Multiple recent incidents on the election trail show how Canadian media and civil society struggle with how to deal with politicians and bad actors on the far-right.
Earlier this week, the debate over whether to deplatform such figures intensified when the Toronto Star’s editorial board’s invited People’s Party of Canada (PPC) Leader Maxime Bernier in for a live chat. The paper has a tradition of inviting the main party leaders to discuss their politics before endorsing one ahead of an election. The PPC is currently polling nationally at about 3.1 per cent.
The invitation split the newsroom, according to Star columnist Shree Paradkar, who said the invitation helped “legitimize” and amplify Bernier’s far-right ideas, which include eliminating “official” multiculturalism in Canada and stopping immigration from being used to “forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of Canada.”
In a column in the Star, Paradkar said Bernier’s ideas don’t qualify for civil discussion because they imply exclusion and even violence for people of colour.
“Bernier’s ideologies are not abstract level ideas for us, not mere disagreements that can be debated in a civilized fashion. They have real-world consequences,” she wrote. Several journalists of colour also protested the decision by boycotting the discussion.
A number of PPC candidates and supporters have also been outed for having a history of racist or sexist posts on social media. Evan Balgord of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAN), which tracks far-right hate in Canada, said his group has “lost count” of how many PPC candidates have displayed racist or sexist behaviour on and offline.
Initially, Bernier was barred from nationally televised all-leaders debates by the Leaders' Debates Commission, which then reversed that decision. Debate commissioner David Johnston said that, after reviewing a number of polls and the amount of media coverage the PPC has gotten, Bernier was eventually included in the debates because his party has a “legitimate chance” of electing more than one candidate next month. Bernier is also expected to make an appearance on the CBC next week.
The Star’s Andrew Phillips, who edits the paper’s editorial pages and sits on its editorial board, defended the decision to “platform” Bernier because voters “need to understand what he’s up to, even if, indeed especially if, the point is to oppose him.”
There is a “basic journalistic duty of reporting fearlessly and going to whatever sources we need to get to the best approximation of the truth,” he wrote.
Free speech, as the argument goes, is the best tool to “shine a light” on bad ideas or bad people, and it can’t be compromised.
There are currently 21 federally registered parties running in the election, including openly anti-Semitic, ultranationalist parties. It’s hard to imagine that the Star would give all their bad ideas the same treatment.
Bernier isn’t the only right-wing figure to make noise this election for being excluded from public engagements.
Conservative commentator Andrew Lawton tweeted Wednesday night that he was escorted out of a campaign rally in Thunder Bay that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended by two police officers.
This drew support from other journalists who called saw this treatment a violation of Lawton’s press freedoms.
The Globe and Mail also provoked heated reactions this month after publishing an op-ed by Rebel Media personality Ezra Levant, who wrote about being “censored” by the Liberals. The guest column prompted a message from Mason Wright, the unit executive of the paper’s union, rejecting the decision to publish him.
And YouTube personality David Rubin was scheduled to appear in a public event with Bernier Sunday at Hamilton’s Mohawk College, but tweeted Wednesday night that the event was “cancelled” as the price for security increased exponentially “due to threats from Antifa [antifascists].”
Rubin then tweeted that he has offered to pay for the security costs out of pocket. The event’s official webpage says that it’s sold out. Mohawk College has not responded to questions of whether the event is moving forward this Sunday.
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