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Trudeau’s Government Tried to Block My Election Reporting. (Thankfully, It Failed)

On Monday, I was in a federal courthouse in Toronto, fighting for a free press in Canada. It marks the third straight week that my digital media organization, True North, has been fighting against Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and his proxies for the right to report on the current federal election campaign. In one notorious case, Liberals even ordered police to pull my journalist—an experienced broadcaster named Andrew Lawton—out of an entry lineup at a Trudeau rally, even after Lawton had been officially registered, given a wristband by organizers, photographed, and placed on the admission list. This took place on the grounds of a public college.

True North has a business model that I believe will be followed by other digital-media enterprises—and which stands in stark contrast to the legacy media that the Canadian government has pledged to subsidize with a $600-million bailout fund. We are a registered federal charity with two major programs—one focused on traditional, non-partisan think-tank work, the other focused on investigative journalism, straight daily news and political analysis. Like other news outlets, we have an editorial position rooted in our worldview, which influences our selection of opinion pieces without compromising our news reporting. Our journalists and our audience tend to be composed of conservatives, classical liberals, contrarians, independent thinkers and the growing ranks of those who are simply skeptical of the mainstream media in Canada. While Canada’s legacy media outlets are struggling with an outdated business model that relies on advertising and subscription fees, True North’s revenue comes primarily through small donations from thousands of readers and supporters, supplemented by a handful of foundation grants.

Thanks to our charitable status and unique business model, we were able to crowdsource a fund that would allow Lawton to cover the election campaign across Canada, going wherever the story took him. We successfully hit our modest fundraising target of $10,000, and Lawton began his reporting in September. When the bombshell story of Trudeau’s sordid history of blackface became public, I assigned Lawton to join the Liberal media bus alongside the dozens of other journalists providing daily coverage of that party’s campaign.

But to my (honest) surprise, the Liberals blocked Lawton from joining the campaign, and then provided inconsistent answers for why they had done so. At first, they said it was because True North is a think tank and not a media company. We politely informed them that True North has several units, which is not unusual. (The hallowed Economist magazine, for instance, operates within the Economist Group, which also operates a members-only service called the Economist Corporate Network. And Canadian magazines such as The Walrus have started up corporate-content units and corporate PR services.) Lawton, we noted, is a journalist who works for the digital media outlet contained within True North.

At that point, the Liberals shifted their tune and told us we needed to be accredited through the Parliamentary Press Gallery (PPG), which in turn affirmed that it has no jurisdiction over accrediting journalists for election campaigns, and that it was up to the individual parties to determine who could join their campaigns. (The PPG is basically just a club for journalists. When we inquired about permanent accreditation with the PPG, we were informed that the club is limited to Ottawa-based organizations and Ottawa-based journalists. True North is based out of Vancouver and Toronto.)

While Liberal campaign officials continued to lecture us about the bureaucratic hurdles we supposedly had to leap, we caught them, on camera, allowing community-college students into a press-only event while banning Lawton. The Liberals also provided event accreditation to an activist from a group called “Socialist Action,” a self-described “revolutionary” organization whose website makes zero mention of journalism.

Meanwhile, Lawton continued to cover the election campaign for our True North audience. He followed the Liberal campaign as best he could, flying to Vancouver then Thunder Bay, Ontario, and on to Montreal, while also reporting on campaign events held by the other parties. During this campaign, Lawton has been accredited by the Conservative Party, the Bloc Québecois, the People’s Party of Canada, and even by the New Democratic Party (NDP), which sits to the left of the Liberals politically. During an event with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Lawton live-tweeted his town hall questions and answers, and was selected by Singh to ask a question, and follow-up.

In recent days, the Liberals escalated their campaign against Lawton, by seeking not only to block him from covering the Liberal campaign, but also seeking to deny him accreditation to cover the National Leader’s Debates.

In October, 2018, the federal government created a commission to organize national election debates, so as to avoid the problems associated with politicians in the governing party having the power to set the rules themselves. This Leaders’ Debates Commission was created as an arm’s-length body to ensure the debates are free, fair and accessible to all. On September 23, 2019, the Commission published a press release advising the public about the dates of the debates, and indicating that, “media representatives who wish to cover the debates must apply for accreditation using the Government of Canada Accreditation portal.” It included no guidelines or criteria for what they believed constituted a “media representative.”

Lawton submitted his application through the portal within 24 hours of this public notice. It took ten days, however, for the commission to respond—with the following two-sentence email: Your request for media accreditation for the 2019 Federal Leaders’ Debates has been denied. The ‘about’ section of tnc.news clearly states that True North is actively involved in advocacy.

Commission officials waited until the Friday before this week’s Monday debate to give us this ruling, ensuring we weren’t able to point out that the information contained in their response was wrong. Our journalists are not involved in advocacy. Even if they were, the idea that being involved in “advocacy” bars a media company from covering a national debate is ludicrous.

Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star is proudly involved in “advocacy.” On the ‘About’ section of the Star web site, one can read about something called the “Atkinson Principles,” which are described as “the foundation of the Star’s ongoing commitment to investigating and advocating for social and economic justice.” (We also learn that “the principles Atkinson espoused were founded on his belief that a progressive news organization should contribute to the advancement of society through pursuit of social, economic and political reforms.”) Yet not only was the Star covering Monday’s debate, the newspaper’s own reporter, Susan Delacourt, was acting as a debate moderator.

Advocacy is just fine, in other words. But it has to be the right kind of advocacy.

The Star is unapologetic about its left-wing advocacy. And it regularly publishes columns that promote its preferred slant—which is the Star’s right. Unlike us, the Star also is set to receive $115,000 every single week in funds from the federal government through Trudeau’s media bailout deal. As you can see, it’s all a very cozy arrangement.

In fact, I started True North in 2016 to help provide readers with an alternative to precisely this sort of ideologically incestuous media landscape. Canada needs more reporting on topics related to immigration and national security, which some media outlets regard as taboo. As newsrooms across the country slashed their budgets and cut back on investigative journalism and beat reporters, there was a need to fill in the gap.

Over the past three years, our organization has grown tremendously. And like most start-ups, we’ve pivoted in response to the feedback we’ve received. True North has become a full-spectrum digital media organization produced through a registered charity—one that is not permitted to engage in political advocacy. It’s a complicated structure, but we’re not alone. Other journalism outlets in Canada, including The Walrus and La Presse, have the same status.

The decision to bar True North from covering the debates was both arbitrary and partisan. It reflected the wishes of one party, the governing Liberals, while going against the views of Canada’s other major parties. The spectacle of a government or its proxies acting as a gatekeeper on who gets to cover politics—that is something you see in autocracies, not democracies. It isn’t up to the government to decide who is and who isn’t a journalist in Canada. There is no governing body or licensing board that makes such decisions—nor should there be.

Nor can this be justified under some vaguely described campaign to fight “fake news.” It’s simply a bald-faced Liberal effort to silence a news outlet that the Liberals believe isn’t sympathetic to Liberals. That’s why we took them to court.

And I’m happy to report that our emergency injunction was successful: On Monday, a federal judge ruled in favour of True North (as well as Rebel News, which filed on similar grounds), and ordered the Debates Commission to reverse its position and grant accreditation to our journalist, Andrew Lawton. The judge agreed that excluding us from the debates would cause our organization irreparable harm and that the commission failed to disclose its standards and tests for accreditation. In fact, we learned through the government’s court filings that the Commission came up with its criteria for accreditation on October 3—two business days before the debate. The criteria was never made public, and this entire amateur-hour spectacle reeks of partisan taint.

We also learned that the government granted accreditation to some 250 journalists—including opinion columnists, foreign outlets such as Al Jazeera (which has its own advocacy and lobbying arm), state-run foreign entities (such as the communist Vietnam News Agency) and 90 journalists from the state-run CBC and its French-language counterpart, Radio-Canada. (Only five organizations were rejected, four on the evidently dubious grounds of “advocacy,” and one for not being a practicing journalist.)

The world of journalism is changing. It isn’t as clear as it was a few years ago who is and who isn’t a journalist. While I don’t envy the people whose job it is to determine who gets accredited or cover events, it should not be government officials or their direct proxies who make this call.

As for True North, we will continue to do what we do. We release new content every day, thanks to a team of over a dozen journalists and support staff. Among us, we have about eight decades of combined journalism experience. We attend and report on press conferences, government media briefings, international conferences, court trials, public rallies and campaign events. We interview newsmakers and politicians, including political dissidents, community activists, musicians, professional athletes, entrepreneurs and other newsmakers. Lawton himself even interviewed Trudeau back in 2015, when our prime minister was still a believer in “sunny ways” instead of smoky rooms.

Our greatest sin is that we are considered right-of-centre in the Canadian political and media landscape. But even if you sit on a different point of the political spectrum, you should be appalled at the failed effort to exclude us from covering Canadian politics: The next time something like this happens, it could be a Conservative government seeking to silence progressives, and that would be just as wrong.

We are fighting on behalf of all Canadians to protect our constitutional liberties. And we hope that by the time the next election comes around, the basic right of journalists to cover a federal election won’t still be under threat.

 

Candice Malcolm is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Toronto Sun, and the founder of True North.

Comments

  1. Your comment reveals a great deal more about the current Overton window and your own ideology than anything about Gavin McInnes. Never-the-less smear away because everything you disagree with is ‘far right propaganda’.

    Like, obviously.

  2. The troll views communists like itself as centrists and anything to the right of communism to be unacceptable and ban-worthy. Sadly, it is quite representative of what a person votes for when he votes for America and Canada’s left-wing parties.

    The evil here is underappreciated even by most who understand that it is wrong.

  3. Considering your brief use of the hammer and sickle as an icon I’m not sure how to receive your comments. If offering up future left wing parody please include references to David Brooks quotes or The Guardian articles, not just SPLC and wikipedia.

  4. You seem to be under the impression that McInnes is some kind of sophisticated, influential political commentator who should be taken seriously. He’s a professional troll, agitator, and comedian. He isn’t some revolutionary you need to be scared of. The reaction to him is always hugely disproportionate and that’s the way he likes it - more attention.

  5. From what I can gather, the Proud Boys just get into two-sided fights with groups of Antifa, where it’s generally not quite clear who started things. My impression is that if there were no Antifa, there would be no violence associated with the Proud Boys, though the reverse would not be true. I know of no reports of the Proud Boys beating up lone journalists, speakers, or the elderly. Or of them harassing or attempting to silence peaceful political opponents through physical intimidation. Additional information is welcomed, however.

    As for McInnes, he seems to have a bit of a screw loose but is not an extremist and is primarily a comedian who generally exaggerates everything he says for laughs.

  6. Everyone is succumbing to the troll.

    The troll, in conjunction with its assertion that its Marxism is “centrist”, posited that True North, the subject of the article, must clearly be the equivalent of McInnes. This assertion is not supported, and seems to be a product of the troll’s Overton Window, by which everything to the right of Marx is McInnes.

    The proper response to the troll is not to sincerely discuss McInnes. To do so is to subtly concede the troll’s association of True North with McInnes, which is to hand the troll an undeserved victory. All one needs to do is click on True North’s link in the article to read its website and see how ludicrous the troll’s association is.

    The disingenuous should be recognized as such and treated accordingly.

  7. I don’t think DSz is a troll. A troll says things that he doesn’t mean solely for the purpose of generating conflict/attention. Seems to me that DSz is being sincere, although I could be wrong. And regardless of whether True North has any connection to Gavin McInnes, which I don’t think they do, Gavin doesn’t really seem that bad to me. I’ve watched a good number of his videos because he’s generally pretty funny, and although some of what he says is dumb and most of it is silly, I’ve never seen him say anything extremist. He seems politically center right to me for the most part, and not at all racist. You could argue that he’s sexist, but really he just says that he thinks most women would be happier at home raising children, which is actually supported by sociological data (though probably not quite to the extent that Gavin thinks it is), not that they aren’t capable of having careers if they want them. I’ve never seen him express hate towards anyone based on race, sex, or sexual orientation. I don’t know everything he’s said and written though, so I could be missing something.

  8. It is interesting to note that the point of the article is censorship and exposing yet another example where some candidates label and dismiss opposition and resort to censorship. We then get a commenter who follows up with the same false labeling of those who dare disagree, “hate mongering”, calls for censorship, and then responds to your dismissal with “im a person too”. Oh the irony.

  9. I would disagree; I’m a strong believer in a free press even when it’s scurrilous. If they actually break laws - for example by clearly inciting violence or by breaking privacy or libel laws - then by all means jail them. But otherwise treat all sides the same; governments shouldn’t be in the business of controlling the flow of information.

    And (as I’ve said before) people should be given all the rope they need to hang themselves. Rebel Media and True North seem to be doing a good job at that :slight_smile: It’s not comfortable living in a chaotic news environment, but it’s nowhere near as destructive as as placidly conformist one.

  10. The troll is a millennial, as I am, though the troll insists on derisively referring to all who criticize it as “Boomers”. While millennials trapped in collectivist mindsets feel upset by negative millennial stereotypes, I do not, because I do not have a collectivist mindset. Rather, as someone who lives among millennials more than people of other generations, I am particularly aware of the fact that the negative stereotypes are true.

    The negative stereotype of solipsism applies here. The troll freely disparages people to the right of Marx using all the standard Marxist rhetoric, plainly refuses to intellectually engage with any disagreement, and uses this forum exclusively to cycle through outlandish left-wing talking points. People who offer to help it with its personal problems (such as finding a job) are met with silence, because it does not want help. It wants to preach.

    And of course, in keeping with its solipsism, it insists that if someone treats it the way it treats others, it is being wronged, and the other person is a monster.

    Even as I write this, it is writing and editing a post listing True North articles and declaring them to be outlandish and far outside the bounds of acceptable journalism, even though the articles consist of scrutiny of left-wing politicians that resembles the criticism of right-wing politicians that dominates CNN and MSNBC, to say nothing of Slate, Salon, and a host of other blogs that preach the troll’s ideology. With the difference being that True North’s scrutiny is probably actually true.

    And oh, look, it thought to conclude with the final left-wing talking point of whining about who might have funded the content that it dislikes, without giving the slightest thought to the fact that the same argument could be made in the opposite direction just as well.

    It represents its kind well. Which is sad.

  11. Thanks for posting that, @AsenathWaite; it’s certainly not my cup of tea (he seems rather boorish) but hardly worth getting upset about. I think every bar crowd I’ve ever been in has at least one person like that, left or right depending on the nature of the crowd. I usually just moved to another table.
    One I have enjoyed occasionally is Steven Crowder, who is very free speech oriented. He apparently ran into trouble with YouTube for going too far over the top w/r to homophobic comments about a Vox writer. But if you want to use their platform you have to play by their rules.

    I do, OTOH, enjoy his work of this sort:

  12. I’m not sure DS is a troll, @jdfree49, sadly I think he’s a misguided kid on a rapid downward spiral. A couple of months ago you could carry on a conversation with him, although keeping him on topic was challenging. Now he doesn’t use capitalisation and throws out cries for help about being suicidal. I tend to think of trolls as people stirring the pot (or throwing a grenade) for fun, but DS doesn’t seem to be having fun, he seems deeply troubled.

    The approach should be the same, though, for the sake of DS and the thread. DS isnt handling being rebuffed (particularly by you) very well, and he’s turned this thread into a conversation about Gavin McKinnis for some reason. Now the thread isn’t getting the attention it deserves, because commenters have had to go over the worn-out arguments for why it’s not okay for the government to censor media outlets whose bias you disapprove of. I don’t know why anyone who disagrees with such a basic premise would choose to read Quillette.

  13. Infuriating article, I’m so ashamed of what Canada is becoming, and angry that I haven’t heard about any of this in the mainstream Canadian news. Thank goodness for Quillette. I’ll be following True North now, as well.

    If the Liberals aren’t served with a crushing defeat after the ethics violations and corruption we’ve been witness to, I don’t know what to think about the future of my country. Not that the Conservatives are terribly different, like in Europe the major parties’ position on major policy points converges to a position contrary to popular opinion.

    The glimmer of hope is that we have the People’s Party now. I hope despite the usual leftist tactic of using the mainstream media to label them racist/sexist/homophobes/Islamophobia/ect, they can make a strong showing and pull the Conservative Party rightward.

  14. Yes, it’s great for the rest of the world that Western consumerism is driving their economic development, but what about the workers left behind? They can’t all be computer programmers and solar panel installation technicians - in fact, given their age and technological comfort level, few can be.

    Much of this offshoring isn’t just the results of lower wages overseas, which when you factor in transportation costs doesn’t make as much of a difference, but of the cost of complying with environmental and other permitting regulation, avoiding costly delays and litigation, ect. So, we are gutting our working class just because we don’t care about pollution and human rights occuring in other countries.

    It’s a tough pill to swallow, and some Canadians are having none of it. Albertans (outside the Edmonton-NDP bubble) are acutely aware that they have some of the most stringent environmental standards in the world, but Eastern Canada is still blocking their pipelines with shaming tactics about “dirty oil,” all while importing oil from Saudi Arabia, which has an abysmal environmental record. This, of course, pushed by a media that would prefer glowing reports of protesters than giving a factual account of anything.

  15. Shout this from the rooftops. Many of my peers in engineering are now retiring from the workforce and typically paint the same picture. Many even diverted in their careers from engineering in terms of production engineering to engineers meeting with federal regulators.

    Don’t expect big business to lobby for redress concerning over-regulation as the same regulations are an even larger burden to their small competitors. Even when the large corporate owned local factories are no longer competitive they just outsource overseas.

    A good example would be the paper industry that was saddled with emission restrictions that were too small to even measure with current test equipment. Due to compliance costs and overseas competition, several local producers in my state closed their doors and Indonesian producers replaced their output. Anyone want to believe Indonesian producers come anywhere near meeting the same environmental standards?

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