Image: Tom Fisk via Pexels.
In a recent post to the Inroads listserv, Harvey Schachter wrote about the effect of social media on U.S. and Canadian politics:
The Republican Party seems nutso. But it is reflecting the information so many of its people and no doubt leaders are getting on their social media feeds … Biden too old? They know it from their media feed, watching him stumble. Biden a crook? They know it from their media feed. Biden weaponizing the government against their hero Trump? … They are, to their mind, better informed than those sucked down the rabbit hole of the New York Times.1
Schachter cites Max Fisher: “Someone looking at a conservative post or video on social media is essentially two recommendations away – two steps – from extreme right-wing stuff. It’s an easy glide. Jordan Peterson is often a gateway.”2
That all seems sensible, but there are, I think, important omissions. I often find myself frustrated by skimpy or skewed coverage by my most frequently consulted news sources, and I search for alternatives. Take Israel/Palestine, for example. The Globe and Mail and the CBC are loath to criticize Israel. So, I look elsewhere. I consult Al Jazeera and, more often, Haaretz (English edition), a reputable Israeli news source. Haaretz is apparently unafraid of being called antisemitic and will reveal the Jewish state’s myriad failings.
But when researching Canadian stories, there are few creditable alternatives. Take the search for the bodies of Indigenous women in a Winnipeg landfill. Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran had been missing for more than seven months when police announced that they had been murdered and their remains were in the Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg. But police contended it wasn’t safe or feasible to do a search. An expert report said the bodies could likely be found and dangers could be mitigated, but at a cost of up to $184 million. The Manitoba government refused to search, citing not the cost but risk to the searchers.
Looking through theglobeandmail.com over several months, I found dozens of news reports and several opinion pieces. These headlines are typical:
Assembly of First Nations Demands Manitoba, Ottawa Work Together on Landfill Search
Search of Winnipeg Landfill Can Be Done With Reduced Risk, Say Forensic Experts
Daughters of Murdered Winnipeg Woman Call on Police to Recover Remains from Landfill
While Indigenous People Call for Justice, Winnipeg’s Police Take Aim at Graffiti3
Under the head “Reconciliation, and the Search for Two Victims in Manitoba,” the Globe editorial board weighed in: “The families want Prairie Green searched. Their call, and their pain, should be heeded.” The Globe wants the feds to split the tab, even though a few months earlier the editors had declared, “The government’s response to an increasingly sclerotic economy has been more intervention, more bureaucracy, more spending and more debt.” Still, even if the province had to pay the full amount, “a three-year bill for $184-million would be the equivalent of less than 1 per cent of provincial spending this year alone.”4 (More comparisons: $184 million equals 57.5 per cent of the entire Winnipeg Police budget for 2022, and 146 per cent of what the Manitoba government provided this year to address chronic homelessness.5)
The Washington Post covered the issue on October 1 and, in an article generally in favour of searching the landfill, actually provided more detail of the police point of view than any Canadian source I found. Winnipeg police forensics chief Cam MacKid explained why they were able to successfully complete an earlier landfill search for Rebecca Contois, also Indigenous:
The debris was loose, he said, not compacted. Only a few hours had passed between when Contois’s remains were dumped and when police became aware of it.
Waste at the Prairie Green landfill, in contrast, is covered with thousands of tons of wet heavy construction clay and compacted by heavy machinery , MacKid said. The presence of asbestos poses safety risks. The number of animal bones presents another challenge. Further complicating matters, police say they believe the remains of Harris and Myran had spent 34 days in the landfill before investigators realized it. During that time, some 10,000 truckloads of waste were dumped there.
“When it comes up that there might be human remains at a landfill, we approach that with the mind-set that we’re going to be searching,” MacKid told reporters. But after studying the site, he said, “we made the very difficult decision as a service that (it) wasn’t operationally feasible to conduct a search.”6
In late August, Saskatchewan adopted a new gender and pronoun policy for schools, joining New Brunswick which had announced in June “that students under 16 who are exploring their gender identity must have parental consent before teachers can use their preferred first names or pronouns at school.” That’s pretty clear. But according to one Globe and Mail story, protesters “said parents have the right to know whether their children are questioning their gender identity.”7 That’s quite different. Which is it?
As with the landfill search, there have been many news stories and a few editorials, and every editorial has been against the change in policy. CBC Radio’s The Front Burner devoted 26 minutes to “the Canada-wide protests over LGBTQ school rights”; two people were interviewed, both strongly opposed to the legislation. On Day 6, Brent Bambury interviewed an expert who told us “how the parents’ rights argument is fuelling a push to roll back LGBTQ inclusion in schools.”8
The Globe ran articles with heads like “Saskatchewan Child Advocate Says Pronoun Policy for Schools Violates Rights” and “Debate over Pronouns Pits Parental Rights Against the Rights of Children, Experts Say.”9 That sounds balanced, but the only experts the Globe managed to find were strongly opposed to the legislation.
It took a long time before polls were published on the two issues. On September 19, an Angus Reid Institute poll on the Saskatchewan and New Brunswick legislation showed that 78 per cent agreed that parents must be informed, and 14 per cent believed parents need not be informed. And according to a Probe Research poll of September 25, Manitobans were evenly split on whether to search or not to search.10 Older people, men and people outside Winnipeg were all more inclined to oppose the search; and 40 per cent of Indigenous people opposed the search.
In my less thorough investigations of the National Post, Winnipeg Free Press and Toronto Sun websites, I found several news stories and no editorials. Of course, I can’t confirm there were no editorials in favour of the Saskatchewan and New Brunswick legislation or against the landfill search; it’s hard to prove a negative. And obviously, the majority is not always right, though their views are, by definition, not extreme.
My conclusion is that the 50 per cent of the population that opposes the landfill search and the 78 per cent that supports Saskatchewan and New Brunswick government pronoun policies would simply not find their views represented or taken seriously in the mainstream media. In frustration, they might go elsewhere, to social media perhaps, where they might come across, God forbid, Jordan Peterson and find themselves just a step or two away from “extreme right-wing stuff.”
1 Posted to the listserv on September 20, 2023.
2 Ibid., citing Max Fisher, The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World (Boston: Back Bay, 2023).
3 Assembly of First Nations Demands Manitoba, Ottawa Work Together on Landfill Search; Search of Winnipeg landfill can be done with reduced risk, say forensic experts; Daughters of Murdered Winnipeg Woman Call on Police to Recover Remains from Landfill; While Indigenous People Call for Justice, Winnipeg’s Police Take Aim at Graffiti.