Heather Boyd, the retired journalist hand-picked by Rachel Notley to give her advice about media censorship, has issued her report. It’s a 122-page hodgepodge, more than 100 pages of which are Boyd simply cutting and pasting the bylaws of press galleries from other provinces. Boyd was paid $10,000 for eighteen pages of writing.
But not even Boyd could bring herself to approve of Notley’s tactics of banning The Rebel from government property, as she did several weeks ago.
Notley had sent an armed sheriff to kick out The Rebel’s Alberta bureau chief, Sheila Gunn Reid, and followed up with a shocking letter on Department of Justice stationery, banning anyone even “connected” to The Rebel.
That disgraceful attack on freedom of the press earned Notley national scorn, and she backed down out of embarrassment.
But Boyd came up with two suggestions that Notley can use to ban The Rebel indirectly:
By setting up a cartel of existing journalists who can keep out new competitors like The Rebel; and an audacious scheme to funnel government funding to this cartel, to do Notley's “vetting” for her.
Both schemes are unconstitutional.
Notley cannot directly ban journalists she doesn’t like; and she cannot ban us indirectly, either.
Here are the two suggestions made by Boyd:
2. While wide-open access to legislative bodies may be ideal in a democracy, security concerns and the need to main (sic) a semblance of order make that impractical. The Alberta Government would be wise to follow the lead of other Canadian jurisdictions and let journalists decide questions of accreditation. This protects government from the perception of bias. This is not a perfect solution, and several journalists have made it clear they do not believe they should be subject in any way to control by their peers, but it appears to be the best compromise.
This is a red herring. Sheila Gunn Reid, the Rebel reporter banned by Notley, has never been a security threat or disorderly.
And even if she had been, it is a non-sequitur to then call for a cartel of journalists to decide upon “accreditation”. What does one have to do with the other?
(If Notley is interested in banning people with criminal records from press scrums, she might start with her director of communications, Cheryl Oates — a convicted criminal.)
Here’s Boyd’s other scheme:
4. The Alberta Legislature Press Gallery says it lacks the resources to assume responsibility for day-to-day accreditation. Give serious consideration to setting up a mechanism akin to the Secretariat in Ottawa, where staff funded by the House of Commons assist the press gallery with accreditation of daily events. Funding could be made available via Alberta’s legislative assembly through the Speaker’s office – not through the government itself. Such a system could involve vetting of qualifications, security checks, and enforcement of rules and codes of conduct.
Boyd bizarrely characterizes funnelling government funding through the Legislative Assembly, to hire staff with taxpayer money, to vet journalists, as somehow not being the same as if “the government itself” did it. That is absurd, and shows the real goal of Boyd’s report — to attempt to give a fig leaf to let Notley ban media she doesn’t like, but using an arm’s length proxy to do it.
The Rebel was willing to go to court to fight against Notley banning our journalists. We’ll surely go to court to fight against any of our competitors who take government money to do Notley’s dirty work for her.
One last point. In a 122-page report, Boyd had plenty of room for gossip and anecdotes, but only a few sentences about “legal considerations”:
Canadian courts have not provided a great deal of direction to help define the word “journalist,” although they acknowledge that the media landscape is changing. It used to be a relatively simple matter to determine if a media outlet had been in contempt of court. Now information from a case can pop up online in many forms on numerous platforms.
The Supreme Court itself has written that recent defamation cases involve blogs and other online media, “which are potentially both more ephemeral and more ubiquitous than traditional print media.”
What does that even mean? It doesn’t even make sense; it doesn’t even cite the Supreme Court case in question.
The Supreme Court case in question was decided in 2009; you can read it here. It ruled that there are no special free speech rights for journalists — those rights apply to all citizens, even amateur citizen-journalists. Here’s the court:
"...traditional media are rapidly being complemented by new ways of communicating on matters of public interest, many of them online, which do not involve journalists. These new disseminators of news and information should, absent good reasons for exclusion, be subject to the same laws as established media outlets."
The Rebel, of course, is a legitimate news company — with fifteen full-time staff, including Sheila Gunn Reid, a full-time reporter and national, best-selling author.
But even amateur, citizen journalists are still journalists in the eyes of the Supreme Court. Not in the eyes of Heather Boyd though — or Rachel Notley.
The Rebel will continue to do what made Notley ban us in the first place — providing Albertans with news, opinion and activism that they can’t find anywhere else.
If anyone tries to stop us — whether it’s Notley, or other journalists willing to run errands for Notley, we will defy them, even if that means taking them all the way to the Supreme Court.