It's fitting that the brouhaha surrounding Michaëlle Jean's appointment occurred around the time we learned that the Internet is replacing radio and television in the lives of younger Canadians. The controversy marks the first time that a website -- that of Le Québécois, a sovereigntist publication -- has set the political and media agenda in Canada.
Based on this unhappy experience, political elites should ask themselves whether they've reached the limits of spin in managing political crises. Media elites might want to consider whether the perception of information suppression is eroding their credibility and encouraging the development of ideologically homogeneous Internet communities.
Here in B.C. and extending across Canada, a similar situation is bubbling beneath mainstream media radar screens. According to a recent public opinion survey, 58 per cent of Canadians oppose Marc Emery's extradition to the United States on money laundering and drug-related charges. Some of this sentiment is likely related to favourable media coverage, which routinely compares the Prince of Pot to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Interestingly, the day The Globe and Mail's portrait of Mr. Emery appeared in print, I happened across a website (Bourque.org) featuring a doctored photo of Justice Minister Irwin Cotler in a German army uniform. Though the Globe article had mentioned an incident 15 years ago when Mr. Emery called a London, Ont., feminist a "jack-booted femi-Nazi," I was ill-prepared for the commentary on his website (reproduced here with all typos and spellings):
"NEOCON-KAPO irwin cotler," the forum moderator writes, "is signing depotation orders for CANNABIS CULTURE people wanted in the united states because he is secretly trying to get israeli spy Jonathan Pollard out of jail in the united states. . . ."
The offensive photo of "Emery fans taunting Cotler" remained on Bourque.org all day, but was quickly deleted from Mr. Emery's website by another moderator. Though she scolded the author -- "You're bringing us VERY BAD attention" -- another contributor reminded her of a recent posting by Mr. Emery: "Calling Cotler or anyone a nazi disengages almost everyone. . . . The term for Irwin Cotler might be 'capo.' These were the Jews during the holocaust who were fated to deliver their fellow Jews to their death."
Regrettably, Mr. Emery's standing has also been boosted by politicians, who've given him precious legitimacy. In 2003, NDP Leader Jack Layton agreed to be interviewed by Mr. Emery on Pot TV. Two years earlier, Mr. Emery had accused Timmins, Ont., police of being no different from their counterparts in "Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany" when they requested that his magazine, Cannabis Culture, be pulled off the shelves of distributors after a Grade 7 student came to school with a copy.
Preceded by ads for marijuana seed sales, Messrs. Layton and Emery spent 20 minutes during the interview chumming it up and encouraging viewers to support the NDP. Since then, there's been close co-operation between their respective organizations. NDP House Leader Libby Davies -- one of two caucus members who supported Mr. Layton's leadership bid -- has been a champion of legalizing marijuana. On Mr. Emery's website, you'll find her letter to Chris Bennett, the manager of Pot TV, who proposed bringing protesters to Parliament Hill wearing a "yellow arm-band . . . maybe the leaf over the star of David, so the symbolism is loud and clear." In acceding to her request not to, Mr. Bennett replied: "I fail to see the difference between the persecution of the cannabis community and the suffering of Mr. Cotler's ancestors."
Mr. Layton's other caucus supporter, former MP Svend Robinson, is one of Mr. Emery's strongest B.C. supporters. In a recent contribution to the Vancouver Province, Mr. Robinson writes: "It is time we recognized that the most destructive drugs in Canada are legal: alcohol and tobacco. But they have powerful corporate lobbyists working on their behalf."
Mr. Emery, it turns out, is no slouch in that department. After the Pot TV interview, he says he signed up "more than 3,000 new NDP members and delivered about 150,000 votes . . . printed 100,000 brochures outlining Layton's position on marijuana . . . paid $5,000 to buy two tables at a Jack Layton dinner, and donated between $500 and $1,000 to eight different NDP candidates."
Though I'm a child of the '60s like Mr. Layton, I can't imagine the NDP under David Lewis or Ed Broadbent associating with these kinds of people and accepting this kind of money.