears to be.
On the part of journalists there is also a responsibility to focus their work on providing a truthful account of what they have documented and to fairly portray the actions of police even when they have documented something that might appear to be inappropriate. The question must be, was the action truly inappropriate or is this simply an occasion to gain a good headline and more readership/viewers.
Finally, there is a responsibility in we, the public, to be cautious in our quick judgments and biases. Perfection is only in the viewing of a snowflake. Police, like all of us, are not snowflakes and not perfect. Rather than focusing on an individual incident that has caught police in a poor light, we must consider imperfect police actions throughout their undocumented career.