London

Journalists acquitted of all charges in obstruction of justice case launched by OPP

A judge has found two father-son journalists from Aylmer Ont. not guilty in an obstruction of justice case that was condemned by the Canadian Association of Journalists as an "assault on the public's right to know."

"It clarifies the relationship between the police and the press," said the journalists' defense lawyer

John Hueston (left) is publisher of the Aylmer Express. Brett Hueston (right) is editor.

Two journalists from Aylmer Ont. have been acquitted of all charges in a case media advocates called an "attack" on press freedom, according to the pair's defense lawyer.

John Hueston, publisher of the Aylmer Express and his son, Brett Hueston, were charged by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) with obstruction of justice and trespassing last year, after the two brushed up against an investigation while gathering information about a car that drove off a cliff into Lake Erie.

Defence lawyer Gord Cudmore said the case will help clarify the relationship between police and reporters going forward.

"They both have duties and obligations, and the police just can't unilaterally say go away," said Cudmore. 

"They need to have a good reason to say the presence of the press is somehow interfering with what they're trying to do, and that didn't take place on this occasion."

Sequence of events

On June 24, the day after the crash, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was called to investigate whether an OPP cruiser had been pursuing the car when it drove into the lake. The SIU ultimately determined the death was a suicide. 

The Huestons also visited the scene that day to ask neighbours near the cliff's edge whether they'd seen a police pursuit. In doing so, the pair drove past a road-closed sign, something they said was standard procedure for reporters in the rural area south of London. 

The two maintained that they parked at least 50 metres away from any police cars. 

As the Huestons began taking photos, John said a plainclothes police officer approached and asked them to leave.

"She was not happy. I think she shouted at us: 'You can't be here,'" John Hueston told CBC's London Morning in June of this year. 

John Hueston asked the officer for her identification, and was referred to her supervisor, who ordered the pair's arrest after a short discussion. The men were handcuffed and taken to the Elgin OPP detachment where they were held for several hours.

"I couldn't believe it, because it was such a benign situation," said Hueston. "That was not what I would consider an active crime scene, even if the SIU was there investigating."

Significance for press freedom: CAJ

Shortly after the charges were laid, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) released a statement condemning the charges. 

"The OPP's decision to charge a father and son team who run a community newspaper is a stunning and unacceptable assault on press freedom and the public's right to know," said CAJ president Karyn Pugliese.

Cudmore said the trial, which was delayed once, was "very stressful" for both his clients, and that the pair look forward to continuing with their work.

Going forward, they'll be doing 'their jobs as journalists,' he said.