On Wednesday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to announce he was “celebrat[ing] the important role journalists play in promoting democracy around the world.”

May 3 marked World Press Freedom Day, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 as an annual occasion to “inform citizens of violations of press freedom,” to “encourage and develop initiatives in favour of press freedom, and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide.”

In its annual World Press Freedom Index, released last week, global press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) placed Canada 22nd in the world in terms of how countries treat their journalists. RSF cited charges against Justin Brake, a reporter and editor for this publication, for his reporting from the Indigenous-led occupation of Muskrat Falls in Labrador last year as one of the reasons Canada fell four positions in the global rankings.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning to recognize World Press Freedom Day, Trudeau said “journalistic freedom is widely recognized and respected in Canada,” and that “Canada will continue working to promote a vibrant and free press here and abroad.”

Brake is facing a civil charge and two criminal charges for following Indigenous land defenders onto the Muskrat Falls worksite, where he remained for three days to cover their occupation of the workers’ camp last October. The charges were initiated by Nalcor, the Newfoundland and Labrador crown energy corporation which is developing the multi-billion dollar project, and the RCMP.

The charges against Brake have been denounced by a wide range of media organizations, journalists, and press freedom organizations both in Canada and around the world. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has launched a petition to have the charges dropped, and The Independent, a not-for-profit independent media outlet, has launched an online fundraiser for its legal defense fund.

Brake responded to Trudeau’s statement in a series of Tweets, highlighting the hypocrisy of a federal government speaking out in support of press freedom despite the current state of press freedom in Canada, where during Trudeau’s time as prime minister journalists have been spied on by police, forced to hand information on sources over to the RCMP, and in Brake’s case face potential jail time for following an important story. He challenged Trudeau to follow up his words with meaningful action.

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