What is Justin Trudeau afraid of? For over a week now, the Liberal campaign has gone to ridiculous lengths to try to keep a journalist away from Trudeau and to prevent him from asking tough questions.
The journalist, popular broadcaster Andrew Lawton, now works for True North, a public policy and digital journalism organization I founded, as a journalism fellow. We crowd-funded enough money to pay for a seat on the Liberal media bus, and I sent Lawton on assignment to cover Trudeau on the campaign.
To our surprise, the Liberals blocked Lawton from getting on the media bus and stopped him from entering campaign events with Trudeau.
After Lawton was blocked from entering a second event, the Liberals told us that only “accredited” journalists may join the media bus. They referred us to the Parliamentary Press Gallery (PPG) to get accredited but the PPG told us they have no jurisdiction over election campaigns — and that they only provide accreditation to Ottawa-area journalists from Ottawa-based media outlets.
Why were foreign media, regional outlets and even student bloggers being let into Liberal events without credentials from the PPG, but not a veteran journalist now with True North?
Could it have something to do with our editorial position, which leans to the right and is critical of Trudeau’s government?
Despite the ban, Lawton continued to cover Trudeau on the campaign by booking his own travel and following the Liberal bus to its various events across Canada. Time and time again, however, the Liberals blocked him from entering the venue — saying he wasn’t accredited and wasn’t allowed in.
On two separate occasions, the Liberals sent in the police to detain our journalist and prevent him from asking tough questions. The second time, Lawton got ejected from a public event at a public university — despite the fact he had RSVP’d and received a wristband to enter the venue.
In Canada, our prime minister apparently sends the cops to block journalists he doesn’t like. Because it’s 2019?
After an uproar on social media, a Liberal campaign boss called Lawton to apologize. But she told him the Liberals would continue to block him from entering campaign events.
Back in 2015 when Trudeau was running for prime minister, he made a big deal about the fact that Liberal campaign events were open to everyone — even those who disagreed with him.
This was in contrast to Conservative leader and then-prime minister Stephen Harper who reportedly removed a person from a campaign event because they were not a supporter of the party.
Back then, the mainstream media cared about openness and transparency from party leaders. This time around, most members of the mainstream media have turned their nose at Lawton and True North. There’s been no solidarity for the banned journalist.
Just days before the 2015 election, Trudeau scolded some of his own Liberal supporters for booing journalists during a Liberal rally.
“Hey! We have respect for journalists in this country,” Trudeau said to the hecklers behind him. “They ask tough questions and they’re supposed to.”
As recently as November 2018, Trudeau sung the praises of a free press.
“One of the institutions that is most under stress right now is a free-thinking, independent, rigorous, robust, respected media,” said Trudeau, weeks before his government announced a $595-million government bailout for legacy media outlets.
Rather than bribing journalists with taxpayer money, Trudeau could support free-thinking and independent journalists like Lawton and True North by respecting the freedom of the press and our rights as Canadians to access our democratic system.
We shouldn’t need to remind Trudeau about this — it’s written right into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.