North

Yellowknife reporter fighting for video he says shows him being roughed up

The Yellowknifer's John McFadden says he didn't know the video existed until a communications official mentioned it to another journalist.

John McFadden asks court to force justice department to give him a copy of the surveillance video

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)

A Yellowknife news reporter who made headlines earlier this year is in the news again.

John McFadden is going to court to get a video he says shows him being roughed up by a sheriff at the courthouse.

McFadden describes the incident in court documents. He says he was about to cover a bail hearing for a young person accused of murder, and had left the courtroom to go to the washroom. He says when he returned, the sheriff told him his seat had been given away and he could not enter the courtroom.

The Yellowknifer newspaper reporter says he asked the sheriff for the name of his supervisor.

"I was then grabbed by the sheriff and pushed down two hallways and into the inner glass doors of the courthouse. I was then arrested and handcuffed by an RCMP officer."

McFadden says his knee was cut and clothes were torn. He says the sheriff grabbed him after he asked for the name of his supervisor.

Though the incident happened three years ago, McFadden says he didn't realize a surveillance video of the incident existed until a senior communications official with the justice department mentioned it in a conversation with another journalist.

According to McFadden, the communications official not only viewed the tape, but told the journalist, who was working for the National Post, that things would not go well for McFadden when a charge of obstructing police he was facing got to court. McFadden has pleaded not guilty to the charge. A decision in that case is due later this month.

Allowed to see it, but no copy

McFadden filed an access to information request to get a copy of the video. The justice department allowed him to view it, but would not give him a copy. It says it must protect the privacy rights of other people pictured in the video and it doesn't have the technology to blur out their faces.

The department says the surveillance video is shot with equipment specially designed to avoid manipulation of the video it captures.

In a review of the decision, the N.W.T.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner largely agreed with the justice department. But Elaine Keenan-Bengts also recommended that the department get the technology required to blur out the faces of others in the video.

In a response, the justice department agreed to do that, but said it would take six months. The response seems to indicate that, once that happens, the department would be giving a copy of the video to McFadden.

But the Yellowknifer reporter said a senior justice official said that, while the video would be available to people in the future, he would not be getting a copy of the tape.

The case is in court in Yellowknife on Friday.

The justice department has said it won't comment on the case while it's before the courts. 

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