True North reporter Andrew Lawton is taking the federal government to court for its decision to deny him media accreditation for the English language federal leaders' debate on Monday.
“We believe it is illegal for the debate to be held excluding us, because we are a media organization and they’ve decided we are not, which is not true,” said True North founder and senior fellow Candice Malcolm.
Malcolm told The Post Millennial that a branch of Foreign Affairs communicated in an email to Lawton that it considered True North Initiative an advocacy group and therefore ineligible for press credentials to the event.
"We are not an advocacy organization. True North is a charity and part of our mandate is to do investigative journalism. So we’re a media outlet that’s published through a charity," Malcolm said.
"We don’t do advocacy whatsoever and we just finished doing our audit and we have audited financial statements that say we are not involved in advocacy, so they’re wrong.
Malcolm said that True North will seek an injunction against the decision to bar Lawton; a decision made in concert by the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery, Leaders' Debates Commission and the federal government who are named as respondents in the case.
"The idea that they can just say, ‘no you’re not a journalist’ and come up with excuses – these people are acting like dictators, they’re acting like bullies and I don’t think they should be allowed to get away with it," Malcolm said of why they are suing in Federal Court.
While not the first time Lawton has had his ability to do his job as a journalist blocked during the 2019 campaign – the reporter was previously denied "accreditation" by the Liberal campaign and removed from an event in Thunder Bay – his legal action is the first time the courts have been called upon to arbitrate such matters.
"It shows a bit of a troubling state of journalism in Canada, that somehow we have these self-appointed arbiters like the government and political staffers deciding who is and who isn’t a journalist," Malcolm said.
"That’s not the precedent in Canada, it never has been. If you're practicing journalism, if it’s your full-time job and you work for a media organization then you’re a journalist."
Journalists currently accredited with the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery can apply directly to the gallery secretariat to be credentialed for the October 7 (English) and October 10 (French) debates at the Museum of Canadian History in Gatineau, Quebec.
All other media are asked to apply online, as late as October 4, through a Global Affairs Canada web portal.
Global Affairs' online media accreditation process clearly indicates, "personal information will be used by the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery Secretariat to determine whether the applicant may be accredited," however the secretariat referred TPM queries about Lawton's lawsuit to the Leaders' Debates Commission.
As of publication, the debates commission did not respond to TPM's questions about what criteria it employed to determine Lawton's journalism credentials or that True North is an "advocacy group".
Lawton confirmed with TPM that he and True North will be appearing in Federal Court in Toronto Monday morning.