Canada’s National NewsMedia Council (NNC), a self-regulatory ethics body that deals with complaints against the Anglophone news media, issued a strong statement last week against the Toronto Sun for a column titled “’Irregular’ migrants continue to flock into Toronto” by Sue-Ann Levy.
The Oct. 3 piece referenced what she called the “reputable TripAdvisor website,” including a post which baselessly claimed that “goats were being slaughtered” in public bathrooms at a hotel that was housing asylum-seekers, the Radisson Hotel Toronto East.
That bogus information was from just one of the fake reviews that cropped up on the TripAdvisor platform as refugee claimants awaited permanent housing, according to Ishmael N. Daro, a journalist who covers online disinformation. Writing about Levy’s column in October, he confirmed with hotel management that claims about goats being slaughtered were “completely false statements.”
The same hotel was targeted by an apparent arson attack on Oct. 2, and Daro noted that the false claims were “shared widely on social media by far-right and anti-Muslim figures.”
The Sun later took steps that included removing the false claim and posting a correction, but the press council noted that it came after a lengthy delay. The NNC described the Sun’s decision to print this bogus information without any serious verification attempt as a “serious breach of journalistic standards for accuracy in reporting.”
The council stopped short of saying the column was racist or an incitement to violence against refugees (although in this writer’s opinion, the text was clearly an appeal to hateful stereotypes). The press council did, however, rebuke the paper for its use of the expression “illegal immigrant,” calling it “inflammatory in the context of a racially-charged topic.”
Refugee advocates have long argued that calling someone “illegal” reduces them to an alleged criminal offence. The UN Convention on Refugees notes that refugees who cross borders illegally shouldn’t be prosecuted for legitimate asylum claims. And the Associated Press Stylebook stopped sanctioning the term “illegal immigrant” five years ago, noting at the time that “illegal” should refer to actions, not people.
Daro noted that Levy’s column was spread around online by the likes of Faith Goldy, a figure described by the watchdog Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN) as “a prominent member of the alt-right movement who associates with neo-Nazis and promotes their ideology.”
Goldy was in the news the other day when a judge ordered her to pay more than $43,000 in legal fees to Bell Media. She had sued the telecom for refusing to air her campaign ads on local television – a solid decision – during this year’s Toronto mayoral campaign, and her lawsuit was thrown out in October.
Goldy has essentially called for ethnic cleansing – for example, she stated on Twitter that Canada should “return” to 96 per cent Euro-Canadian demographics. As noted by the CAHN, that kind of demographic shift would require “mass deportations and mass murder.” And yet, she managed to attain third place in the race for mayor with some 25,000 votes – a small fraction of the overall vote, but disturbing nonetheless.
The press council’s reproach of Sue-Ann Levy and the court order against Goldy should be seen as positive moves, but some will decry these measures as stifling robust free speech. I would argue that the defence of freedom requires every lawful means to oppose neo-fascists like Goldy – didn’t the Canadian Forces fight in the Second World War for exactly that reason? And writers who spread disinformation targeting vulnerable people like asylum seekers deserve all the public shaming they get.
Institutions that harbour these fanatics needs to clean house. Even here in Campbell River, an alt-right current is present on Facebook forums as outlets like Rebel Media – Canada’s answer to Breitbart – fuel resentment among people looking for easy answers. This is no time for complacency.