'You better watch your back': Edmonton freelance photographer fielding death threats

A freelance photographer in Edmonton is fielding death threats after a disagreement at the Women's March in front of Alberta's legislature building last Sunday.

'Logically, I know that the threats are most likely not serious but it makes me wonder'

Freelance photographer Jason Franson (far right) photographs a group of men with signs that countered the Women's March in Edmonton on Jan. 21. (CBC)

A freelance photographer in Edmonton is fielding death threats after a disagreement at the Women's March in front of Alberta's legislature building last weekend.

Jason Franson, who has won national awards for his work, was covering the Jan. 21 event for Canadian Press.

He was photographing a small group of counter-protesters when he stepped in front of Rebel Media contributor Sheila Gunn Reid. 

Reid, who runs the Rebel's Alberta bureau, was video-recording the same group. She later posted footage on the Rebel website in which the two can be heard arguing about Franson crowding her.

In her video and on social media, Reid identifies Franson by name and the Rebel website posted this:

"Even more incredible, a photographer from the Canadian Press named Jason Franson was right there, taking pictures the whole time. But he didn't publish any of those pictures; he didn't support his fellow journalist. He actually pushed Sheila, too — and verbally disparaged her."

A CP spokesman said later the pictures Franson took at that particular time were not deemed newsworthy and the photographer said there was "no physical contact between them."

'You are a dead man'

Jason Franson says he has received death threats after staff at the Rebel Media identified him online. (Supplied/Jason Franson)

But since then, Franson said his email, voicemail and social media accounts have become clogged with threats.

"You are a dead man," one man commented on Franson's Instagram account.

"Better watch your back ... I know where you live Jason. Expect a little surprise. Id (sic) be looking over your should if i were you. Pushing women around. You are finished," another wrote in an email.

Franson said he is filing a statement with police and has been keeping a record of the threats against him. He has also tightened privacy settings on his social media accounts.

"Expect a little surprise," one person wrote in an email to freelance Edmonton photographer Jason Franson. (Supplied/Jason Franson)
One person accused photographer Jason Franson of being a coward and wrote "a baseball bat could fix that problem." (Supplied/Jason Franson)

"On a personal level, the harassment affects you because there are all these people publicly accusing you of being this terrible person that you aren't and you can't defend yourself," he said. "Logically, I know that the threats are most likely not serious but it makes me wonder if one of them might try and take a cheap shot sometime while I'm working."

Compared to Edmonton guitar-maker Dion Bews, Franson received a fraction of the online vitriol over events at last weekend's march.

Police arrested Bews after Sheila Gunn Reid alleged he hit her in the face. Bews, 34, has been charged with assault and uttering threats.

"I'm glad the police are taking the incident seriously because it was serious," Reid wrote in an email to CBC Edmonton.

Bews declined an interview with CBC.

'I asked the public for help'

Sheila Gunn Reid says she constantly receives threats for her work with Rebel Media. (Facebook)

Before the arrest, Rebel "commander" Ezra Levant started a webpage called FindTheThug.com on which he offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who could identify the man who assaulted Reid.

Reid promoted the campaign online.

"I asked the public for help identifying him," she wrote in her email to CBC Edmonton. "Police do it all the time. People do it all the time on social media. The courts will handle the matter and again, I reiterate endlessly, I don't want anyone solving their problems with threats and fists."

Reid said she does not endorse violence or threats towards anyone, and she should not be held accountable for other people's actions. She receives threats for her work with Rebel Media almost daily, she added.

"I routinely get threats," Reid wrote, noting there have been more threats than usual since the Women's March. "It's a constant barrage of rape threats, threats of violence to myself and my children."

Online anonymity a myth

Police can intervene when online threats are criminal or harassing. A message becomes criminal when it involves threats of grievous bodily harm, said Const. Derek Onysko. 

In those cases, police can start a file about the sender. Officers can also give a $250 fine or charge the offender with uttering threats. 

They work closely with security branches at phone service providers and social media companies to track down offenders. Online anonymity is a myth, Onysko said.

"It makes our job as investigators a little bit more tricky. That being said, there are ways around it and we do have a lot of different investigative means to assist people who are having difficulties with either one person or a group."

Onysko recommended that people who experience online threats and harassment should contact the police non-emergency line for advice.