To a growing number of newspaper and magazine pundits, the Joseph Boyden controversy is about political correctness run amok, a public “lynching,” outrage culture, a racial witch-hunt and petty literary jealousy from bitter Indigenous writers.
The rhetoric and name-calling seems to have obscured the question that must surely lie at the core of the matter: has Joseph Boyden misrepresented himself, or hasn’t he?
To answer that, let’s look at the various affiliations he has reportedly claimed over the years:
“To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never referred to myself as Mi’kmaq but in some interviews in the past I assume my Nipmuc heritage was misheard as Mi’kmaq.”
On its face this seems believable. Mi’kmaq is arguably a better known Nation than Nipmuc, so perhaps Boyden was simply misquoted, an honest mistake made not by him but by uninformed journalists.
Meanwhile, according to APTN investigative journalist Jorge Barrera, there is no record of Boyden calling himself “Nipmuc” until 2014.
What this means is that in order to believe Boyden, you must believe that until 2014, every journalist who called him Mi’kmaq was either mishearing him in the exact same way or copying and pasting from someone else who did. It also means that Boyden never took the time to correct any of these misquotes, which put false words in his own mouth about his own heritage.
This seems very unlikely — but perhaps not impossible. Then Peggy Blair dug up this Boyden quote, from a 2005 interview with New Orleans newspaper The Times-Picayune:
“[I’m] Mi’kmaq on my father’s side. They’re an east coast tribe in Canada,”
This is where Boyden’s explanation falls apart. The Nipmuc Nation is not Canadian, they are from parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The Mi’kmaq are an east coast tribe from Canada, just as Boyden said.
This seems to prove that despite what Boyden recalls “to the best of [his] knowledge,” he did publicly claim he has Mi’kmaq ancestry, which (as he now concedes) he does not.
Here’s how Boyden explains why he has repeatedly called himself “Métis”:
“I’ve used the term Métis in the past when referring to myself as a mixed blood person. I do not trace my roots to Red River, and I apologize to any Red River Métis I’ve upset.”
This too seems credible at first glance. “Métis” is often used to describe anyone of mixed Indigenous and European heritage. But that catch-all use of the term tends to piss off members of the Métis Nation, one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
By apologizing to the Métis Nation, Boyden is pleading guilty to a misdemeanour. Many people don’t know that “Métis” is such a specific and contentious term. But Boyden is not one of those people.
In fact, he’s literally an expert on Métis history. He wrote a book about it.
So it’s simply not credible that Boyden called himself “Métis” without knowing that he was claiming a connection to a Nation he has no link to.
“Wasauksing First Nation”
After APTN’s exposé, another claim made by Boyden surfaced. Muskrat Magazine editor Rebeka Tabobondung wrote about meeting Boyden at a writers’ conference and asking him what his home nation was.
“Wasauksing First Nation,” he replied.
But Tabobondung is from Wasauksing First Nation, and was in a position to easily check this claim.
“I later asked a respected community geneologist what his connection was,” Tabobondung wrote, “and she said she didn’t know.”
Boyden has yet to clarify whether he in fact claimed to be of Wasausking First Nation, and if so what he bases that claim on.
Boyden has called himself “a bit of a two-spirit person.” In an interview with Nuvo magazine, he explained the term:
“I think I’m a bit of a two-spirit person. Home for me has to be both places—it has to be New Orleans, it [also] has to be Ontario. I would be very incomplete without either of those. It might be a little schizophrenic, but it works for me.”
But this is not what “two-spirit” means, as Boyden surely knows. The term applies to gender identity — people who are neither strictly male or female.
Calling himself “two-spirit” seems to be not so much a case of Boyden misrepresenting himself as much as it is a case of him casually appropriating an Indigenous term and bending it to his own purposes and brand.
A group of high-ranking former producers and executives at CBC, calling themselves Public Broadcasting in Canada for the 21st Century, have submitted a proposal to the Heritage Ministry, calling for an ad-free CBC.
The signees include Bernie Lucht, the former Executive Producer of the CBC Radio show Ideas, and Jeffrey Dvorkin, former Managing Editor and Chief Journalist for CBC Radio, and former ombudsman of NPR Radio. Dvorkin currently runs the University of Toronto’s Journalism department. They write:
It has become obvious to many that requiring our public broadcaster to apply the practices of the private sector to its civic and cultural mission has not resulted in the creation of a large body of distinctive, informative and inspiring social and cultural capital for Canadians. While French services and English Radio have fared better, it has turned CBC English television into what its own executives have described as a “publicly subsidized commercial network.”
…we recommend that all the services provided by the CBC/Radio-Canada must be non-commercial, including its online operations.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May retweeted (but did not endorse) CANADALAND publisher Jesse Brown’s message in support of an #AdFreeCBC.
And Conservative Party leadership hopeful Maxime Bernier laid out his vision for the CBC on Wednesday. Bernier wants to severely limit the CBC’s mandate, but also want the broadcaster to replace its revenue from ads through donations from the public, in a way similar to PBS and NPR in the U.S.:
All private media outlets have had to make deep cuts and to lay off journalists by the hundreds in the past few years. Yet, after getting a head start with more than a billion dollars in taxpayers’ money, CBC/Radio-Canada unfairly competes with struggling private media in a shrinking advertisement market.
To replace its revenues from advertisement, which amounted to about $250 million last year, the CBC/Radio-Canada will have to switch to the PBS/NPR model in the US and rely on sponsorships from corporations and foundations, as well as voluntary donations from its viewers and listeners. Of course, changes to the structure of CBC/Radio-Canada will also require changes to the Broadcasting Act.
Michael Geist is a University of Ottawa law professor with an expertise in the digital space. His argument for an ad-free CBC is based on the idea a publicly funded news outlet should be competing for ad dollars on top of eyeballs.
While the CBC should be responding to its audience with a strong digital news service, it does not follow that it should also compete for digital advertising dollars. As noted in the CBC letter, its total digital advertising revenues are relatively small (and they are even smaller — roughly $6 million — for the online news service) so the foregone earnings will not have a material impact on the CBC. However, there is a market effect of having the CBC compete for ad dollars that affects news organizations of all sizes. This includes large players like the Globe as well as smaller, independent media for whom a loss of thousands in advertising can be significant. An ad-free online service would better justify the public investment in the public broadcaster, make for an enhanced user experience, and remove the concern that the CBC is harming private sector alternatives by competing for advertising dollars.
The full text of the Public Broadcasting in Canada for the 21st Century submission can be found here:
PBC21 Submission PDF
Last week, The Georgia Straight fired Colin Thomas, a theatre critic with a 30-year career. He explained what happened to him in a blog post, which he allowed CANADALAND to republish:
I just got fired from The Georgia Straight. Thirty years. No warning. No compensation.
Last Tuesday, I emailed arts editor Janet Smith telling her what shows I thought I should review. Instead of the usual confirmation from Janet, I received an email from editor Charlie Smith saying that he and Janet would like to meet with me to discuss “some things that are happening here [at the paper].”
“Jesus,” I thought. “I’m getting the boot.”
As we sat at a table outside the Be Fresh market and café on West 1st Avenue, Janet and Charlie took pains to explain that letting me go was not their decision. The pressure came from unnamed “higher ups.” They had fought the decision to release me, they said, but lost. Charlie was particularly kind about saying how much he appreciates my work as a critic. He also told me that I could be public about anything that was said in that meeting.
“Was there a problem?” I asked. They said the reason I was being let go wasn’t clear to them, but there may have been a confluence of factors.
Charlie pointed out that the paper is experiencing financial challenges and that it was probably easier to get rid of me than a staff person.
Janet said that there’s a lot of pressure on editorial to find fresh ways to do things.
Janet also said that “there have been complaints from some companies.” “What complaints?” I asked. “You know: that you never like anything,” she answered with a laugh. I replied that it’s very hard to do good theatre and that I figure, if one show in three is worth recommending, that’s a good average. Then she added that some unnamed complainants feel that I am sometimes too hard on younger artists. (There is nothing I enjoy more than championing younger artists.) She gave an example. It was one of the worst shows of the year.
Janet said she thought that the door was only closed on reviewing, that I might still be able to write previews or other articles. Charlie said that he would gladly give me a recommendation or connect me with potential employers. I asked if I could have a couple of months before being laid off so that I could have some time to adjust to the loss of income. In the meeting, Charlie said he’d ask. Two days later, in response to an email inquiry, he wrote: “As Janet indicated, the company is not going to purchase reviews.” He confirmed that I would still be welcome to pitch previews and other articles. Writing previews for the Straight has become an increasingly minor part of my job there and is no longer significant in terms of income.
But I’m not going away. I love the theatre and I love writing about it. I’ll be launching a new initiative. Watch for it. Until then, I will continue to post reviews on this blog.
See you at the theatre.
I have received a message from Charlie Smith. He remembers one part of the conversation differently than I do. Here’s what Charlie had to say: “Hi Colin, I believe I was the one who said you were sometimes harsh on younger artists. I know for a fact that I cited the play that you didn’t like. If you can adjust your post to reflect that I said this rather than Janet, I would appreciate it.”
AND FURTHERMORE: If you’d like to stay abreast of what’s happening with the new project, feel free to befriend me on Facebook. Lots of smart people started to do that before it crossed my mind that that might be a good idea.
The Liberal government has contracted a think tank called the Public Policy Group to research the possibility of providing subsidies or other considerations to the collapsing news industry.
CANADALAND accepted an invitation to participate in the research project by attending a roundtable discussion between media owners. We were also asked to provide a written statement articulating our position on the proposals discussed. Here’s what we sent them:
Dear Public Policy Forum,
At the request of Taylor Owen, the following is a statement of our position on the possibility of public policy intervention in the Canadian news industry.
I am the publisher of CANADALAND, a small digital news organization that specializes in podcasts. Podcasts drive our revenue. We sell advertising on our podcasts, and we direct listeners to our crowdfunding page largely through our podcasts.
We produce the most popular Canadian podcasts for Canadian listeners. Our shows are focused exclusively on Canadian topics, with an emphasis on media, policy, culture, and public life. We do original and investigative reporting and have broken many national news stories in the few years we’ve been around.
Increasingly, we have competition: the Globe and Mail just launched a podcast. The CBC has many and sells ads to the same companies we do. Maclean’s, The Toronto Star, The National Post, The Walrus: all of them have dabbled in podcasts or are currently publishing competing podcasts.
We welcome the competition. Canadian advertisers are still largely in the dark about the medium and there are plenty of listeners to go around. New entrants could evolve the medium and help establish podcasts as an industry in Canada, as it is now in the US and abroad. Many legacy media podcasts, most notably the CBC’s, pre-date our launch, and we rose above them by virtue of our content. On an even playing field, we are winning.
What we do not welcome is government subsidies for our competitors. Too often in Canada, tax breaks, funding and other programs intended to help small startups and innovators like ourselves get hijacked by legacy players. It’s a trivial matter for a newspaper to launch a digital lab or project for the sole purpose of tapping these funds, leveraging their brand and status to take the lion’s share of the subsidies. At this point, with their efforts underwritten by the government, our competitors could conceivably undercut us on advertising rates and push our revenues down to the point where we would no longer be profitable. We run our organization on a budget lower than the annual salary of one top Postmedia or CBC executive. As sustainable as we are, we are also vulnerable to market interference.
In short, we are asking that no subsidies or considerations of any kind be made available to Canada’s legacy news organizations.
We support the removal of obstacles preventing philanthropic organizations from practicing journalism.
We support a review of the CBC’s mandate and support a prohibition of advertising on CBC’s podcasts and other digital content.
We take no position on the creation of subsidies directed exclusively to benefit legitimately independent small digital media companies.
I will point out that we do not ask for or expect subsidies for CANADALAND.
Last week, the Financial Post published revelations about the Toronto Star’s newsroom and the suicide of Raveena Aulakh, one of its reporters.
Aulakh took her own life earlier this summer and since then questions about the Star have been circling, despite the paper’s internal investigation, which concluded that “the company provided all reasonable support and assistance to Raveena.”
Sean Craig’s lengthy article tells a different story. Over the course of his investigation, Craig (formerly of CANADALAND) spoke to over a dozen sources and reviewed emails Raveena Aulakh sent before her death.
Up until now, we knew Raveena Aulakh had been in a relationship with her then colleague Jon Filson, a senior Star editor in charge of the Star Touch project. The relationship broke down and Filson was also in a relationship with Toronto Star managing editor Jane Davenport. In the wake of Aulakh’s death, Filson and Davenport ceased working in the Star newsroom. Filson was seemingly terminated, while Davenport is still employed by the Star, who have not clarified in what capacity.
Unifor, the Star’s union, called for an external investigation of the Star’s working environment. At first, the Star resisted, having conducted their own internal investigation, but eventually agreed. The Star then once again put the external investigation on hold because it couldn’t agree on the parameters with the union.
Craig’s piece explored lingering questions about the Star’s newsroom, and what he found was quite shocking. Here are the main points:
Jon Filson had a reputation for bullying and “preying” on female colleagues
Two former interns at the Star have said they felt bullied by Filson. One described having a sexual relationship with him while he had direct oversight over her work, while Filson was married. Twenty-two at the time, the intern said she felt “bullied and trapped” by him and left the paper after both the relationship ended and the contract with the Star expired.
The second intern said the culture at the Star “was the most toxic newsroom I’ve ever worked in and eventually led to my decision to leave journalism altogether.” She said Filson bullied her, and his behaviour extended beyond interns.
Neither of the women reported Filson to management, but the second woman said she was discouraged from telling the union.
A student newspaper discouraged students from interning for Filson
By 2008, Ryerson University’s paper, the Eyeopener, heard accounts of Filson’s behaviour. General manager Liane McLarty said young women were warned against interning at the Star because of several incidents involving Filson. This, it seems, is more preventative action than the Star ever took.
Raveena Aulakh wanted to complain about Filson to senior management but her boss was unwilling
Days before her death, Aulakh wrote this her direct superior Lynn McAuley “I’m happy/grateful to go with you if I ever have to talk to [Toronto Star manager of labour relations] David Callum. Whatever you think and say, I will do that.”
It seems this was not the first time the issue came up with McAuley. A few weeks earlier, Aulakh wrote this about McAuley: “She said she likes Jane (Davenport) a lot and won’t say anything unless Jon (Filson) makes life miserable for people and Jane still protects him”.
She was also discouraged from reporting her concerns to her union
From the Post’s piece: “On May 13, Aulakh wrote that McAuley told her ‘not to say anything to the union’ about the relationships between her and Filson and Filson and Davenport.”
But McAuley knew from others that Filson was a problem
Lynn McAuley wrote this about Jon Filson: “I’m alarmed he has this pattern… Completely unrelated to your relationship with him and his preying on interns … three managers today asked me in private how he can be stopped.”
The Post said McAuley tried to provide Aulakh with support, “checking in on her regularly during her free time when the reporter was on sick leave.” Outside of formal channels, it seems McAuley did everything she could to support Raveena Aulakh. But she chose not to pull any of the levers available within the company, which raises questions about how effective these protocols are and why she chose not to pursue them.
Before her death, Aulakh reached out to people in the newsroom which she perceived as an unhealthy environment. “I used to love that newsroom, it was my refuge. Now I’m scared of coming in — I feel emotionally unsafe.”
TorStar Chairman John Honderich allegedly declined emails from a source that would implicate the Star
John Honderich is the most senior figure at the Toronto Star. A former Star employee told the Post that she emailed Honderich to offer help with the Star’s internal investigation. According to her, Honderich turned her documents away, saying that the investigation was only looking at the impact of the relationships on the work that the people involved produced. But (as she would later read in the press) the Star’s investigation was actually intended to also look at how Aulakh was supported by her colleagues, which the emails directly addressed. Honderich did not deny this allegation.
Management likely knew about Filson’s behaviour before Raveena Aulakh’s death
Aulakh sent several emails to newsroom staff, including management, about what was happening. Filson had a pattern of alleged bullying that many senior staff were aware of. The Eyeopener’s general manager said complaints regarding Filson went eight years back. Still, Filson kept getting promoted into senior positions, from features editor to, eventually, a leadership role in Star Touch.
Raveena Aulakh expressed despair over the loss of a safe workplace
Many have assumed that this tragedy was primarily about interpersonal relationships gone sour. Toronto Star Public Editor Kathy English referred to Aulakh as a “clearly heartbroken reporter.” But emails from Aulakh herself reveal that her despair had much to do with a different kind of loss. “I used to love that newsroom,” she wrote of the Star. “It was my refuge. Now I’m scared of coming in – I feel emotionally unsafe.”
Read the full Financial Post story here.
We are officially launching The Imposter, an arts & culture podcast hosted by Aliya Pabani, on July 13. Subscribe to The Imposter on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Episode 0 is online now.
For those in Toronto, we’re going to be celebrating with a live podcast performance at Gladstone Hotel on August 3. Tickets here.
This one-time event will include live music, feature interviews, comedy, storytelling, and other goodies.
This event is sponsored by FreshBooks.
Look forward to comedic storytelling by Jackie Pirico, member of the acclaimed Laugh Sabbath collective, live music from cosmic soul sisters bizZarh, and an audio documentary performance by Geoff Siskind about the 1980s period of “tax shelter cinema” that created such films as Porky’s, Prom Night, and Meatballs.
More guests TBA!
For more info, email Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Yuula Benivolski.
Last week the CBC put its widely derided comedy portal Punchline out of its misery and rebranded it as CBC Comedy. They were very excited about this.
Our beloved Punchline is all grown up! We’re so pumped to unveil our sleeker, sexier site, now called CBC Comedy! https://t.co/U3s16bhyCF
— CBC Comedy (@CBCComedy) June 23, 2016
Readers were quick to note that the site is still not funny.
@CBCComedy if only yall put as much effort into having funny content as you do with your sexy site
— Brandon Trainor (@BTrainLD) June 24, 2016
A pack of jackals from the National Post took particular pleasure in making fun of the site.
It still appears to be bad. https://t.co/MNr5amr5Ak
— Jen Gerson (@jengerson) June 24, 2016
The new CBC Comedy: where unfunny Something Awful forum content from 1997 is reposted 19 years later. pic.twitter.com/5aamY3pcAQ
— Sean D. B. Craig (@sdbcraig) June 24, 2016
“No, seriously. It’s comedy. It’s right there in the name.” https://t.co/nu9lJFuAHt
— Chris Selley (@cselley) June 24, 2016
This seems to have hurt the feelings of the CBC Comedy team.
The site’s editor sent private messages to her critics, letting them know it’s not nice to make fun.
And that’s how we work things out in Canada.
CANADALAND has obtained a memo outlining the departure of Jane Davenport, the Toronto Star’s managing editor, from the newsroom. Here is the full memo sent to the editorial department:
From: “Cooke, Michael”
Date: Monday, June 6, 2016 at 2:16 PM
Cc: “Holland, David”, “Honderich, John”, “Bower, Alan”
At her request, Jane Davenport, our Managing Editor, will move to a new role outside the newsroom and within Torstar, effective immediately.
Our newsroom’s loss is somewhat softened by Torstar ‘s gain as Jane will no doubt make a considerable contribution in her new job.
During Jane’s tenure as Managing Editor she has helped energize our journalism and she has been in a relentless pursuit of the Star’s trifecta of major story-types : investigations, exclusives, and actions.
On a personal note, I shall miss being alongside her intelligence, enthusiasm, energy and her extraordinary work ethic.
I hope to be able to make an announcement later this week regarding Jane’s successor.