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Canadian press freedom is under threat by Trudeau government

When the Prime Minister bars a media outlet from a news conference it is a first step in the direction of Canada becoming like Hong Kong or Iran.
John Carpay Calgary, AB

A reporter known for his anti-government views is barred from joining other journalists to ask questions of the country’s leader at a news conference. Failing to leave the premises immediately, and having refused to turn over his photographs to the government’s guards, he is physically and forcibly removed from the grounds. Meanwhile, journalists who are sympathetic to the government are allowed to attend the press conference and ask questions of the government’s leader.

When and where did the above take place?

In Pinochet’s Chile? Mussolini’s Italy? Hong Kong in recent weeks or months? Franco’s Spain? Iran under the mullahs? Iran under the Shah?

Try Canada on May 27, 2020.

A well-known Canadian journalist was denied access to Mr. Trudeau’s "open coverage" daily press briefing at Rideau Cottage. Despite conducting himself peacefully, Keean Bexte of Rebel News was then manhandled by security and physically removed from the grounds, after other journalists were permitted an opportunity to ask our Prime Minister questions about his government and its policies.

This was a blatant violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects "freedom of the press and other media of communication" in section 2(b). The Charter protects the press and other media of communication because they are essential to facilitating healthy democratic debate and transparency in government. Along with the freedom of expression which every individual Canadian is supposed to enjoy, freedom of the press is another indispensable Charter freedom to hold governments to account between elections.

If Justin Trudeau were reading this column, and was asked for his thoughts on the above, he would no doubt claim to respect freedom of the press, and all of the Charter freedoms. He would go on to argue that Keean Bexte is not a journalist but an advocate. Trudeau would claim that Rebel News reporters are political activists and therefore not bona fide members of "the press."

These arguments hold no water.

Many members of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery advocate openly and actively for causes, perspectives and ideologies. For example, the Xinhua News Agency (New China News Agency) is the official state-run press agency of the Chinese government, which advocates strongly for the interests of the ruling Communist Party.

Another Press Gallery member actively involved in advocacy is our taxpayer-funded CBC, which consistently promotes left-wing ideology in and through its coverage, and even more so by way of what the CBC does not cover. As just one example, the CBC refused to provide any coverage of the 2019 Human Rights Tribunal hearings of Jessica (Jonathan) Yaniv’s complaints against female estheticians who had refused to provide a “Brazilian” bikini wax for Yaniv’s male genitalia.

It was not until Yaniv’s (ultimately unsuccessful) human rights complaints had made international headlines that the CBC finally wrote one story about this issue. Yaniv’s outrageous complaints do not align with the CBC’s sympathy for "social justice" ideology, so the CBC tried to kill the story. The Post Millennial covered this story in depth.

Likewise, the Toronto Star includes "effecting change" and "advocating for social and economic justice" when describing its own mission. Other Press Gallery members cover the news from a particular angle or perspective, like the Aboriginal Peoples TV, Canadian Catholic News, and The Lawyer’s Daily.

Any media outlet that claims to be a neutral, objective, unbiased truth-seeker and truth-teller is either lacking completely in self-awareness, or simply lying. There is nothing wrong with having a perspective, or even a bias, or promoting a cause you believe in. What is wrong is pretending to be neutral and objective when you’re not.

On November 13, 2019, the Federal Court of Canada repudiated and set aside the decision to exclude Rebel News and True North reporters from the leaders’ election debate. The Court dismissed the federal government’s argument that these alternative media ought to be excluded because they are "advocates" and not "real" journalists. The Court noted that some of the news agencies which the Trudeau government had allowed to cover the federal election debate are admittedly engaged in advocacy.

The Charter protects the freedom of Vox, the Toronto Star, the CBC, the Huffington Post, Vice, Rebel News, the Tyee, rabble.ca, Press Progress, True North, Ricochet, Lifesite News, North 99, whether as "the press" or as "other media of communication." All of these media organizations, whether they acknowledge their bias or not, have a right to  acquire and disseminate information.

Let’s face it: Mr. Bexte’s banishment from Rideau College has nothing to do with his abilities or qualifications as a journalist, and everything to do with Mr. Trudeau’s dislike for the specific media outlet that Mr. Bexte works for. And therein lies the greater problem: the government has long been playing favourites with certain media which are more sympathetic, or at least not hostile, to the views of the federal Liberal Party.

Press freedom in Canada is already undermined and compromised by the Trudeau government giving hundreds of millions of tax dollars each year to selected media, including the CBC and so-called "mainstream" media outlets. As with any handout, the receipt of government favours increases reliance on the government, undermining independence and impartiality. Not coincidentally, the media permitted to ask Mr. Trudeau the soft-ball questions he now regularly receives at Rideau College are also the media receiving government handouts.

When the Prime Minister bars a reporter and a media outlet from the Prime Minister’s news conference, on the specious ground that they are “advocates,” this is a frightening first step in the direction of Canada becoming like Hong Kong or Iran.

As bad or worse was the behaviour of other journalists, who witnessed the exclusion of their colleague and uttered no objection as they blithely walked through the Rideau Cottage gates, which were then closed in Mr. Bexte’s face. Have they thought about who will come to their defence, when Mr. Trudeau (or a different Prime Minister) narrows his circle of inclusion?

Denying Mr. Bexte access to the May 27 cottage briefing was a violation of his Charter freedom, regardless of whether he and Rebel News fall under “the press” or “other media of communication.” Further, the actions taken against Mr. Bexte also violate the Charter freedom of all Canadians to hear and consider a diverse range of views and perspectives.

Mr. Trudeau should apologize publicly about the shameful and illegal conduct that Mr. Bexte was subjected to on May 27, 2020.  More importantly, the federal government needs to amend its policies and practices such that it upholds and respects the Charter freedom of the press and other media of communications.

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John Carpay
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