The Decade in Review: Stories that Caught our Attention in the 2010s + Pull Quotes: Season 3, Episode 6
The last decade has seen Canada’s image change drastically, both internally and internationally. Long gone are the days of drolly referring to the Great White North as America’s Hat. There have been major strides in the worlds of music and sports in Canada. But during this period of major accomplishments, a series of groundbreaking stories have also exposed significant issues: the widening wealth inequality between the rich and working class, environmental disasters, and the continuing subjugation of Indigenous peoples.
2020 is right around the corner, but before we see what’s in store for us, let’s take a look back at the stories that caught our attention over the last decade. The following list is a nod to the last ten years of remarkable reporting on matters of public interest.
2010—Vancouver Olympic Controversy
Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics were mired in controversy from the outset—from the cover-up of dangers to athletes, to the rapid gentrification that went into preparing the city for a major international branding exercise. Before the Games began, the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) questioned the safety of a particular luge track. Emails obtained by the CBC outlined CEO John Furlong’s concern that the track was “too fast and someone could get badly hurt,” nearly a year ahead of the event. Fears became a reality during a training run on February 12, 2010, when Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was thrown from his luge, while speeding through the final curve. Kumaritashvili struck an unpadded steel pole and later died in hospital.
While Kumaritashvili’s death was the most visible tragedy of the games, it was not the only one. Before the opening ceremony even began, British Columbia residents felt the impact of development for the games. As construction mounted in Eagleridge Bluffs, B.C, protesters blockaded the Sea-to-Sky highway, decrying the environmental damage that would occur with its expansion. A court injunction forced protesters away but an Indigenous elder, Harriet Nahanee, remained, leading to her arrest and subsequent sentencing to two weeks in jail. Nahanee died shortly after her release. Protests continued as the Games approached. In October 2009 as the Olympic torch was relayed into Vancouver, torchbearers took an unexpected detour as hundreds of protestors disrupted the route.
2011—Keystone XL Protests
A familiar debate emerged following Keystone 1 pipeline, the first phase of the Keystone XL pipeline project, leak in October. Environmental activists and Indigenous groups argued that new pipelines would pose environmental risks, while TC Energy, the Calgary-based corporation that owns the pipeline, focused on cleanup, through PR and on the ground in North Dakota. TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, have been defending the 1,897-km pipeline since they took full ownership of it in 2009, but it was in late 2011 that the cross-border pipeline became a site for one of the decade’s most defining traits: climate protests. Co-opted by Indigenous activists, climate protests became increasingly frequent this decade.
In September 2011, CBC News reported that 117 protesters were arrested on Parliament Hill. South of the border, thousands of people showed up at the White House lawn. Now, protests are near-daily occurrences in climate action. September 2019 saw the launch of the Global Climate Strike, where over 6,000 demonstrations were staged around the world. For journalists covering climate change, the decision to attend isn’t so clear. In October, the Review published a piece addressing the challenges journalists face in remaining non-partisan when it comes to reporting on the climate crisis.
2012—Québec Student Strikes
Québécois students are no strangers to protesting. In 2012, students mobilized against tuition hikes in what is now known as the “Maple Spring.” Student unions demonstrated against tuition fee increases from February to September. When the Québécois legislature wanted to increase tuition by 75 percent, various student coalitions launched the largest student protest in Canadian history. The strike culminated in May 2012 with the introduction of Bill 78. The law, which prohibited protests on school property, was quickly decried by human rights groups and legal experts for limiting student’s free speech. Former Premier Jean Charest was ousted in favour of the Parti Québécois’s Pauline Marois, who promised to reverse the tuition hikes immediately in the same year as the protests.
The media response left much to be desired. Global News questioned whether the protests were worth it at all. The questionable legality of some of the student occupations led to distrust of reporters in Montreal. A reporter for Concordia University’s student paper said, in an interview with J-Source, “There was an anti-journalist sentiment generally.”
Perhaps some of the ire toward legacy outlets is earned: As the protests were ramping up in April, the Globe and Mail debated whether striking students were just “self-absorbed brats” while the National Post referred to the demonstrations as “nothing but a parody,” going on to imply that they were not as important as the concurrent uprising in Syria (the protests known as the Arab Spring). Speaking as a student and a journalist: I promise you, journalism powers that be, we can focus on two things at once.
2013—Rob Ford’s Crack Scandal
Part of Canada’s story this decade is about how we became internationally-recognized for more than hockey and perceived politeness. One man who broke the mold in more ways than one was Rob Ford. Toronto’s municipal affairs became international news when the Toronto Star investigations team broke the story that they had seen footage of then-mayor of Toronto Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. Outlets from The Wall Street Journal to the Guardian reported on the scandal. Gawker, the blog that attempted to buy the video before Toronto Police acquired it, notably began their story revealing the existence of Ford’s crack-smoking video by calling him a “wild lunatic given to making bizarre racist pronouncements.”
Ford became a particular target for American late night hosts like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Scandalous reports of public intoxication and day-drinking led to Ford’s tense responses to the media in regards to his substance abuse issues. Media fallout included wondering how having a mayor who used crack cocaine in Canada’s largest city would impact our international image. CTV News reported that Ford’s admission “clashes with the image many foreigners have of Canadians.” Closer to home, tensions between Ford and the media only grew. Daniel Dale served the former mayor with a defamation suit after Ford insinuated that he was a pedophile, saying “Dale is in my backyard taking pictures. I have little kids. He’s taking pictures of little kids. I don’t want to say that word but you start thinking what this guy is all about.” Dale dropped the lawsuit after Ford apologized and retracted his statement.
2014—Jian Ghomeshi’s Sexual Assault Trial
Highly publicized cases of alleged sexual assault dominated headlines this decade, such as film mogul Harvey Weinstein, comedian Bill Cosby, and U.S. president Donald Trump. Few hit closer to home than the ousting of Jian Ghomeshi, formerly the founding host of CBC’s q. A report, broken by Jesse Brown and Kevin Donovan, and published in the Star, detailed the allegations from three women. The court notes and testimonies served as a precursor for what would become a near-daily occurrence after Hollywood’s #MeToo revolution.
In 2018, Ian Buruma, an editor at the New York Review of Books, felt comfortable enough to give Ghomeshi a platform. The responding outcry led Buruma to step down from his position, showing that media is less tolerant of the enabling of abusers. Other grassroots organizations like femifesto are working to change how Canadian newsrooms report on sexual violence by creating tools and checklists to ensure non-traumatic interaction with sexual assault survivors.
2015—Desmond Cole’s “The Skin I’m In”
One line in Desmond Cole’s landmark piece for Toronto Life “The Skin I’m In: I’ve been interrogated by police more than 50 times–all because I’m black,” gives reason for his hyper-awareness and anxiety around guns and badges. “It has become a matter of survival in a city where, despite all the talk of harmonious multiculturalism, I continue to stand out.” Canada has always had a shaky relationship with race. Hushed tones around Japanese-Canadian internment and the horrific legacy of residential schools for Indigenous children have allowed Canada to earn the title of most reputable country in 2017. However Cole gave voice to the experience of Black people in GTA, which was rarely acknowledged in mainstream media.
The cover story provided a distinctly Canadian perspective of the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement. The piece came not a moment too soon, as less than 3 months later Andrew Loku would die at the hands of Toronto Police. This galvanized a 15-day occupation, organized by Black Lives Matter Toronto, in front of Toronto Police Services headquarters. The Toronto Life piece expanded into the CBC documentary “The Skin We’re In” in 2017 and represented a distinctly Canadian model of the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement.
In his reporting for the Toronto Star, Cole attracted the ire of Star editors, who were concerned he was conflating his journalism with activism. In 2017, Cole gave up his column at the Star, saying: “If I must choose between a newspaper column and the actions I must take to liberate myself and my community, I choose activism in the service of Black liberation.” Today, Desmond is still reporting on police-involved injustices through his blog and is currently working on his forthcoming book.
Remember when the global wealthy elite were caught hoarding their masses in offshore bank accounts? Celebrities, sports stars, and business leaders across all industries were implicated in an international leak of insider information. The investigation was a joint project between the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and over 100 media outlets worldwide. The CBC and the Star represented Canada in this operation, revealing more than 214,000 shell companies in 21 jurisdictions including the British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong, and Panama.
Major international collaborations like these used to be rare, but as independent newsrooms have increasingly limited funding, international collaboration is increasingly imperative in breaking big stories like this. 350 Canadians were among the individuals named in the report, according to the Star, leading to tax losses between $6 billion and $7.8 billion per year. As of December 2018, no charges have resulted from the Panama Papers leak in Canada, but there has been increased attention to tax evasion in Canada. Canada’s Revenue Agency revealed that audits following the leak should recoup up to $11 million, according to the ICIJ. While tax avoidance is legal according to Canadian law, the secrecy behind stocking up cash in offshore accounts lends itself to laundering and terrorist financing. Advocacy groups like Canadians for Tax Fairness campaign for the closing of tax loopholes.
2017— Robyn Doolittle’s “Unfounded”
Robyn Doolittle had already earned some notoriety for her reportage of Rob Ford’s crack scandal, but her first major project as a Globe and Mail reporter found her grappling with a new set of parameters. A 20-month investigation resulted in “Unfounded,” a 2017 analysis of police data that revealed 1-in-5 sexual assault reports to be dismissed as baseless. The reception of women’s self-advocacy became an increasingly important topic this year, as seemingly in tandem with Doolittle’s reporting, another landslide was happening in Hollywood. Months after the Unfounded series launched, the New Yorker began reporting on the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. From there, leagues of survivors came forth, speaking out against celebrities and the prevalence of sexual assault in Hollywood. Today, both investigations have left lasting impressions on the world of media. Similarly, pressure created in response to Doolittle’s reporting led law enforcement agencies to review cases of sexual assault. As of December 2017, 37,272 cases were or would be re-reviewed across at least 100 police services.
Of the confirmed eight of Bruce McArthur’s victims, three were immigrants: Selim Esen, Abdulbasir Faizi and Majeed Kayhan; two were refugees: Soroush Mahmudi and Skandaraj Navaratnam; and one was asylum-seeker Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam. All of them were active community members in Toronto’s LGBTQ+ circles. In Canada, coverage of the LGBTQ+community has historically been sensationalized.
The trailer for CBC’s Uncover: The Village features old news excerpts, of voices saying “the people are sick, they need treatment.” One voice calls for the shooting or hanging of “a few of these people.” Furthermore, Toronto has a history of anti-LGBTQ+ behaviour, through its law enforcement and its dissemination in the media.
Consider the bathhouse raids, in which patrons were outed, mocked, and humiliated by police. Consider the editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun, Peter Worthington, threatening to publish the names of people found in the raids. Nearly 40 years later, it’s unclear whether outlets have absorbed the lessons learned about reporting on the LGBTQ+ community. Anthony Oliviera, writing for Hazlitt about McArthur’s victim says, “they will probably give him a name. The Mall Santa thing, probably, or something about the gardening.” It seems that for the most part, outlets have learned their lesson: only Vanity Fair referred to him as the “landscape killer” in a headline.
2019—Canada continues to fail Indigenous peoples
The history of residential schooling in Canada is a grim reminder of our nation’s colonial roots. When the first residential school opened in 1831, the government ripped Indigenous children away from their families and cultures and forced them to live in and attend schools where they were taught English and Christianity. The goal was to assimilate the children into settler European society. Testimonies within the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) detail the cultural abuse faced by young children—forced to cut their hair, havee their cultural clothing confiscated, and hide their emotions. According to the report, Nick Sibbeston recalls the residential schools being a place where “you quickly learn that you should not cry. If you cry you’re teased, you’re shamed out, you’re even punished.” Victoria McIntosh says she learned not to trust anyone from a Manitoba school. “You learn not to cry anymore. You just get harder. And yeah, you learn to shut down.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was intended to inform Canadians of the true impact of residential schooling. When the final report was released in 2015, 94 calls to action were recommended for remedying the legacy of residential schooling and promoting reconciliation between Indigenous and settler communities in Canada. This includes recommendations for the federal government to increase funding for the CBC, and for the national broadcaster to increase Aboriginal-language speaking in their programming. Addressing journalism education, the report calls for journalism programs and media schools to require the teaching of the history of Aboriginal people, and the legacy of residential schools. In an address from Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “I give you my word that we will renew and respect that relationship.”
It’s hard to accept messages like this at face value, especially when four years later, only 10 recommendations have been completed. The progress of implementation of the TRC report is being tracked by CBC’s Beyond 94 and still, even symbolic gestures toward reconciliation are hotly contested, debated, and flat-out denied. In March 2018, Pope Francis refused to meet one of the reconciliatory efforts: to come to Canada and apologize to residential school survivors. According to a letter published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops the pope “felt that he could not personally respond,” but did not rule out the potential of a future visit.
Challenging the failings of political leaders like the Pope and Trudeau, the function that journalism is meant to perform, presents an entirely new failure in and of itself. After the release of the final report in the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Canadian outlets glossed over more than 2000 testimonials making up the report, instead choosing to focus on, and deny, one word: genocide. Rather than acknowledge the calls for justice, a Globe and Mail editorial smugly decided “the charge of a continuing genocide in Canada is absurd.” The Star etched a similar editorial, preciously debating the charge of genocide, rather than the fact that Indigenous women are six times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women. That a cultural conversation about race, especially as it pertains to Indigenous women, is reduced to debates of wordplay in several of Canada’s largest newspapers reveals a stark divide between the communities who inhabit Canada and the gatekeepers who report on it.
A recent report written by Sonya Fatah and Aasma Malik in the Conversation, revealed that the whiteness that makes up the newsrooms of Canadian legacy outlets does not accurately reflect the diversity of Canada’s national statistics. Most newsrooms refuse to self-report on their own staffing. Soraya Roberts, a Canadian columnist at the American outlet, Longreads, critiques the issue, writing that our media has a hard time “not overrepresenting whiteness to the point of implying its supremacy.” Roberts isn’t the only columnist who’s opted for writing at American outlets on account of lack of diversity in Canadian media. Toronto-based film writer Lydia Ogwang tweets, “THIS is why all those women (both POC + white) have been telling me to write for US pubs for years + moving to NYC in droves.” In September, writer Shailee Koranne questioned how racialized Canadians can trust the media to report on racism “if Canadian media has so frequently shown itself unable, and unwilling, to represent racialized Canadians.”
Reviewing of some defining events of the last decade brings to mind a tenet that all of Canadian media outlets should remember going into 2020 and beyond: Canada is an amalgamation of hundreds of vast political, racial, and social identities that are being misrepresented in our media. In order to retain local talent, and properly report on communities in Canada, our media must: grow, adapt, and diversify, at every level of newsroom-decision making, or risk losing it all.
Pull Quotes podcast hosts Ashley Fraser and Tanja Saric speak with Daniel McIntosh to discuss the impact of these influential stories on the Canadian journalism landscape.
Episode six of Pull Quotes was edited and produced by Tanja Saric and Ashley Fraser. Pull Quotes’ executive producer is Sonya Fatah.