I’ve been banned from attending Justin Trudeau’s campaign media events

First published at True North on September 23, 2019.

In most campaign media coverage, you’ll see Trudeau referred to as the Liberal leader, so as to avoid appearing to give him an edge based on incumbency. Irrespective of this convention, he is the prime minister. And I’m not allowed to cover announcements of what he’ll do if his party is given another mandate.

I learned this on Sunday when I showed up to a suburban home in Brampton, Ont. Trudeau announced a measure to cut cellphone bills in the house’s backyard. Or so I heard. I wasn’t actually there. Instead, I stood on the sidewalk and waited for it to end so I might get an opportunity to ask Trudeau a question, as the Liberals’ approved reporters were allowed to at the press conference.

I had intended to ask him about policy, though now the only question worth asking was why I was banned from covering his campaign. He shook my hand, presuming I was there as a supporter. He ignored my question about my campaign coverage.

Maybe he didn’t hear me.

I did get an answer from a party official – Trudeau’s press secretary on the campaign trail, Cameron Ahmad – who told me I was barred because I’m not with an “accredited” media outlet.

Ahmad knows me. I’ve corresponded with him numerous times over the years, and it was he who arranged an interview between Trudeau and I during the last campaign. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I hosted a daily talk radio show for five years and have written national columns in the Toronto Sun, the National Post and Global News. Despite being conservative, no one has ever accused me of being unprofessional, which is why I’ve interviewed people of all parties without issue – former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne and numerous Liberal cabinet ministers included.

Despite this, Ahmad said I’m not engaged with an outlet that is “recognized” as being a journalism outfit. Recognized by whom, though? It’s not clear.

Journalists don’t require state permits in Canada. There is no centralized database or registry of people in media. Nor should there be, especially in an era of evolving media business models. Just because I don’t work for a corporate legacy outlet doesn’t mean I’m not doing real work.

Two subsequent interactions with Ahmad have revealed the Liberal party doesn’t really have a cohesive definition of “accredited” – just that True North, a digital outlet published by a charity registered with the federal government as having a mandate for journalism, doesn’t fit the bill.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been banned from a press conference. It happened in July at Global Conference for Media Freedom in the United Kingdom, co-hosted by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and the Government of Canada. I was accredited to cover the conference – but hand-picked by Freeland’s staff, alongside Sheila Gunn Reid of the Rebel, to be excluded from Freeland’s press conference.

Reporters from all outlets who were invited stood firm and told Freeland’s office they’d boycott the press conference if Gunn Reid and I weren’t permitted to attend.

But on Sunday afternoon in Brampton, I was standing alone. The approved reporters were quickly ushered into the backyard, unaware that I was fighting for my right to report on the day’s events.

I hope they’ll take a stand for my cause today, though I haven’t heard anything yet.

I’m still assigned to cover the Trudeau campaign for True North. Though our requests to be invited onto the campaign’s media bus – despite our willingness to pay for it, as all outlets must – have been rebuffed for the same reason, a lack of accreditation.

This morning, I rented a car (a red one, coincidentally) in which I’ll follow the campaign bus and do what I can from the outside.

For a prime minister who talks about media freedom, this is just plain wrong. It’s also short-sighted. As I told the Liberals yesterday, by excluding me from access to the campaign, I’m left to cover my own exclusion.

Candice Malcolm and I have appealed our case to the Liberal Party of Canada’s director of communications at the request of the team on the tour. We’ve been directly and unequivocally told she will be in contact to work through whatever issues there are.