North

Reporter charged with obstructing police was inciting a crowd, says police witness

John McFadden, a reporter with Northern News Services, is charged with obstructing three police officers while taking photos of them searching a van.

Trial scheduled to continue Sept. 1

John McFadden, a reporter with Northern News Services, leaves the Yellowknife courthouse Wednesday. McFadden is charged with obstructing three police officers while taking photos of them searching a van. (Richard Gleeson/CBC)

A Yellowknife reporter charged with obstructing police was inciting a crowd while taking photos, causing concern for officers' safety, a police witness alleged in court this morning. 

John McFadden, a reporter with Northern News Services, is charged with obstructing three police officers in their duties.

McFadden, 53, was arrested while taking photos of police searching a van in downtown Yellowknife last year. It happened July 5, just before 1 a.m. in front of Shoppers Drug Mart. 

According to court documents, police seized his camera and downloaded photos from it after arresting him. He was released after being kept in jail for a few hours.

The first witness to testify at today's trial was RCMP Const. Christopher Watson, who said McFadden was yelling and screaming as he approached the van.

Police witness testifies reporter was intoxicated

Watson said he would classify the reporter as intoxicated and said he smelled alcohol on McFadden's breath and his speech was slurred.

The officer testified he told McFadden it was OK to take photos, but cautioned him not to interfere with the investigation. The police were searching a van that had stolen Alberta licence plates on it.

Watson said McFadden was inciting a crowd that was outside and he was fearing for the safety of officers on the scene. He decided to arrest the reporter after he got so close to the van that the lens of his camera was two or three inches inside the van's side door, but at that moment, he noticed that another of the four RCMP officers on the scene was already placing McFadden under arrest.

During cross examination, McFadden's lawyer, Peter Harte, suggested there were far fewer bystanders watching than the 20 Watson had estimated.

He took the officer through a book of photos — presumably the ones McFadden shot that night. There were only two or three bystanders shown in the photos. Time stamps on the photos indicated a total of 20 pictures were taken over a period of three and a half minutes.

Watson maintained his estimate was right and that most of the bystanders were simply not in the frame of the photos.

McFadden plans to testify

Another officer, Const. Christopher Hipolito, testified McFadden came walking toward him from the direction of the Black Knight Pub and when he was six or 10 feet away, he asked McFadden to move to the side. 

Hipolito said McFadden started yelling at him saying he could walk wherever he wanted.

Under cross-examination, he said the search of the van ended when McFadden was arrested. The driver of the van was never charged.

In court documents, McFadden says that while he was being escorted to the jail cell, officers pushed him, hit his head against a wall and held it there while yelling instructions at him.

Three months before being arrested, McFadden was banned from an RCMP press conference. The RCMP has never explained why they took the unprecedented step but internal emails suggest McFadden was banned because of the tone of his police reporting.

According to his lawyer, McFadden is going to testify before the trial is over.

The trial was expected to wrap up today, but it is going to take more time than expected. 

It is scheduled to be completed Sept. 1-2.

now