CAJ: The RCMP kept an investigative journalist in the dark even after his life was threatened

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WINNIPEG, Canada – The Canadian Association of Journalists is disturbed by new information about a neo-Nazi plot to kill a Winnipeg Free Press journalist, and calls on the RCMP to clarify what information it had obtained from U.S. police and what steps it took to investigate the murder plot.

In 2019, Ryan Thorpe went undercover to expose Canadian Armed Forces reservist Patrik Mathews as a member of neo-Nazi group The Base. Mathews subsequently fled to the U.S., where he was arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison for weapons charges and plotting violence.

This week, German newspaper Zeit Online reported that Mathews’ co-conspirators had created a photo montage that fantasized about Thorpe being decapitated, and that their “original plan” had been to kill Thorpe before smuggling Mathews over the border.

RCMP were aware of the threat to Thorpe’s life. In September 2019, the RCMP gave Thorpe a letter that stated: “It has come to the attention of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that a threat has surfaced regarding your personal safety. No further information can be provided to you regarding this threat,” the letter said.

In addition, RCMP did not offer any help to protect the reporter, or give him any indication of how to evaluate the threat. Instead, they put the onus on him: “Be cognizant of this potential threat when going about your daily business and while residing at your residence. It is suggested that you consider the use of personal, panic and/or residential alarms.”

It also recommended he file a formal complaint with the police if he had any information about a threat to his personal safety.

Thorpe only learned about the specifics of the plot to kill him as a result of Zeit’s reporting.

This incident highlights the severe threat posed by neo-Nazi and other extremist groups towards journalists and others who work to expose their activities. It also raises troubling questions about Canadian law enforcement’s response to these threats.

The CAJ does not believe it is appropriate to have a cavalier and indifferent attitude to death threats, or threats of any kind to journalists. We wonder whether police would have had a different response if a law enforcement officer or politician was being threatened.

We believe Thorpe should have been provided with detailed, reliable information to evaluate and deal with the threat, and he should have been offered actual protection in the face of this information. We also would like the police to clarify whether they investigated the plot to kill the reporter, and why no charges were ever brought.

“Journalists who investigate neo-Nazis and hate groups do so to protect the public interest and deserve the highest levels of support in their work,” CAJ president Brent Jolly said.

“It’s dangerous to send the message that journalists who tackle difficult or risky subjects will be on their own if people threaten them. All of this comes at a time when journalists across Canada are increasingly facing racist abuse and threats, and the CAJ urges police to take these matters seriously and use the powers already granted to them to prosecute the perpetrators.”

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The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with 1,300 members across Canada. The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.

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