The Federal Court’s written decision in True North’s lawsuit against the Leaders’ Debates Commission doesn’t pull any punches.
Justice Russel Zinn issued an injunction on October 7, 2019 ordering the Leaders’ Debates Commission to accredit True North’s Andrew Lawton and Rebel News’ David Menzies and Keean Bexte and allow them to attend the government-run leaders’ debates.
Zinn’s written reasons for his decision were released Thursday afternoon, taking aim at the federal government’s rationale for denying accreditation to the independent news outlets.
“I find that the decisions are lacking in discernible rationality and logic, and thus are neither justified nor intelligible,” Zinn wrote.
Though Lawton applied for accreditation to cover the debate through the Government of Canada’s online portal the day after it opened, it wasn’t until the Friday before the Monday debate that the chief of the Parliamentary Press Gallery sent Lawton a two-sentence email denying accreditation based on his belief True North engages in “advocacy.”
There was no appeal process, no definition of the term “advocacy,” nor had there been any indication throughout the accreditation process that advocacy was a disqualifying factor.
In fact, the Debates Commission did not post any guidelines or qualifications for accreditation during this process.
True North, which is published by the True North Centre for Public Policy, does not engage in advocacy. Moreover, media outlets that do such as the Toronto Star were accredited to cover the debate.
Zinn noted this discrepancy in his decision.
“Absent any explanation as to the meaning to be given to the term ‘advocacy’ and given that the Commission accredited some organizations that have engaged in advocacy, I am at a loss to understand why the Commission reached the decisions it did with respect to the Applicants,” Zinn wrote, specifically referencing the Toronto Star.
“We focus public attention on injustices of all kinds and on reforms designed to correct them,” says the Toronto Star’s mission page. “These values and beliefs now form what are called the Atkinson principles, the foundation of the Star’s ongoing commitment to investigating and advocating for social and economic justice.”
The judge stressed that the Commission never informed the applicants that they might be denied on these grounds, which he said compromised the government’s duty of fairness.
On the day this case was heard in front of the Federal Court, Justice Zinn awarded True North costs to compensate for high legal costs.
It took weeks, however, for the Federal Government to reach a settlement on the amount they would pay True North. Less than an hour after that agreement was reached, the Feds announced that they had filed a notice of appeal. True North has not yet received costs, and may have to go to court once again to defend Canadian press freedom.