Since July the Edmonton Police Service has been refusing to respond to inquiries from the Progress Report.
They don't want to respond to our questions on things like the locations of closed circuit television cameras, the status of hate crime investigations on Nazi collaborator war criminal monuments or the details of their new armoured vehicle (which they purchased without telling the general public or even city council.)
And it’s not as simple as just a no comment or not giving a response by deadline to our inquiries. EPS specifically say they won’t engage with the Progress Report because they don’t consider us a “media partner.”
Here’s an excerpt from an email we got Scott Pattison, a supervisor with the media relations unit back in July:
“It’s my understanding that you have submitted several requests for information through our EPS Media Relations Unit in recent weeks, including one this morning (CCTV pilot).
To clarify, staff in this unit are specifically tasked with assisting the Edmonton Police Service in messaging the public, and responding to requests from our “media” partners.
Respectfully, any future requests made on behalf of “Progressive Alberta” should be made directly through the EPS FOIPP Unit.”
It's not the first time a government agency has tried to keep the Progress Report from reporting on them. The provincial government of Alberta tried to bar us from the Budget 2020 media lockup on the grounds that we were an “advocacy organization” and not media. They lost in court and had to pay us $2000.
When we brought this precedent to Pattison’s attention he referred us to the lawyer for the Edmonton Police Service, Geoff Crowe. Here’s an excerpt from the email we got from him.
“Thank you for your application to have Progress Alberta considered a media outlet for the purposes of accessing information from the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) outside of the regular FOIPP Unit process.
The EPS wants to provide Progress Alberta an opportunity to make written submissions to us outlining why it is you believe that Progress Alberta should be considered to be media by the EPS. Once we review your submissions, we will follow up with Progress Alberta regarding any questions we have or, if we have none, provide you with our decision.”
But we never applied to be considered a media partner. After repeatedly trying to get comment from the Media Relations Unit for stories we were working on we were just told that they wouldn’t be responding to our requests. There is also no media partner or media accreditation process on the Edmonton Police Service’s website.
This is a problem. The Edmonton Police Service is a publicly funded institution ($373 million from the City of Edmonton budget in 2020) with an exclusive, state sanctioned right to use violence. The Edmonton Police Service need to be held accountable, like all of our public institutions are, by the public and by extension the media.
Journalism has no college. No guild. There is no professional standards body that decides who is and isn’t a journalist. It’s not like being an engineer or a lawyer. Journalists are simply people who are committing acts of journalism.
There are professional standards and broadly defined ethics about what journalists should and shouldn’t do: things like giving people you’re writing about an opportunity to respond, a commitment to true and verifiable facts are what we do. You must be fair, be accurate and declare any conflicts of interest. Those things are important and we follow those rules.
But it is self-evident that the Progress Report is a media organization. We just broke a story about how the Edmonton Police Service bought a new armoured vehicle that no one, beyond the EPS and the police commission, seemed to know about.
Personally, I was incredibly pleased to see the support we got from journalism professors at Mount Royal University and Macewan University. Edmonton-based independent media organization Taproot also graciously provided us a letter of support. I was also very disappointed in the lack of solidarity from the CBC, Postmedia, (though I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at that from Postmedia) and the Canadian Association of Journalists.
As if the Edmonton Police deciding who covers them isn’t an issue that affects all media outlets or that the Progress Report is some kind of lobby group instead of a media organization. The Canadian Association of Journalists also couldn’t reach consensus on how to act in our case when we brought it to their attention, though considering they mentioned us in the same breath as government propaganda operations like the war room and Ontario News Now we again, shouldn’t be surprised.
The Edmonton Police Service must be accountable to the public, and a critical part of that accountability is a duty to sincerely and openly engage with inquiries from media. They can’t pick and choose--they can’t only engage with platforms that they consider friendly or uncritical. EPS must begin responding to our inquiries and must treat us as they would any other media organization.
Below is a lightly edited version of the letter we sent to the Edmonton Police Service seeking a remedy to this situation.
I, Duncan Kinney, of Edmonton Alberta swear and say that:
- I am the Executive Director of Progress Alberta
- Progress Alberta is a registered non-profit media organization; it was founded in 2016. Since 2016, Progress Alberta has released a weekly newsletter, the “Progress Report”. The Progress Report is currently distributed on a weekly basis to approximately 12,000 readers.
- In July 2019, the Progress Report expanded its operations to include a podcast
- In August 2019, the Progress Report expanded its operations to include original investigative news and analysis at the theprogressreport.ca.
- On 18, October 2019 I received notification of Media Registration for the government of Alberta’s Budget 2019 relating to applying to be accredited to participate in a budget media embargo or lockup. Attached herein to this and marked as Exhibit “A” in the attachment called Document “A” an affidavit from previous, related legal matters.
- I applied for accreditation as a media representative for Progress Alberta.
- I was accredited as a media representative of Progress Alberta for the 2019 media budget embargo or lockup.
- I attended the 2019 government of Alberta media budget lockup as the media representative of Progress Alberta
- Following this, Progress released Progress Report edition #190 which reported on the 2019 budget. Attached herein and marked as Exhibit “B” in the attachment called Document “A” is a copy of Progress Report #190.
- In addition to Progress Report #190, Progress Alberta also released an emergency budget podcast on 29, October 2019.
- On 14 February 2020, I received notification of Media Registration for Budget 2020 relating to applying to be accredited media to participate in the budget embargo. Attached herein to and marked Exhibit “C” in the attachment called Document “A” is a copy of the email which I received.
- Prior to the 21 February 2020, the deadline for applying for accreditation, I applied for accreditation as a media representative for Progress Alberta.
- On 24 Feb February 2020, I received notice that Progress Alberta would not be accredited for the 2020 government of Alberta budget media lockup by reason that “Your organization has been reviewed and determined to be an advocacy organization.” Attached here and marked as Exhibit “D” in the attachment called Document “A”
- I was not provided with information about how the conclusion that Progress Alberta is an advocacy organization and not a media organization was reached.
- I was not given an opportunity to provide basic information about ProgressAlberta for the purposes of this decision other than the basic information provided to seek accreditation.
- Further correspondence was entered into between Progress Alberta’s legal representation and the government of Alberta but access to the media budget lockup was still denied.
- On February 26 2020 an originating application was filed by Progress Alberta’s legal representation with Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Alberta. It is attached as Document “B”
- Remedies sought included a mandatory injunction directing the government of Alberta to provide budget lockup access to Progress Alberta, an Order in the nature of mandamus directing the Respondent to accept Progress Alberta as a media organization and costs.
- On February 26 2020 our affidavit in support of this application was filed. It is attached and labelled as Document “A”
- On February 26 2020 Justice Belzil of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta issued a verbal decision that found that Progress Alberta was permitted to join the 2020 media budget lockup and costs were awarded in favour of Progress Alberta in the amount of $2000. This is attached and labelled as Document “C”.
- The judge’s decision was covered by the media organization AlbertaPolitics.ca and can be found here https://albertapolitics.ca/2020/02/progress-alberta-wins-injunction-against-kenney-government-which-tried-to-ban-progressive-news-site-from-budget-lockup/
- On June 19 2020 I sent an email to Caroline Maran, Communications Advisor with the Media Relations Unit of the Edmonton Police Service looking for comment on a story on School Resource Officers I was working on. Later in the day I received a response to my media inquiry. This email exchange is attached and labelled as Document “D”.
- On July 2 2020 after a phone conversation I sent a media request via email to Cheryl Voordenhout, a media relations advisor with the Media Relations Unit of the Edmonton Police Service about the status of an investigation by the hate crime unit and a couple of questions about a closed circuit television pilot project that had recently been announced. This is attached and labelled as Document “E”.
- On July 2 2020 I received an email from Scott Pattison, a supervisor with the media relations unit. This email exchange is attached and labelled as Document “F”. In the email Pattison states that staff in the media relations unit are “specifically tasked with assisting the Edmonton Police Service in messaging the public, and responding to requests from our “media” partners.” All further inquiries were to be directed to the FOIPP unit. In that email exchange I’m referred to as “Mr. Kenney” (not my correct name) and the organization I work for is called “Progressive Alberta” (not the organization’s correct name).
- On July 2 2020 I attempted to clear this misunderstanding up with a phone conversation with Scott Pattison. During the conversation I bring up the details of the extremely similar case involving the government of Alberta and I promise to send him the documents related to our case. Most troublingly during this conversation Pattison directly asks me the source of my organization’s funding. The source of my organization’s funding is a long standing talking point and conspiracy theory of conservative politicians and activists in Alberta and it was very troubling to hear this inquiry from a member of the Edmonton Police Service’s media relations unit.
- On July 3 2020 I am informed by Pattison that the matter is being referred to Geoff Crowe, director of legal services for the Edmonton Police Service
- On July 7 2020 I received an email from Mr. Crowe that I am now responding to.
- The decision to exclude Progress Alberta from comment by the Edmonton Police Service was provided without reasons and appears to be arbitrary.
- The process of who is a “media partner” or how to become a “media partner” of the Edmonton Police Service is unclear.
- Progress Alberta is concerned the decision to deny it “media partner” status is a political decision.
- If Progress Alberta is excluded from access to the media relations unit by the Edmonton Police Service it will lose the opportunity to provide balanced coverage of the Edmonton Police Service to its audience.
- The Edmonton Police Service is a publicly funded institution ($373 million from the city of Edmonton in 2020) with an exclusive right to use violence. The Edmonton Police Service is not an institution that gets to decide who is and isn’t media or who gets to cover them.
- Attached to this email is a letter in support of Progress Alberta’s position from Marc Chikinda, the Former Dean of Communication Studies & Associate Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Mount Royal University. It is labelled Document “G”,
- Attached to this email is a letter in support of Progress Alberta’s position from Taproot Edmonton, a local independent media organization. It is labelled Document “H”.
- Attached to this email is a letter in support of Progress Alberta’s position from Dr. Brian Gorman, an associate professor of communication studies at Macewan University. It is labelled as Document “I”.
- Attached to this email is a letter in support of Progress Alberta’s position from Sean Holman, an associate professor of Journalism at Mount Royal University and Sally Haney, the chair of journalism and broadcast media studies at Mount Royal University. It is labelled Document “J”.
- Access to the Edmonton Police Service media relations unit including the email list.
- A response to my questions from Document “E”.
- A written apology from the Edmonton Police Service.