Today, I attended a press conference by Canada’s Environment Minister, Steven Guilbeault. What happened there was yet another demonstration that, in Canada, freedom of the press is largely an illusion.
Before I explain why, watch what happened when I attempted to ask Guilbeault a question about Canada’s support for Israel, which is now widely acknowledged by Western and Israeli human rights experts to be an apartheid state:
Is Steven Guilbeault allergic to hard questions?
The purpose of today’s press conference was for the Canadian government and the Mayor of Montreal to make a housing-related announcement.
When I arrived at the venue, the press conference had just begun. The small room in which it was being held was jam-packed and standing-room only. I therefore waited for the press conference to end in the hallway outside the room where Guilbeault was speaking. My intention was to ask the Minister about Canada’s support for Israel after the press conference ended.
As I waited quietly in the hallway, an aide to Guilbeault approached me. She asked me if I was a journalist. I confirmed that I was. She then asked me to identify my media organization. I informed her that I was an independent, freelance journalist. She then said that I would have to leave the premises.
At that point, I pulled out my press card and showed it to her. I told her that I would be amazed if the Trudeau government’s policy was to exclude independent, freelance journalists from ministerial press conferences.
At that point, she walked away from me and allowed me to remain, but she whispered something into the ear of a tall, male colleague of hers who was standing nearby. Her colleague then approached and stood next to me, between me and the room in which Guilbeault was speaking.
After I waited for an hour for the press conference to conclude, Guilbeault finally emerged. As he did so, and before I began speaking to him, two of his aides raised their arms in front of me in an effort to prevent me from videotaping Guilbeault. They also prevented me from approaching him as he walked by me.
Within seconds of my asking my question, these two aides and a beefy, Montreal police officer in civilian clothing grabbed me and pushed me toward the building’s exit. They forced me out of the building in less than sixty seconds from the moment that I began to speak to Guilbeault.
Predictably, Guilbeault never attempted to answer my question. He generally acted as if I did not exist.
Press freedom? What press freedom?
So here’s a summary of what transpired today.
Before I was removed physically from the building, I made Guilbeault’s staff aware of the fact that I am a card-carrying member of the press. I then waited for the press conference to end. I never disrupted it. I did nothing to suggest that I was a threat to anyone. After the press conference ended, I put to Guilbeault a perfectly legitimate question about Canadian foreign policy. Not only did the Minister ignore my question, but his staff and a police officer physically blocked and then accosted me, without lawful justification. They forced me out of the building in less than one minute from the time that I opened my mouth.
I’ve had similar experiences on numerous occasions, including my recent attempt to ask Justin Trudeau about Israel’s mass murder of children in Gaza.
What these episodes plainly reveal is that Trudeau’s government denies access to those journalists who ask questions it does not want to be asked. Only those ‘journalists’ who obediently remain within a narrow, government-prescribed margin of permissible political discourse are allowed to question Trudeau’s ministers.
Sometimes, obedient ‘journalists’ are permitted to ask questions that are sceptical or critical of Trudeau’s government, but their questions must never stray too far from the official narrative, especially on highly sensitive issues like Israel’s genocide in occupied Palestine.
If members of the press dare to stray beyond the bounds of permissible discourse, they too will be denied access.
That, my friends, is not true freedom of the press.
It is, at best, the illusion of press freedom.