Nfld. & Labrador

All charges dismissed against reporter who covered 2016 Muskrat Falls protests

The Crown said Tuesday morning it would not be submitting any evidence in Justin Brake’s case, bringing the almost four-year-long legal battle to an end.

Crown says it will not be submitting any evidence in Justin Brake's case

Justin Brake enters the courtroom after a brief break between arguments in 2017. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

All of the charges against Justin Brake, a reporter who entered the Muskrat Falls site to cover a protest in the fall of 2016, have been dismissed.

On Tuesday morning in provincial court, the Crown said it would not be submitting any evidence in Brake's case, bringing the almost four-year legal battle to an end.

"He took a principled stand and he has had to endure a lot of worry over the years and I am glad that is over for him," said Geoff Budden, one of Brake's lawyers.

Brake initially faced proceedings in civil and criminal courts after spending several days inside the Muskrat Falls site covering a protest that shut work down at the project in 2016. The civil charges were dismissed in 2019 by Supreme Court Justice Derek Green. 

Green said in a March 2019 court of appeal decision that "to achieve the goal of reconciliation, better understanding of Aboriginal peoples and Aboriginal issues is needed."

"This places a heightened importance on ensuring that independently reported information about aboriginal issues, including aboriginal protests, is available to the extent possible," he said.

Justin Brake listens to court arguments in 2017. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

While the Crown decided to drop one criminal charge against Brake of unlawfully disobeying an order of the court, it had been pursuing a charge of mischief over $5,000, which has now been dismissed. 

"Journalists must be allowed considerable latitude to cover important stories of the day, particularly stories having to do with Indigenous issues," said Budden.

Brake, a former reporter and editor of the Independent, went with about 50 protesters into the Muskrat Falls camp. He left about three days later when he learned he was named in a court order accusing him of trespassing. At the time, Brake said he had the right to be there.

Lawyer Geoff Budden says he is relieved for his client after spending almost four years in the court system. File photo. (CBC)

The case sparked public debate in the province with about 60 people showing up to a protest in downtown St. John's in 2017 to demand the charges be dropped.

Brake tweeted on Tuesday that journalism is not a crime, and called for stronger efforts to ensure it doesn't become one.

"This legal victory and vindication is important, but the larger battle for press freedom is far from over," he wrote.

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