'Free McFadden' T-shirts support Yellowknife journalist on trial

​'To be clear, it's meant to be tongue-in-cheek humour,' says Tú Pham. 'Obviously we're not dealing with a grave injustice here.'

​'To be clear, it's meant to be tongue-in-cheek humour,' says friend Tú Pham

A Yellowknife lawyer is printing up T-shirts in support of a local journalist on trial for obstructing three police officers from doing their job while trying to take pictures last summer. (submitted by Tú Pham)

A Yellowknife defence lawyer is showing his support for a journalist on trial for obstructing three police officers from doing their job while trying to take pictures last summer.

Tú Pham, who describes himself as a friend of John McFadden, is printing "Free McFadden" T-shirts and selling them on Facebook.

"For me, the T-shirts are a fun way to show support for John regardless of how his case is decided," Pham says. "To be clear, it's meant to be tongue-in-cheek humour. Obviously we're not dealing with a grave injustice here."

Tú Pham says John McFadden is a good friend to the legal community by asking critical questions and 'presenting an accurate and fair picture of what happens in the justice system.' (submitted by Tú Pham)
McFadden, a reporter with Northern News Services, was arrested while taking photos of police searching a van in front of the Elks Club last July. It happened just before 1 a.m.  

His trial began last month with police testifying that he was intoxicated and inciting a crowd. They said he was interfering with their work, at one point putting his camera lens two or three inches inside the van's side door. 

In court documents, McFadden says that while he was being escorted to a jail cell, officers pushed him, hit his head against a wall and held it there while yelling instructions at him. His lawyer has said he plans to testify when the trial resumes Sept. 1.

'A fascinating case'

Pham calls it "a fascinating case" that could shed light on a legal gray area — specifically, how far police can go in controlling a crime scene.

"In my view, it's important to be wary any time the police act to limit an individual's liberty to move about freely, in particular when it's a respected member of the press who purportedly is just trying to do his job."

Some have questioned whether the case should have gone to trial. 

In an opinion piece, published byEDGE magazine [paywall] entitled "Objection! Local journo's trial an expensive, questionable circus," reporter Mark Rendell called it "a monumentally silly case" that should have been diverted to a community court.  

"I can certainly see how this trial may seem trivial to various members of the public," says Pham, "especially considering the cost."

However, Pham notes that the Crown is being represented by Annie Piché, who he calls "the strongest prosecutor in the North." One of her roles is to determine whether there's a public interest, he says, noting "I have the full confidence that this matter is appropriately before the courts."

John McFadden, a reporter with Northern News Services, is asking a judge to force the justice system to give him a copy of a surveillance video he says shows a courthouse sheriff roughing him up. (Richard Gleeson/CBC)

Feedback mostly positive

McFadden has had a fractious history with local police, a situation that came to a head last April when he was barred from an RCMP press conference

But Pham calls McFadden "a good friend to the legal community."

"In my view he plays a crucial role in enhancing public confidence in the administration of justice by asking critical questions and by presenting an accurate and fair picture of what happens in the justice system."

So far, Pham has only sold about 25 of his shirts, but says reaction to them has been almost entirely positive, particularly among lawyers and media types.

"The only negative feedback I've gotten so far has come from one Crown prosecutor who simply rolled her eyes and didn't want anything to do with it, and perhaps rightly so."  

With files from Loren McGinnis, Pat Kane

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