“I thought he was just a citizen” an excuse for assault?

Posted on August 2, 2007
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In June of 2006, Charles LeBlanc, an ADHD (Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder) blogger was taking pictures of a demonstration. Business leaders were meeting in Saint John to discuss the concept of Atlantica, an Atlantic region free trade alliance.

Apparently police thought he was part of the protest. Although he was doing nothing but taking pictures, he was tackled, arrested, and charged with obstructing justice. Police also seized and erased pictures from his digital camera!

Immediately following the incident, and in the subsequent court case, the issue seemed to be whether LeBlanc is a legitimate journalist. The media did a considerable amount of musing on that. Even professors of journalism got into the act talking about how journalistic status is a more complex issue now that anyone can blog. The issue was further confused by the fact that LeBlanc had been refused membership in the New Brunswick Legislative press gallery. I don’t know if his ADHD makes his behaviour a factor in that or not. Officially it was just because the gallery’s terms of membership don’t include blogs which didn’t exist until recently.

It is especially disappointing that journalists themselves don’t realize that they have no special status whatsoever. Any citizen has the same right as a journalist to attend and photograph a public demonstration.

Imagine someone charged with assaulting a person and vandalizing his camera defending himself by saying, “Gee, judge. I thought it was okay. I thought he was just a citizen.”

How did whether or not LeBlanc is a journalist become an issue in the media and the court?

He wasn’t trying to break down any doors or assaulting police officers trying to defend participants in a meeting. He was simply standing taking pictures as CBC TV coverage clearly shows.

Mind you, LeBlanc did work hard to make his status as a journalist the issue. It is not.

It is important that all citizens realize that reporters have all the same rights citizens do and citizens have all the same rights reporters do. If it’s okay to beat up citizens but not to beat up reporters, reporters will have little support and sympathy from citizens when they need it.

The reverse example

The flip side of the LeBlanc situation occurred in the early 90’s when Keith Spicer was the head of a program of citizens forum public meetings across the country to discuss constitutional amendment with a view to keeping Quebec in Canada.

I attended several of these meetings and, each time, the forum facilitator offered the attendees the choice of having the media present or not.

What an outrage!

How can you have a public meeting and exclude the media? How can you invite citizens to a public meeting, as the ads for the forums did, and then suggest that media representatives are somehow not members of the public and can be excluded?

On that occasion too, none of the major media reacted to this imaginary differentiation between the rights of reporters and citizens generally.

In an ironic twist, Spicer, who so casually labeled reporters a lower caste of citizen with limited rights, eventually served a term as editor of the “Ottawa Citizen!”



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