Hamilton police aren't offering any explanation for why two journalists were arrested at the scene of a fatal crash in suburban Hamilton yesterday.
Freelancer Dave Ritchie and Global News's Jeremy Cohn were arrested in Waterdown, where a 10-year-old girl was struck and killed by a van on Tuesday evening.
The arrests were condemned by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, which demanded an inquiry into the police actions. And Hamilton Centre MP Dave Christopherson, asked about the matter in Ottawa, and said he expected police to offer a full account of happened.
Police Chief Eric Girt said he is reviewing the incident, but in a statement he offered no explanation about what occurred other than to say there were "interactions" between an officer and the journalists.
"During the scene management of this fatal motor vehicle collision investigation, there were interactions between a member of the Hamilton Police Service and members of the media responding to the scene," Girt said. "As a result of these interactions, two individuals were arrested."
Cohn was "released unconditionally," while Ritchie was charged with obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. Police said Ritchie will appear in court on June 15.
"As the matter is now before the courts, no further comment will be made in order to respect the court proceedings." Girt's statement reads.
"As chief of police, I take the arrest of any member of the media seriously. As a result, I am reviewing this incident in the context of what transpired yesterday."
CHCH News reported that Ritchie was arrested after he left his camera unattended momentarily while he went to change his batteries. He told CHCH News he arrived at the scene before police had put up yellow tape marking a boundary.
"When he came back, his camera was gone and a police officer admitted to taking it," CHCH reported.
Ritchie told the news agency that the officer used the term "scumbags" to refer to media, and Ritchie and the officer got into an argument before Ritchie was tackled and arrested.
'A cornerstone of our democracy'
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression president Alice Klein issued a statement about the arrests, which was addressed both to Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Girt.
"We call on Hamilton Police Services to drop the charges against Ritchie and demand an immediate public inquiry into the circumstances which led to the forceful detention and arrest of members of the media," she said.
"It remains unclear what led Hamilton Police Service (HPS) officers to believe that forcefully detaining two working journalists was a necessary or correct course of action."
The MP Christopherson, a onetime Ontario solicitor general, said he didn't know the details or circumstances of the arrest, and so was hesitant to comment on the situation specifically.
But he said even the appearance of preventing media from exercising press freedom requires government to "be looking at that in a very serious way."
"I would assume that the police will be releasing all the details as soon as possible given the importance of freedom of the press," Christopherson said.
"This is a major issue. It's a cornerstone of our democracy, and any time that looks like — even looks like it might have been infringed on, then we need to be looking at that in a very serious way."
Coun. Terry Whitehead, who sits on the local police board, told CBC News that he plans to bring up the issue with the police chief before the next police board meeting.
"Clearly I'm not going to pre-judge anything. Police do what they do, and they do a good job at it," he said. "But I will expect some clarity at the next board meeting."
Thanks for the support, I have great relationships with many first responders. This was an isolated issue and I will be seeking resolution.— @Media371
Neither Ritchie nor Cohn was available for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Global News spokesperson Rishma Govani told CBC News that they are "very concerned" about the circumstances surrounding Cohn's arrest.
"While we are satisfied he was quickly released without charge, the incident merits further investigation and we will be following up directly with Hamilton Police Service," she said.
CJFE also called for Hamilton police to,"consider instituting a force-wide media relations policy and train front-line staff on how to interact constructively with members of the press, and hope such an administrative process will give clarity about the crucial role journalists have in a democratic society."
People who have worked with Ritchie offered their support on Twitter.
"[Ritchie] is a huge supporter of paramedics and all Emergency Services," wrote the Peel Paramedic Union. "This is strange."
The Niagara Paramedic Association also weighed in: