A Danish journalist working on a documentary about Indigenous resistance to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in British Columbia was banned from entering Canada, despite presenting press credentials and a 14-day quarantine plan.
Kristian Lindhardt was forced to board a flight back to Copenhagen from the Vancouver airport on Saturday afternoon, after a day of questioning from border officials, B.C. news website The Tyee first reported.
“Have been denied entry into Canada despite all press accreditation and paperwork in order. Should continue [my] documentary and coverage for [DR P1, a Danish news radio station] how the Canadian government uses COVID-19 to condense oil projects in secret and step on Indigenous people. Concerned about press freedom,” he said on social media, in a post which has been translated from Danish to English.
“It is an important issue for democratic rights and freedom of the press in the midst of the climate and coronavirus crisis.”
Journalists must prove they need to be in Canada, CBSA says
The Canada Border Services Agency declined to comment on Lindhardt’s specific case, but said that all optional or discretionary travel into Canada by non-residents, like tourism, is currently banned to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic.
“Seeking entry for a professional visit as a journalist may be considered non-discretionary/non-optional provided there is a requirement for the journalist to be physically in Canada. The foreign national must clearly demonstrate and substantiate why they need to be in Canada to carry out the journalistic activity in order to be considered as coming to Canada for a non-discretionary purpose,” a CBSA official said in an emailed statement.
The CBSA also said anyone entering Canada must quarantine for 14 days upon entering the country.
But Susan Bibbings, a long-time friend of Lindhardt, said he presented press credentials and made the arrangements to spend his 14-day quarantine period in a self-contained suite at her home in west Vancouver before travelling north to Tsleil-Waututh reserve land.
Bibbings said Lindhardt had documentation from his employer DR (the Danish Broadcasting Corporation) and a letter from Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sundance Chief Rueben George explaining the necessity of his trip.
“Kristian had done all of his homework to make sure he could enter into Canada during the current pandemic,” she said.
“He was pulled aside at the very last moment before exiting the airport and was questioned for four hours by immigration regarding the reason for him coming and the subject matter of the journalism that he was hoping to be reporting on.”
Har fået afvist adgang ind i Canada trods al presseakkreditering og papirer orden. Skulle fortsætte dokumentarfilm og dække for P1, hvordan den canadiske regering udnytter Covid-19 til at fortætte olieprojekter i smug og træde på indigenous folk. Bekymrende for pressefriheden.
Bibbings said it appeared to Lindhardt that the border officer was skeptical of his press credentials and took exception to the subject matter of his journalism, even going so far as to conduct a lengthy phone call with George questioning the reason for Lindhardt’s visit.
George said he told the border officer that Lindhardt needed to conduct his journalism in person, to witness the continuing work on the pipeline expansion to tell their story to a non-First Nations audience.
“[The border guard], he’s saying ‘why now? Why not later?’ Well, there might not be a later, because a spill happened while [Lindhardt] was away a month ago and … construction’s still going on, we’re still forced to go deal with our Supreme Court. So they’re not stopping,” George said.
Both George and Bibbings said that the border guard told Lindhardt that after consultation with Ottawa, where the CBSA is headquartered, the decision was made that he would have to return to Denmark.
The CBSA told CBC News that upon arrival, travellers must demonstrate that their travel is not discretionary, and that decisions by CBSA officers are made on a case-by-case basis.
Journalists are not explicitly listed on the Chief Public Health Officer’s list of essential services that are exempt from the travel restriction, but technicians who maintain critical infrastructure like pipelines are included.
“I appreciate it’s a pandemic but there are many crises that are more serious than this. And to use that as an excuse to deny international press into the country is really appalling,” Bibbings said.
“This really begs the deeper question of the conflict of interest of the Canadian government owning a pipeline expansion project.”
The federal government purchased the pipeline project for $4.5 billion. It currently moves 300,000 barrels of crude oil each day between Alberta and the B.C. coast, and the expansion would increase its capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.
Work on the project is currently underway.
In July, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal from a group of First Nations in B.C. looking to challenge the federal government’s second approval of the project, due to what they said was a lack of Indigenous consultation.
“There’s very little coverage within Canadian media about the growing opposition to this pipeline … so it takes international coverage to draw attention to this issue, of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous opposition to the pipeline, when we’re in the middle of a climate emergency,” Bibbings said.
CBC has reached out to Lindhardt and DR for comment and has yet to receive a response.