Yellowknife journalist on trial for photographing RCMP

John McFadden emerges from a Yellowknife courtroom after the first day of trial

John McFadden emerges from a Yellowknife courtroom after the first day of trial

Several police witnesses testified Wednesday that a Yellowknife reporter was yelling, swearing, and taking photographs while RCMP investigated a vehicle.

The white vehicle had stolen Alberta plates, and RCMP had arrested the owner of the vehicle, who could not provide his licence and registration at the time.

RCMP Const. Christopher Hipolito said he saw an older white male, Paul Rothwell, who is also known as Rocky, climbing into the driver’s seat of a parked vehicle outside the Elks Lodge.

The officer smelled alcohol on Rothwell’s breath and said the man was impaired.

Rothwell was able to provide the ownership documents three days later and was released without charges.

But police allege that John McFadden interrupted their investigation by yelling, swearing, and taking photos, eventually crossing the threshold of the vehicle door frame with his camera lens.

RCMP Const. Christopher Watson testified that McFadden appeared intoxicated.

Officer Hipolito said McFadden first walked across the road from the Black Night pub towards the parked van.

When McFadden came within six to 10 feet of the vehicle, Hipolito asked McFadden to move to the side.

Hipolito said McFadden yelled “I can be here. I’m going to get my camera and take pictures of you guys.”

McFadden was taking photos from the sidewalk, and Hipolito told him he could continue as long as he did not interfere with the investigation.

Hipolito said McFadden was “inciting other people to yell” and causing a safety concern for officers.

Hipolito said he worried about hecklers from a crowd of about 20 bystanders, attracted by the police lights. McFadden’s lawyer, Peter Harte, suggested the crowd had fewer than 20 people based on his client’s photographs.

When McFadden was told to move on to the sidewalk, he did. McFadden took about twenty photos in the few minutes before his arrest.

Hipolito told the court that they had to disrupt the search, but after McFadden was arrested, police conducted no further search.

In custody, Hipolito asked McFadden to face the wall for a search, Hipolito said.

McFadden turned around and took a vocally defensive stance. Officers say they put McFadden up against the wall to give him a pat down.

McFadden says he is eager to tell his side of the story when he testifies in front of the judge.

Reporter banned from RCMP presser

It’s one more chapter in the turbulent relationship between McFadden and RCMP.

In April, McFadden was banned from an RCMP press conference for what RCMP Media Spokesperson Elenore Sturko says was a “disrespectful tone” in his reporting.

In emails to NNSL, Sturko alleged McFadden, "does not report accurately" on the RCMP.

Sturko referred to a story about stolen firearms, in which McFadden reported that there were “serious concerns” after a handgun and many rounds of ammunition were stolen from a Range Lake residence. Sturko took issue with the “concerns” not being attributed to any individual.

Two weeks before the gun story, McFadden reported on the RCMP’s failure to notify the public after a break and enter sexual assault.

On Feb. 1, a man broke into a downtown residence and sexually assaulted a person inside. On Feb. 15, a man broke into another residence and a sexual assault occurred.

Bobby Zoe, a convicted sex offender was charged in both incidents. RCMP did not warn the public until after the second incident, and McFadden’s reporting pointed to the lack of communication about Zoe’s release.

RCMP changed its policies so that every day occurrences would be forwarded to managing officers, so that the media relations team would be up to date.

According to a CANADALAND investigation, when McFadden was banned, Northern News Services Managing Editor Bruce Valpy suggested in a message to staff that John McFadden was being “held responsible for what the RCMP considers to be negative reporting on their activities in Yellowknifer.

McFadden’s trial resumes on Sept. 1 in Territorial Court.