Ezra Levant is the president of The Rebel News Network Ltd.
It’s become standard practice for the Liberal government to refuse to accredit me or other reporters from my company, Rebel News, at press conferences. Other right-leaning reporters are banned, too. But, at a recent press conference at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, during a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, there I was, smiling at Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland from the front row.
I had been smuggled into the room by the former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Okay – that sounds more dramatic than it really was. The former director of the CIA is Mr. Pompeo himself. And he didn’t really smuggle me in. But he did let me walk into the news conference as part of his own delegation, which included U.S. journalists. And I doubt he told Ms. Freeland about it.
That’s just as shocking as if it had really been a CIA operation: The only way I was able to attend a news conference by my own government was with the assistance of a foreign government.
It happened in the summer, too, when Ms. Freeland co-hosted a media freedom conference in London along with her then-British counterpart, Jeremy Hunt.
There, Ms. Freeland gave a speech and invited journalists to a question-and-answer session. But her staff singled out two of the seven reporters who showed up and told them they would not be welcome.
There just wasn’t enough room for all seven, they said. The Globe and Mail, CTV, CBC, Global TV and Al Jazeera could come. But the two conservative reporters could not – Andrew Lawton, the former Sun newspaper columnist who now writes for True North Canada; and Sheila Gunn Reid, a reporter for my company, Rebel News.
Mr. Lawton and Ms. Gunn Reid had been accredited by the British government, which organized the conference. Both had crowdfunded their travel from Canada. It was literally a conference about media freedom. But not for journalists with the wrong politics.
The other journalists waiting to talk with Ms. Freeland – including the Al Jazeera reporter – were stunned by her attempt to de-platform Mr. Lawton and Ms. Gunn Reid. And to their credit, they refused to attend the news conference without them.
Faced with a boycott, Ms. Freeland blinked and grudgingly allowed some media freedom at the media freedom conference. Ms. Gunn Reid got to ask her questions. Why had Ms. Freeland asked the UN to ban Ms. Gunn Reid from their conferences? Why had the Liberals refused to respond to her Access to Information requests?
Ms. Freeland’s answer was shocking, especially in juxtaposition to what she had just said in her official speech: “We all need to defend our independent press – even, and perhaps especially, when it criticizes us.”
That’s the script she read when she was onstage with celebrities such as Amal Clooney. But when it was just Canadian reporters, Ms. Freeland let the mask slip.
“You are here asking me a question, and that’s my choice and my decision,” she said. In fact, her choice had been to exclude Ms. Gunn Reid. But do press freedoms really require her permission?
“I do also think that it is important for governments, for countries, for multilateral organizations to be thoughtful about media organizations that are truly independent and truly impartial,” she continued.
Ms. Freeland didn’t explain that accusation. She had no problem inviting Al Jazeera, the state broadcaster of Qatar. Later that day, she privately welcomed the Foreign Minister of Pakistan to the conference – one of the most brutal censors in the world.
Ms. Freeland did not reject censoring journalists. She justified it, if it was “thoughtful.” She ended by accusing Rebel News of being white supremacists.
It’s standard now.
Indeed, the Parliamentary Press Gallery – the reporters’ guild that controls access to many media conferences – has banned us without notice, explanation or any appeal. China’s state broadcaster, Xinhua, is a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. But we’re banned.
Not everyone appreciates our point of view. But we clearly speak to many Canadians. Our reporters have been accredited by governments around the world, in places such as Sweden, the Netherlands and India, and even in partly free countries such as Iraq and Morocco. Only Canada has banned us.
I’m not surprised the Liberals don’t like us. We ask prickly questions. But that’s part of our democratic system. If you need help understanding the problem, imagine if former prime minister Stephen Harper had banned liberal journalists from his government events.
Ms. Freeland’s conduct is remarkable given her former career as a journalist.
Liberals need to know how freedom of the press works – it’s a gift you have to give to your opponents, if you want it for yourself.