Why reporters keep getting kicked out of public places

A Spectator columnist was asked to leave a Hamilton courtroom this week.

Last December, a reporter for the St. Catharines Standard was kicked out of a Niagara Region council meeting.

Almost every week, journalists everywhere are singled out by police who, overstepping their authority, decide how journalists should comport themselves.

In a world awash in conspiracy theorists, it would be easy to imagine something sinister here.

When Susan Clairmont, the Spectator columnist in the courtroom this week, challenged the judge's authority to remove her, security was summoned. (Clairmont left unattended.)

Clairmont is veteran of court coverage. She respects the system. She knows the rules — and the law.

It was an open court and she was not a witness, so her presence was completely appropriate. It is possible the judge, presiding over a particularly sensitive matter in family court, was simply uncomfortable with the media's presence in the courtroom and overstepped her authority, or perhaps she was unaware of the law — or even the reason for it. We don't know.

When Bill Sawchuk, the Standard reporter at the council meeting in December, told authorities "you know you cannot do this, right?" he was informed he could "deal with these two gentlemen" — police officers called to the scene. Ontario's ombudsman later said the ejection was "unreasonable, unjust, wrong and contrary to law."

When photographers or reporters challenge ill-informed police officers about their rights — some officers, usually those with a tenuous grasp on the law, have demanded their names or tried to intimidate them or confiscate their equipment, sometimes successfully.

To be fair, most police officers understand the media have a job to do, and recognize most of them as helpful, respectful, law-abiding professionals. Most judges recognize journalists likewise, as do most politicians, bureaucrats and public figures. And while most journalists often understand these rules better than those enforcing them, there are rude or misinformed journalists too.

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