My assignment to cover the Liberal party’s national re-election campaign has hit a bit of a snag: I’ve been declared persona non grata by Canada’s governing party.
This became apparent Wednesday evening when two Thunder Bay police officers ordered me to leave a public rally Justin Trudeau was holding at Lakehead University. I had submitted an RSVP for the event – and even got an admission wristband after a volunteer verified my name was on the list.
But after waiting in line to get in for over an hour, something odd happened. A Liberal organizer snapped a photo of me – his attempt at discretion left much to be desired – and showed it to the police officers standing near the event room door.
A few moments later, just as I was about to enter the room, the officers greeted me by name, took me aside, and said I was “not welcome.” They didn’t know the reason, but said as it was the Liberals’ event, they had to execute their order to remove me.
My requests for the name of an organizer and the opportunity to speak to someone directly were futile. I was kicked out.
After I complied without issue, one of the officers thanked me for being understanding. I wasn’t trying to be, but contrary to what the Liberals seem to think, I’m not looking for a fight. I’m looking to report.
I asked a Liberal spokesperson whether this directive came from a rogue local organizer or from the party itself. I never heard back.
I only went through the process of attending this public rally – which was advertised and promoted on the Liberal Party of Canada’s website with the opportunity for anyone to register – because for the past three days I had been denied entry to Trudeau’s media-only press conferences on his national tour, which I’m covering for True North, a media outlet published by a charity with a journalism and education mandate, the True North Centre for Public Policy.
It started Sunday at a press conference in Brampton, Ont. I was told when I arrived from London that I couldn’t attend – let alone ask a question – because I wasn’t “accredited.” There’s no master accreditation or license for journalists. Though not for nothing, I’ve been accredited at various times by the Government of Canada, the United Kingdom government, courts in Ontario and the UK, and by the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States.
The incident at Trudeau’s Brampton press conference was the first time I’d ever been told I wasn’t accredited, actually.
Politicians have historically understood it’s dangerous to pick and choose which media has the right to cover them.
Regardless, I followed the campaign to Hamilton, where Trudeau did a photo op with supporters, to Stoney Creek, where he dropped into a business with a local candidate seeking re-election. I then went out to Burnaby, British Columbia, where Trudeau made an announcement at a local business. I tried my hand again at attending this announcement, but was once again denied entry.
Two women ahead of me from the British Columbia Institute of Technology were accredited on the spot when one showed the Liberal staffer, on her smartphone, an article she had written.
I offered to show any of my work going back seven years – episodes from my radio show or my work in Loonie Politics, the National Post, the Washington Post and Global News, for example. But alas, it didn’t work for me.
Since joining up – albeit unofficially – with the Liberal campaign, I’ve seen Trudeau more times than I can count, and have even shaken his hand twice. I’ve had ample opportunity to disrupt or protest, but have not done so because that’s not why I’m here.
I’m here to cover the election.
After the Burnaby incident, I headed to a townhall hosted by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who was also in town that day. I was accredited on the spot, and Singh’s press secretary even let me ask a question – with a follow-up – when it came time for media questions.
My tweets throughout the event have been shared by NDP politicians and supporters because I gave an impartial and accurate account of what Singh was saying, with bits of my own analysis thrown in. Arguably I’m further removed, ideologically, from the NDP than from the Liberals, but the NDP didn’t fear that, and my work speaks for itself.
Whatever one might think of me, I’m a professional. No one, to my knowledge, has accused me of being otherwise.
Though this hasn’t prevented me from being relegated to sidewalks and parking lots by the Liberal campaign, which has left me no real choice but to cover my own exclusion, which reached parodic levels at the Thunder Bay rally.
That wasn’t about accreditation. It was personal.
Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.