First published in the Washington Post on October 2, 2019.
On Sept. 22, I showed up to cover one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign stops in a Toronto suburb on the first day of what was to be a week-long assignment to cover the Liberal campaign. But I wasn’t allowed to board the media bus that takes journalists from stop to stop. I was also barred from entering Trudeau’s press conference. The reason the Liberals provided is that I wasn’t “accredited.”
This was news to me. I’ve been accredited by the Canadian and British governments, by courts in Canada and the United Kingdom, and the Republican National Committee at various points in my career.
But this wasn’t the first time the Liberals had created roadblocks for my coverage.
The staff of Trudeau’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, barred me and another conservative journalist from attending a newsconference of hers at the ironically named Global Conference for Media Freedom in London in July, for which I’d been accredited by the co-hosting Canadian and British foreign offices. Realizing the gross hypocrisy of this display, some journalists refused to attend themselves unless we were all permitted to attend. Finally, Freeland caved and we gained access.
Press freedom won. At least until now.
Despite several conversations with Trudeau’s secretary and director of communications, and even a direct request to Trudeau himself (from which he walked away without saying a word), I’m still not accredited. I’m relegated to covering the campaign from the sidewalk and finding my own way from whistle stop to whistle stop.
With a combination of last-minute flights, rental cars and far less sleep than is healthy, I followed the campaign for a week, basing my plan for the next day on the itinerary published by the Liberals in the evening.
This ended up being fraught with challenges. For starters, police pulled me over and detained me at roadside on the second day of my coverage wanting to know why I was “following everybody around,” despite the officer’s admission — which I filmed — that I hadn’t broken any laws.
The Liberals even had me removed by two police officers from a public rally —for which I had registered and been given an admission wristband — in a stunning overreach that the Liberals apologized for a day later.
At no point have the Liberals explained to me or anyone else what the standard for accreditation is. Just that I and my outlet, True North, don’t meet it.
True North is a start-up conservative news platform published by a registered charity with an investigative journalism mandate. I don’t hide my conservatism, though it’s ideological, not blindly partisan. I hosted a popular daily talk radio show until last year, and I’d often interview politicians of all stripes — including Trudeau, in fact — without issue.
By saying I’m not a journalist, which the Liberals are unilaterally doing, they’re not only undermining my career and credentials, but also press freedom more broadly. Governments and political parties cannot decide who gets to cover them without eroding the fundamental accountability a free press is meant to ensure.
This isn’t exclusively a Liberal problem. David Menzies, a journalist from Rebel News, was escorted by police from a Conservative news conference after party staffers told him he wasn’t accredited. The Conservatives have since said their position is to not accredit media organizations with a “history of political activism.”
This may come as a shock to Trudeau’s press team, but Canada has no centralized accreditation bureaucracy for journalists. Nor should any country whose constitution enshrines freedom of speech and of the press.
Anyone is entitled to practice journalism. That doesn’t mean anyone is capable of it, or even that anyone claiming to practice it is doing so with the standards it demands. But these are points for the industry and consumers to deal with — not politicians.
Politicians stand to lose the most by journalists covering them freely — so the media must swiftly and loudly condemn any effort to restrict access. I’ve received some support from my colleagues in media, though clearly not enough.
When a journalist’s rights are threatened, the rights of all journalists are. This display would be wrong from any political party in a Western democracy, but it’s particularly galling from Trudeau, who has extolled his commitment to media freedom to score political points against the Conservative party, which has historically been standoffish with the press.
“Freedom of the press is a fundamental right and must be defended everywhere in the world,” Trudeau tweeted in May.
I agree wholeheartedly. It’s a shame he, in reality, doesn’t.