On June 24 of last year, John and Brett Hueston went to report on a police investigation unfolding just east of Port Bruce, Ontario.
This is fairly routine for the father-son duo, publisher and editor, respectively, of the Aylmer Express, a community newspaper in Aylmer, Ontario. Covering a small area just south of London, Ontario, the newspaper has been in their family since 1947.
But rather than reporting on a story, the Hueston’s have found themselves becoming the story. On June 24, 2017, they were arrested by the Ontario Provincial Police. Brettt says they were both charged with criminal obstruction of a peace officer and failing to leave the premises. (He adds that he was charged with an additional count of driving on a closed highway). The pair will have their hearing this week, nearly a year after the charges were laid.
According to Brett, all they knew that day was that the Special Investigations Unit was looking into a scene where a car had gone of the edge of a cliff at the into Lake Erie. He and his father drove there, hoping to get more information. According to a report in the London Free Press, they drove past a road closed sign and and to the end of the lane, where they hoped to get more details from a local homeowner and snap photos.
“We were instructed not to take photos,” Brett said, recalling their interaction with the OPP. “And that was sort of the common theme with the different officers we talked to, was there is nowhere you can stand and you may not take photos.” Brett said he and his father were never between the police and their job.
Staff Sergeant Carolle Dionne, a spokesperson for the OPP, said they will not comment on cases that are before the courts. The SIU case was closed after it was determined that the incident, where a 57-year-old man drove is car off a cliff, was not the fault of police who were “nowhere near the vehicle when it plunged into the lake.”
On June 25, 2018, the Canadian Association of Journalists released a statement urging the OPP to drop all charges. “The OPP’s decision to charge a father and son team who run a community newspaper is a stunning and unacceptable assault on press freedom and the public’s right to know,” said CAJ President Karyn Pugliese in the statement.
These concerns were echoed by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom. “The OPP’s decision to charge the publisher and editor of a family-owned, community newspaper for attempting to report at an accident scene is an unacceptable assault on freedom of the press,” the organization’s statement reads. “It is part of a disturbing trend among Canadian law enforcement to use arrest and charge journalists who are doing their jobs.”
Brett and his father plan to fight the charges as far as it takes. “I don’t know if a plea (bargain) was offered, but certainly it was communicated to our lawyer that we weren’t interested in one,” Brett said.
“We are absolutely certain we did nothing wrong.”
Update, June 27, 2018: The Hueston’s case has been held over until Aug. 15, 2018.