CAJ raps Vancouver police impersonation of reporter

The Canadian Association of Journalists strongly condemns the Vancouver police’s actions on Saturday, May 19, when an officer impersonated a journalist to lure a suspect into a public place to make an arrest.

A spokesman for the Vancouver Police, Const. Tim Fanning, confirmed Sunday that an officer posed as a reporter from the free daily commuter paper 24 Hours to lure anti-Olympics protester David Cunningham to a public mall on Saturday afternoon to arrest him.

“The police’s actions in this case were reprehensible,” said CAJ president Paul Schneidereit. “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.”

Impersonating a journalist is destructive on several levels, said Schneidereit. 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.

“It is astonishing that police don’t seem to think the implications of these things through before they act,” said Schneidereit. “Even the police spokesman who explained what happened at a press conference Sunday expressed misgivings about using such a tactic.”

Dean Broughton, editor-in-chief of 24 Hours, told reporters the police’s actions were “unacceptable.” Police have affected their ability to do their jobs and attacked the credibility of the news industry.

This is not the first time B.C. police have impersonated media to make an arrest. In November, 2005, they posed as a CBC crew to meet with John Bjornstrom, an escapee from a Kamloops jail who had been robbing from cottages in the area for two years. They spent five hours with him, eating and drinking wine, until their tapes ran out, before making the arrest.

The Vancouver police should apologize for the tactic of impersonating a journalist and vow never to repeat the mistake in future, said Schneidereit. They and the Canadian Police Association should condemn this kind of investigative practice, he said.

The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with some 1,400 members across Canada. The CAJ’s primary role is to provide public-interest advocacy and quality professional development for its members.

For further information:

Paul Schneidereit, CAJ president, (902) 889-2434; John Dickins, CAJ executive director, (613) 526-8061, Cell phone (613) 868-5442