Trudeau won’t let me cover his campaign. His ban is an attack on Canada’s free press.

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.

Canadians know nothing about their activist Supreme Court. That’s dangerous.

First published in the National Post on July 16, 2018.

Frenzy overtook the United States when Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement last month. It was a far cry from when former Canadian chief justice Beverley McLachlin announced her retirement last year and Canadians breathed a collective “Who?”

This is among the starkest of differences between the political cultures and Canada and the United States.

In American politics, a Supreme Court vacancy means countless news cycles: weeks of speculation about potential nominees, followed by days of in-depth coverage about the nominee, capped off with weeks of confirmation hearings. This is because it’s significant. Putting the right justice on the bench can shape a president’s legacy in monumental ways.

In each of their eight years, Barack Obama and George W. Bush installed two Supreme Court justices. Donald Trump will accomplish the same with less than two years in office. If Trump wins a second term, he may well get another two vacancies to work with, with 85-year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 79-year old Stephen Breyer — both appointed by Bill Clinton — holding down the older side of the bench.

American politicians — and their voters, for that matter — understand the stakes of the court. Canadians couldn’t care less.

In Canada, there’s no drive to understand whether a potential justice is pro-life, or religious, or a strict constitutionalist. In the United States, these same people are lightning rods in the culture war over these very issues.

One could argue that having an expectation judges will rule along ideological lines based on who appointed them defeats the purpose of a supposedly apolitical judiciary. This is inevitable, however, when so much politics is dispensed from the judiciary. Our era is one of governance from the bench, meaning Canadians would do well to pay attention to what happens there.

American politicians — and their voters, for that matter — understand the stakes of the court. Canadians couldn’t care less

I asked a room full of politically-minded folks last week how many people could name a single Canadian Supreme Court justice (making sure to tell them McLachlin had retired.) I didn’t get a single response. This complacency undercuts our ability to be outraged — or even surprised — when the benchers make the wrong call.

The Trinity Western University ruling, for example. The majority of justices found that the Law Society of Upper Canada (now the Law Society of Ontario) infringed upon TWU’s Charter rights, but it was OK because the law society’s decision “represents a proportionate balance between the limitation on freedom of religion guaranteed by s. 2 (a) of the Charter and the statutory objectives that the LSUC sought to pursue.”

In other words, the court ruled that the constitution, instead of having the final say, must be “balanced” against a lesser administrative body’s mandate.

Admittedly, it may be difficult to find a strict constitutionalist in a country that lacks a strict constitution, but were Canadians more engaged in — or at least aware of — the process by which the Supreme Court is formed, judicial appointments would come with much more accountability.

From religious freedom to mandatory minimum sentences to something as seemingly trivial as driving beer across provincial boundaries, in all of these areas the Supreme Court has ruled against what most would describe as the conservative position. Even after 10 years of a Conservative government that appointed six of the nine current Supreme Court justices. Even Richard Wagner, the new Chief Justice, was appointed by Stephen Harper.

While Canadian Conservatives sound the alarm about Supreme Court rulings, they should actually be looking to the lawmakers who had a hand in shaping the court that made them. Like the Senate, the Supreme Court’s makeup and influence outlast the government of the day: justices in Canada are appointed until they turn 75. Not the lifetime appointment that exists on the bench in the United States, but still a term that can span decades.

While I’m sympathetic to the argument that America’s approach to the Supreme Court is far too polarized, I will take that over Canada’s ambivalence to it. The polarization is a byproduct of a country that is invested in its court in a way that Canada must be.

We wouldn’t stand for laws being passed by faceless agents in a back room, so we certainly shouldn’t be content with faceless judges interpreting them.

When it comes to politics, let companies be neutral

First published at Global News on March 23, 2018.

It used to be controversial for a company to weigh in on a political issue. Now, it’s expected.

It’s an all too familiar trend. A gang of noisy activists calls on a company to take a stand on an issue or end a relationship with a vendor. The company, wanting to make the problem go away, gives in, thus alienating another group. The only winners are, well, the noisy activists who started it all.

The latest casualty is Domino’s Pizza, which was dragged into Canada’s pipeline politics after an anti-Trans Mountain Pipeline protester shared a photo of a stack of pizzas with a caption thanking Domino’s for its support of Camp Cloud, the makeshift tent city on British Columbia’s Burnaby Mountain.

After supporters of Canada’s oil industry pounced on Domino’s, the company investigated and couldn’t find any evidence that a franchisee in the area made any such donation. Even if one had, it would hardly be tantamount to a company-wide endorsement of the cause.

Regardless, momentum was building for the Domino’s-hates-oil side of things. When the company spoke up last Sunday, it was in support of the oil industry.

“Although we fully support everyone’s right to their opinion and free speech, we do not endorse the protest movement as we recognize the importance of the Canadian oil patch industry and the economic impact the industry has on all Canadian citizens,” a statement on the Domino’s Canada Facebook page said. “Most importantly, we offer our full support to the dedicated, hard-working men and women assigned to the ‘patch’ who often times face very difficult conditions. Your efforts are truly appreciated.”

Within minutes, Domino’s became a favourite shop of Albertans, a flood of whom pledged to start making orders. But then the winds shifted again, as anti-oil activists fought back, slamming Domino’s on its own Facebook page and vowing to get their (gas-oven-baked) pizzas from elsewhere.

Further complicating matters, Domino’s deleted its Facebook post, and the activist who posted the initial photo clarified that the pizzas were not given for any political reasons, but rather they were part of an unclaimed order that was given away.

I’ve no doubt that in the midst of this there was an executive at the Windsor, Ont., headquarters for Domino’s Canada who knew nothing about pipelines and regretted waking up that morning.

In siding with Canadian oil, Domino’s picked the path of least resistance — and what I believe to be the correct position — but it should concern any business leaders that the company was forced to make such a determination because of one person’s Facebook post in the first place.

Let me be clear in saying companies have the right to take whatever political stances they want, just as consumers have the right to respond however they please. But that doesn’t mean we should revel in a culture in where this is the expectation.

When activists demand that companies sever ties with a vendor, stop advertising on a particular platform, or condemn a political position, the damage goes beyond simply generating public relations nightmares. The practice is rooted in the flawed belief that companies — which, at their most basic level, serve a transactional role in society — must exist with consciences to be legitimate.

It isn’t just about being political, but landing on the “right” side of the issue — despite there being no such thing as a consensus on the contentious issues that trigger these episodes.

If some CEO takes aim at something near and dear to my heart, I may decide to put my money elsewhere, but why must I agree with a company’s management on things like domestic energy production and tax reform?

If a company wants to engage in moral or political battles by donating to political parties, or refusing service to people of certain belief systems or lifestyles, let them. But stop pigeonholing brands that don’t want to play that game.

Celebrities are faced with the same pressures. Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift have refused to engage in political conversations, and have been attacked for making such decisions.

Guardian editorial chided Swift for not preaching politics to her fans, concluding that she must be a “musical envoy for the president’s values” because she hadn’t chimed into the chorus of celebrity condemnations of Donald Trump.

Activist culture has taken neutrality off the table. This idea that taking a side is everyone’s duty is found in the words of Desmond Tutu, who once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

In times of genuine oppression, I agree. But not every contentious issue is a matter of oppression and injustice. Sometimes, it’s just political disagreement, in which cases neutrality should be regarded as a virtue from any player whose job is not to litigate these matters.

We’re seeing an expansion of the second-wave feminist edict that “the personal is the political,” which rose to popularity in the 1960s. More than 50 years later, there’s little that isn’t political, or at least ripe to be politicized.

These activists are looking for fights. And if they don’t find a reason to fight they will generously provide one.

Companies would be well-suited to stop taking the bait.

Behold, the return of Ford Derangement Syndrome

First published at Global News on March 13, 2018.

Doug Ford hadn’t even been officially announced as the Ontario PC party’s new leader before media hysteria ensued.

Contrary to what the naysayers predicted in the lead-up to Saturday’s reveal in Markham, Ford emerged as the victor. And many in the media are displeased.

It’s hardly a shock that the Toronto Star — which spared no effort in its attempts to dethrone Ford’s late brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford — isn’t a fan, though it was amusing to see how the paper twisted itself in knots over the new PC leader.

The newspaper’s editorial said he was a byproduct of a “flight to the right” in the PC party (as though it’s revolutionary for what’s supposed to be a conservative party to choose a conservative leader). “So all we have to go on is sloganeering and attitude,” and “simplistic rage” against the elites, the editorial determined.

The Star’s editorial board members listed a few of what they felt were Ford’s objectionable policies, before concluding that he doesn’t have any policies.

In fact, their real issue is that he doesn’t embody their policies.

A CBC analysis warned readers in the headline that Ford would bring “Disruption, distraction and dysfunction.”

The most bizarre response to Ford’s win was a tweet from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, featuring a photo of a laughing Doug Ford with a fire alarm edited in. The photo was captioned, “We’re gonna need your help,” with a link to a fundraising page.

On the page, there was no information about Ford, nor his apparent secret plan to erode civil liberties. A CCLA representative was unavailable for an interview to explain.

Usually, when fear-mongering about politicians kicks into gear, we at least get a half-true sentiment to fuel it. With Ford, the “independent, non-partisan” CCLA thinks it’s enough to say, “Look at him, now give us money to stop him.”

There’s a very simple explanation: like the Toronto Star and CBC, the CCLA is suffering from Ford Derangement Syndrome.

It’s a revival of the condition that swept Toronto during Rob Ford’s mayoralty, and is now spreading across the province.

It follows the path of Trump Derangement SyndromeHarper Derangement Syndrome, and, of course, the original, Bush Derangement Syndrome, coined by columnist Charles Krauthammer and defined as “acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.”

It’s when loathing of a conservative supersedes any sensible discussion about their policies.

Ford’s critics are unconcerned — or even unaware — of his policies. They simply don’t like him.

Conservatives and liberals alike often don’t have much time or patience for each other’s worldviews. The major difference is how the left exhaustingly tries to reshape and redefine conservatism on its terms.

It’s why we see commentators asking, “Why can’t all conservatives be like _____?” ad nauseam.

Michael Chong was a favorite in this category in last year’s federal Conservative leadership field. In the PC race, it was Christine Elliott, who has always been a more moderate figure in the conservative movement.

There is another criterion that endears conservatives to the left, however — irrelevance. When you cease to be a force, the hatred and derangement subside.

Ford’s ideological conservatism is disliked as much as his potential for victory is.

Take a look at the mea culpa columns and op-eds from the last couple of years about George W. Bush. After facing the left’s and the media’s wrath for the better part of the decade, Bush is now held up as a model conservative.

Ford, on the other hand, has a shot at leading Ontario. He could win or lose the election come June, so to say either outcome is a certainty is foolish.

If you want evidence of this, just take a look at Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells’ Jan. 29 tweet saying, “there is no chance Doug Ford will lead the Ontario Conservatives (sic). Suspense now is over whether he realizes this.”

Wells had a sense of humour about his inaccurate prediction, but the tweet illuminated a truth you’d think the media would have figured out by now — underestimate anti-establishment candidates at your own peril.

While comparisons between Doug Ford and Donald Trump may generally be weak and lazy, one similarity that does exist in both of them is the defiance of what the intelligentsia thought inevitable.

From Brexit to Donald Trump to Doug Ford, the left didn’t just advance a narrative that these outcomes were unlikely, but rather that they weren’t even within the realm of possibility.

And this will continue as Doug Ford seeks the job of Premier of Ontario. Ford Derangement Syndrome may, in fact, be his greatest asset in the upcoming election. When they don’t think he can win is when they stop fighting.

Vindication for foster parents subjected to Easter Bunny litmus test

First published at Global News on March 9, 2018.

Not wanting to make your kids believe in the Easter Bunny doesn’t disqualify you from being a parent, after all.

So says an Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling in a case involving former foster parents Derek and Frances Baars, and the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton.

The Baarses had been fostering two sisters, aged three and four, for just shy of three months when the girls were taken and the foster home was closed by CAS. The episodes came after the foster parents refused to comply with a demand from a CAS caseworker to instill in the girls a belief in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.

The devoutly Christian couple was celebrating all other aspects of the holidays — including the hunt for chocolate eggs — but wouldn’t lie about the mythical figures associated with them. As a kid, I cared less about who delivered the chocolate than I did about the fact that there was chocolate, but CAS had a different view.

While explaining to your kids that Santa and the Easter Bunny make annual house calls may be an innocent enough lie, it is a lie nonetheless. And parents are under no legal obligation to tell it. So why should foster parents be?

The only relevant questions should have been whether the Baarses were able and willing to care for these girls, and provide a home for them. They exceeded all requirements in the application process, and it’s worth noting that their faith beliefs — including their beliefs about the Easter Bunny — were known to the agency when they were approved to run a foster home.

What should have been about stability for children became an ideological litmus test about a lagomorphic humanoid confectioner.

That litmus test, we now know, is unconstitutional.

In an interview on my show, Derek Baars said the decision by CAS was rooted in “the idea that the government has this hold over you as to what you may or may not — and actually what you must say — in your home.”

The court ruled that the Baars’ constitutional religious freedoms had been violated because CAS effectively tied parenthood to a belief system, irrespective of other aspects of care that are inarguably more consequential.

Neither the Baarses nor the girls had any issue with the foster relationship, making it all the more egregious that CAS opted to create one.

“There is no doubt that there was a need for stability, permanency and care in (the sisters’) lives,” Justice Andrew Goodman wrote in his decision. “It is very clear from the evidence that the children were being cared for.”

Goodman charged that in taking the children away, CAS “contributed to the turmoil these children had already faced in their short lives,” saying that in the choice between whether the Easter Bunny or permanency was more important. “The Society very clearly chose the Easter Bunny.”

The children’s agency attempted to justify its seizure of the children by claiming it was enforcing the wishes of the girls’ birth mother. Despite looking through all of the caseworkers’ notes, the judge found no evidence that the mother had ever indicated any preference — let alone a strong one — about holiday myths.

It really appears that a CAS worker went to extraordinary lengths to impose her own will on two loving parents. And onto the next home for the girls.

Child protection is important, as is the need for a robust agency that can remove children from harm.

Though the court’s ruling on this case is encouraging, it still concerns me that a CAS worker can act on an inkling to “protect” children from something as benign as not believing in stories they’ll outgrow in a few years, regardless.

Would CAS have expected Jewish or Muslim foster parents — who don’t believe in or celebrate Christmas or Easter at all — to set up a Christmas tree and lay out Easter eggs? Are certain religious belief systems off-limits for foster parents entirely?

No one can argue there isn’t a need for foster parents, so alienating those with strong faith values is a poor step.

In fact, when I look at the families in my own circles who have fostered or adopted, all but one are religious. In most of these cases, it was their religious beliefs that compelled them to take on the role of foster parents in the first place.

Anyone who makes this sacrifice deserves better than what the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton did to Derek and Frances Baars, whose lawsuit wasn’t about money, but rather about granting them a clean record and putting a guideline in place so this doesn’t happen to any other families in the future.

They hope to adopt in their new home in Edmonton. God bless them — and all foster parents.