Reporter tells very different story than police testifying at his obstruction trial

A trial in Yellowknife has turned into a credibility contest between people who the public rely on for their credibility.

'I felt I had the right to stand on a public sidewalk and take photographs,' said John McFadden

John McFadden leaves the Yellowknife courthouse after testifying in his own defence Thursday. The Yellowknife newspaper reporter is charged with obstruction of justice. (Richard Gleeson/CBC)

A trial in Yellowknife has turned into a credibility contest between people who the public rely on for their credibility.

On one side are three RCMP officers. On the other, a Yellowknife news reporter charged with obstructing police during a search of a van in the city's downtown last July.

On Thursday, reporter John McFadden testified he was not interfering with police, who were searching the van because it had licence plates they believed were stolen.

McFadden, 53, said he had stepped out from the Black Knight Pub for a cigarette when he saw a police cruiser just up the street parked diagonally across one lane with its lights flashing.

McFadden said he walked over to see what was going on and was told to leave by the first RCMP officer he encountered. He retrieved his camera from a friend's car and returned to the scene. After taking one photo, he said another officer told him taking photos of the search amounted to obstructing police.

"I said I felt I had the right to stand on a public sidewalk and take photographs," McFadden testified. He said at that point, another RCMP officer told him he could take photos as long as he didn't interfere with the search.

A different tale

Earlier in the trial, police officers testified McFadden was loud and belligerent, that his eyes were bloodshot and that he smelled of alcohol. They said they were concerned for their safety because the Yellowknifer reporter was inciting a crowd that was gathering near the van.

They said he was arrested after he leaned into the van to take photos.

McFadden testified that he was never closer than three feet from the van while taking photos, there were only three or four people nearby, and he'd only had two drinks over a period of hours beforehand.

A close friend of McFadden's also testified. Sarah Heaton said McFadden had dinner with her and her family earlier in the evening. She said he did not drink at dinner, then the two of them went to the Black Knight, where they had two drinks, then ordered another just before he left to have a cigarette.

A central piece of evidence in the case is a book of the photos McFadden took that night. Questioned about the few people in the background, police said the images did not capture the 20 or so people that had gathered.

McFadden says he was arrested 10 seconds after taking the last photo. The blurry image appears to have been taken close to, but outside, the side doors of the van.

The trial continues Friday morning, when McFadden will be cross-examined by the prosecutor.