Poilievre’s concern over press freedom is just dystopian world-building

OPINION: In his false, bifurcated view of reality, queer and trans people are treated as villains

Last week, there was a major hullabaloo made of Rebel Media personality David Menzies being detained by an RCMP protective detail when he tried to accost Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland as she left an event. In the wake of the incident, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre tried to assert that this was reflective of eight years of Justin Trudeau’s government, where the prime minister has either bought off the media or he “censors and arrests” those with whom he disagrees. Then Poilievre tried to call out the Parliamentary Press Gallery for not standing in solidarity with Menzies. And while this was dressed up as an issue of press freedom, that was never actually the issue—rather, it has everything to do with Poilievre’s dystopian world-building and what he uses it for.

To be clear, Rebel Media is not a news outlet, and they have testified to this in court under oath many times. Menzies, the personality who was detained and then released without charge, is not a journalist, even if he pretends to be one. He has a history of accosting politicians and getting arrested, and then fundraising off of it. It’s his grift. And on previous occasions, those arrests have been at Conservative events for now deputy leader Melissa Lantsman, who is an out lesbian, who ended the interview after he made homophobic comments about her (and she later left her own event, citing that she felt unsafe), and for then leader Andrew Scheer. On neither occasion did the party raise the issue of press freedom when they had Menzies arrested.

There may have been an issue with police overreach at this most recent event, but it was not at the direction of Freeland, who said nothing at all when Menzies accosted her. It was only when he interacted with the RCMP that he was arrested for assaulting a police officer. And because Menzies’s camera operator is skilled enough with this particular bit of grift, they were certain to pan away during Menzies’s interaction with the police, so we can’t see what he actually did, only to pan back once the officer was in the process of detaining Menzies. But this bit of camerawork led plenty of credulous pundits across the country to declare that this was police overreach when nobody could see what the actual interaction was.

With these facts now established, it becomes increasingly clear just what Poilievre’s motives are here, and that’s to use the rhetoric of press freedom as a way to de-legitimize legacy media. And because those legacy media outlets didn’t jump to Poilievre’s command and start blaming Trudeau for what happened—which had nothing to do with him, nor did Freeland order Menzies’s arrest—he tells his listeners that those media outlets must therefore be in the employ of Trudeau. With the addition of media subsidies and the falsehoods that Poilievre and his MPs have spent the past several years building around legislation like the Online Streaming Act and the Online News Act—claiming that they are organs of government censorship when they are nothing of the sort—he has built up this false reality where the so-called “truth-tellers” are being victimized by Trudeau and his jackbooted forces.

 

“Losing our shared objective reality is going to put more queer and trans lives in jeopardy.”

This isn’t accidental. For years now, conservatives in both the U.S. and Canada have been trying to create a separate dystopian false reality for their viewers, grounded in a separate set of “facts” that are divorced from the objective reality the rest of us live in. This has become a feature of living in America, where there are bifurcated realities that manifest themselves in which news outlets you subscribe to. Outside observers will note that the very facts you see being presented on Fox News differ wildly from what you’ll see on CNN or MSNBC, and when people can no longer rely on the same set of shared facts in a shared reality, political manipulation becomes much easier to achieve. This plays out in American politics on a daily basis, but because we don’t have the same bifurcated media environment in Canada—yet—that kind of large-scale manipulation is harder to achieve. But it’s getting closer, the more Canadian conservatives especially distrust media.

Egregious both-sidesing in legacy media lets falsehoods go largely unchallenged, and when the vast majority of the country’s pundit class leans to the right, they let the falsehoods that are the building blocks of this dystopian world-building slide. When Conservatives start saying things like that Justin Trudeau is “a dictator”—and yes, Conservative MP Rachael Thomas has said this in the House of Commons and got only the tiniest bit of push-back for it—and when they accuse the government of censorship (with no proof whatsoever), of when they lean into conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum or the UN Compact for Global Migration, and feed notions to their followers about how “globalist” Trudeau (ignoring that the term is an antisemitic dog whistle) is trying to advance rapid de-population, make people eat bugs and will institute “climate lockdowns” in perpetuity (again, asserted by Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant), people start to believe it because the media environment is bifurcating as legacy outlets are dying.

In this construction, outlets who trade in these flagrant falsehoods are heralded as the “truth-tellers,” for whom they declare that Trudeau is trying to silence them, and Menzies’s detention is held up as proof of that. Why this is especially concerning for the queer and trans communities is that in this bifurcated reality, we are treated more as the villains in the dystopian rendition of the world—predators who are trying to “groom” children, or who are convincing youth that they’re really trans and then forcing them to mutilate and sterilize themselves in a secret plot being kept from their parents. It’s one reason why the moral panics have been accelerating in the public consciousness, because the so-called “truth-telling” outlets are proliferating, and political bad actors are leaning into it, because they want to tap into the grift, and the energy that comes along with it. This is extremely dangerous for democracy, and it’s something we can’t keep ignoring. Losing our shared objective reality is going to put more queer and trans lives in jeopardy as we become convenient scapegoats and targets to be put in our place—this is built into the history of fascism, and it’s a history we really don’t want to see repeated.

Dale Smith is a freelance journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery and author of The Unbroken Machine: Canada's Democracy in Action.

Read More About:
Culture, Politics, Censorship, Media, Canada

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