Journalist arrested, allegedly injured while trying to film public meeting
A local journalist was arrested on Aug. 14 at the community hall in Irricana after he tried to film a meeting held by Municipal Affairs (MA) to discuss the results of an investigation into the Town.
“I haven’t done anything at all other than set up a television camera,” Thompson said.
Sgt. Wim Nan, in charge of rural operations and Beiseker’s RCMP detachment commander, said Thompson faces charges of assault, resisting, obstructing a peace officer and disturbing the peace.
Nan said RCMP was called after Thompson refused the order by the MA inspectors not to record the meeting.
Cam Traynor, MA spokesperson, said MA policy is to allow the inspectors to set the rules for their meetings.
“This is the inspectors’ meeting,” said Sandra Dohei, one of the two inspectors at the meeting.
“(Inspectors) can decide on rules for meetings. We don’t speak to the press. We don’t want to be represented. ”
Dohei refused to comment outside the meeting but deferred the Rocky View Weekly to Municipal Affairs’ communications department.
“When it comes to an inspection report that’s being presented to a municipality, basically our policy is that the inspector that calls and runs the meeting has the discretion to set the parameters of the meeting,” Traynor said.
Const. Larry Firmston arrived at the community hall after RCMP were called by MA.
“(Thompson) declined to cooperate,” Nan said. “(Firmston) found Mr. Thompson uncontrollable. The officer asked him to step outside and he declined that as well.
“With (Thompson) raising his voice, he was then arrested and detained for causing a disturbance.”
Irricana CAO Alvin Melton said he stepped in to help detain Thompson and was kicked.
“All that I know is I asked the peace officer if he needed help and he said, ‘yes,’” said Melton. “When (Thompson) got up he was kicking me, he was going a little on the crazy side.”
Thompson, an Airdrie-based freelance videographer who has worked more than 30 years as a journalist including with the BBC in England, said he intended to film the meeting to sell to local media outlets before he was told first by Mayor Lisa Constantini, then by the inspectors, that he wasn’t allowed to record the meeting.
Thompson said he waited for the inspectors to produce print evidence of said policy, but while he was waiting, RCMP showed up.
He said he resisted the arrest because he knew he was well within his rights.
“Being within this industry for 32 years, I knew exactly what my rights were. It wasn’t justified. Nothing is in black and white to back it up,” Thompson said.
“It’s a public forum, that gives me some reasonable rights to film.”
Thompson said he was taken to the police department in Beiseker and locked up in a holding cell. An ambulance was called to check his shoulder for possible injuries, but he was not taken to hospital.
He was driven back to Irricana by police at the end of the meeting.
Thompson said he has injuries from the event including a cut above his eye and elbow, swollen wrists from the handcuffs and a sore shoulder, which he recently had surgery on.
“I kept telling them it was hurting,” said Thompson.
Nan said Thompson should not have resisted arrest.
“If he has a shoulder injury, you think he would cooperate,” said Nan. “(Firmston) wouldn’t have had to sit on him if he hadn’t aggravated him to the point of it being necessary to restrain someone.”
Thompson said he plans to make a formal complaint against the RCMP, MA and pursue legal council about the incident.
“In all the years that I’ve been in journalism, never, ever have I been treated like this,” Thompson said. “I've gotten myself in some sticky situations. I’m a member of the press, but never, ever like this.”