Yellowknife journalist found not guilty of obstruction

John McFadden, a journalist with Northern News Services, was found not guilty today of obstruction of justice for taking photographs of RCMP officers searching a parked van in downtown Yellowknife.

John McFadden was arrested in 2015 while taking photographs of RCMP officers searching a parked van

Reporter John McFadden speaks to other media outside the Yellowknife Courthouse Friday after being found not guilty of obstruction of justice. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

A Yellowknife crime reporter charged with obstruction of justice wept in the courtroom after he was found not guilty this afternoon.

John McFadden, a journalist with Northern News Services, was arrested in 2015 while taking photographs of RCMP officers searching a parked van outside the Elks Club in downtown Yellowknife.

"Obstruction means getting in the way of an officer doing his job and I felt strongly that I didn't do that," McFadden said outside the courtroom.

"I do believe in freedom of the press but at the same time, any citizen should be able to do what I did that night."

McFadden said there would be a discussion with his senior editors whether he returns to the crime beat, but that he would be pushing for that.

"I got an awful lot of support from people in Yellowknife and that meant a lot to me. I'm humbled by that," he added.

Competing stories

His trial began in June and wrapped up in September. It revolved around competing descriptions of McFadden's behaviour ahead of and during the altercation.

RCMP officers testified that McFadden, who exited the Black Knight Pub across the street and began taking photographs of them, was intoxicated and trying to rile up a nearby crowd.

McFadden denied the accusations, and during his testimony said he'd simply been doing his job. 

"I said I felt I had the right to stand on a public sidewalk and take photographs," McFadden testified.

The two sides also differed on whether McFadden had stuck his camera through the van's open side door while the police search was ongoing. A series of photographs McFadden took that night formed a central piece of evidence used by both the prosecution and the defence. 

Judge Garth Malakoe ruled there was no evidence McFadden had gotten in the way of police, and no evidence he had been intoxicated and inciting a nearby crowd and putting officers in danger.

Malakoe also had stern words for the three RCMP officers who testified against McFadden. He said one of the officers was "evasive, if not obstinate" while answering a question and said all three officers showed a "certain willingness to exaggerate" during their testimony, making it hard for him to completely trust them as witnesses.

Public attention

From the beginning the trial has attracted significant public attention, with "Free McFadden" T-shirts being made, and national media organizations such as Canadaland and VICE reporting on the events.

The trial has also been dogged by questions of pre-existing antagonism between McFadden and Yellowknife law enforcement.

In 2015, McFadden was banned from an RCMP press conference, and McFadden says he was roughed up by a sheriff at the Yellowknife courthouse three years ago. He has applied to have a video that allegedly shows the altercation released