UPDATE – TVO's The Agenda Botches Show on Caledonia

Please be advised – this personal opinion blog is not for the feint of heart. The opinions I express on my website, blog, Tweets and FB updates are my own and my right to express my personal opinion is one of our most valued rights and freedoms in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As I have explained on previous blogs, my personal opinion does NOT constitute legal advice nor should it be relied on as such. Generally, I like watching TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paiken. I find it far more engaging than the regular media and the host is willing to ask the hard questions. While they are definitely no APTN, the shows on Indigenous issues that I have seen and/or participated in, have been fairly balanced in covering Indigenous perspectives. Their producer, Mark Brosens is generally good about researching the issues and seeking different perspectives. Last night’s show on the situation in Caledonia however, was a striking failure in responsible journalism and a huge disappointment to many viewers. I am not a journalist, nor do I profess any expertise in the area. My knowledge comes from what I have learned, studied and observed. As a lawyer, professor and author, I do have a good idea about what makes good writing and how to cover an issue responsibly. That is not to say that each article must be a research study into all causes and effects, but a minimal context must be laid out for readers. I think I am as capable as anyone in assessing the quality or lack thereof of various issues covered in the media. Last night’s episode of The Agenda not only fell into the trap of considering an issue in a one-sided way, they blamed potential invitees to the show for TVO’s own lack of organization and planning. Steve Paiken, the host, explained last night that the show was envisioned as a round table on the issue of Caledonia that was supposed to have someone from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), someone from Ontario’s Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs (OMMA), Blatchford herself, someone from Six Nations and maybe others (presumably subject matter experts like a lawyer or academic who works on these issues). Instead of saying, we screwed up and didn’t get the show together on time, Paiken publicly blamed the invitees and portrayed them as if they didn’t want to debate Blatchford. This of course played into Blatchford’s overinflated ego who quickly agreed. Paiken made it seem as if no one would face Blatchford and I can attest to the fact that this is simply not the case. Contrary to popular belief, many of us Indigenous lawyers, academics, politicians and community members work for a living and have schedules which do not lend well to last-minute arrangements. In a producer’s blog written by Mark Brosens, he explained that he tried to contact the OPP and OMMA who turned down his invitation. I could have predicted that one given all of the legal implications, court cases, and outstanding land claims in Caledonia. Rightly or wrongly, I think there was slim to no chance of getting provincial representatives to speak about Caledonia. That did not, however, prohibit Brosens from contacting experts in political science to come and speak about the policy and political issues from a provincial stand point or from getting an expert in policing issues. Brosens also mentions that he tried to get people from Six Nations to participate in the show but was unsuccessful. He says he tried to get the Chiefs of Ontario to come on the show, but admits (as an aside) that he did not give them much notice. Then the issue which I can speak to personally, is that he says that he tried academics but they ALL “either agreed with Blatchford, or were unavailable, or were camera shy”. That is simply not true. Brosens contacted me as an “expert” in the area and to get my insight on the book and the subject generally. While he did not ask, I specifically offered that if he needed anyone at the last minute to appear on the show, I would do so, as I felt very passionately that TVO should deal with the subject in balanced way. The overall theme of Brosen’s blog was that people were unwilling to go up against Blatchford which is simply not accurate. This is not about Blatchford. It is clearly a production issue. TVO tried to pull this show together at the last minute, they failed to do so, but instead of doing something else, they went ahead with the show anyway and blamed the invited participants for the lack of quality in the show. That is simply not the kind of integrity we expect from TVO. What I found most distasteful about the show was that Paiken turned TVO’s failure into a sensational question which portrayed Blatchford as some kind of expert on Caledonia whom everyone fears. Compounding what was already a poorly produced segment, was that Paiken was overly conciliatory to Blatchford and did not ask any real hard questions of her. He allowed her to portray or imply that Six Nations and Mohawks were terrorists and did not call her on the gross analogy to the terrorist acts of 9-11. While one might like to blame the alarmist tone of the show on their SOLE guest Blatchford, TVO was unfortunately, an equal participant. First of all, the segment was framed as one on “lawlessness” which is sensationalism as its best as well as inaccurate. The fact that TVO paired the Caledonia segment with one on policing and the recent death of a police officer also lent a certain frame to the subject. They couldn’t have set up the segment any worse than had Blatchford done it herself. After improperly introducing the subject of Caledonia and Six Nations as “Grand River of Six Nations”, TVO let Blatchford set the context to the dispute. She did not start with the granting of the Haldimand Tract to the Six Nations, but started with the date of the occupation. As if one day, a bunch of bored Mohawks just got together and decided to protest for fun and from there “its as if the devil threw a party and invited all his friends”. I thought the days of comparing Indigenous people to pagans and heathens were over? Is it really a critical part of understanding the Caledonia situation to repeat degrading quotes about unresolved land claims? Aside from the inherent problems with her book, which I will save for a future blog, the things Blatchford said on the show were, in my personal opinion, inaccurate, alarmist and racist. When I use the term racist, I don’t do so lightly, nor do I use the term as an emotional reaction to something I don’t like. I do so based on what I have read, heard, seen and considered on the issue. There are endless media sources calling her a racist. She has also publicly had to deny being a racist which shows many smarter people than I have made the same conclusion. With regards to the show, her more problematic comments went largely unchallenged by Paiken and include: (1) she says she is not an expert on the subject (which begs the question of how informed her book is or even why she was on the show); (2) that it was an “illegal” protest (but no discussion of the general right to assembly, constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights, Aboriginal title rights, land claims, etc); (3) the issue was not a land claim and that it was simply a matter of Chief Montour wanting more compensation (which ignores the long history and details of the claim); (4) it should all be blamed on one “entrepreneurial Mohawk” named Joseph Brant who sold the land for his own benefit (again ignoring all the legal and historical records); (5) Calls those who were trying to mediate and negotiate the matter “BS negotiators”; (really? was she on the inside at the negotiations to make that kind of assessment?); (6) Gary McHale was harassed by police and suffered terribly (ignore the fact he was a non-resident of Caledonia, had no interest in the dispute but to deliberately instigate violence)*; and (7) Accused traditional band members of Six Nations of going around intimidating other band members to support the protest (more unsubstantiated claims or perhaps I missed all the convictions of traditional band members in the media???). Paiken, (ironically given TVO’s one-dimensional take on the issue) asked Blatchford why she only dealt with one side of the issue. In defending herself, she characterized Caledonia as “ground zero” after comparing her book Helpless to the work she did at ground zero in New York with the terrorist attack on the twin towers. She explained that when she wrote about ground zero in New York, she didn’t write about the perspective of the terrorists and their claims, so why would she do that here in Caledonia? Some viewers who contacted me after the show felt that this was a form of inciting hatred. Like the Flanagan’s, Gibson’s, and Widdowson’s of the world, we often overlook their right-wing rantings as those of ignorant people who were never taught any better. Perhaps this is what Paiken thought when he sat quietly and accepted Blatchford’s terrorist analogy of the Caledonia situation without calling her on it. However, inviting the public to view First Nations as terrorists on their own lands risks relegating them back to their former colonial-imposed status as “non-humans” deserved of whatever indignities committed against them by the far-from-Helpless majority population who simply want all their land and resources. While there is no changing the views of committed right-wingers like Blatchford, TVO has a responsibility to the public to do their shows with integrity or don’t do them at all. This blog may mean that I never get invited to TVO’s The Agenda again (which would be unfortunate as I like the show and the people) but I would not be true to myself if I did not call TVO on their disaster. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is how you address those mistakes that count. The true test of integrity is whether one is honest about their role in the mistake and owns up to it. TVO – you have some owning up to do. * UPDATE – Shortly after posting this blog, I received an e-mail from Gary McHale threatening to sue me for defamation and demanded an apology. The e-mail is reproduced below and you will notice that he does not deny anything I wrote in my blog: “It has come to my attention that you have decided to defame me on your website. You have posted the following: (6) Gary McHale was harassed by police and suffered terribly (ignore the fact that he was a non-resident of Caledonia, had no interest in the dispute but to deliberately instigate violence) I hope you can prove that I ‘deliberately’ (interesting that you know my motives) ‘instigate violence’. I have six weeks to serve you legal notice but I would hope you would post an apology instead of continuing to violate the law – as a lawyer/professor I would think you would respect the law more. Gary McHale” (garymchale@mountaincable.net) As this is a personal opinion blog and I have never done litigation, I can’t offer the public any advice on the law with regards to either bringing or defending defamation claims. What I can do is share some of the information that is readily available on the internet. For legal advice, I suggest you contact a lawyer if you have any questions. Defamation of character has been defined as the written (libel) or oral (slander) damaging of one’s “good reputation”. Some of you may be thinking – good reputation??? There are several ways in which such a claim may be defended, but one of those defences is referred to as “Fair Comment”. I found the following definition online: “Citizens are entitled to make fair comment on matters of public interest without fear of defamation claims. A good example of this is a letter to the editor on a matter of public concern. The author of the remarks may even go so far as to PRESUME MOTIVES on the part of the person who’s actions are being criticized provided only that the imputation of motives is reasonable under the circumstances. The rule of thumb is that the fair comment must reflect an honestly held opinion based on proven fact and not motivated by malice.” (emphasis added) (Duhaime Law) My honestly-held, personal belief, and opinion about which I wrote this blog is based on countless books, articles, media, and internet sources, some of which I will highlight here for your interest: (1) “What does Canada, Ontario or whoever the fools were who hired Gary McHale to INSTIGATE violence think of his colossal failure?” (emphasis added) (frostyamerindian); (2) “McHale WANTED violence… He brought in skinheads, KKK and other professional instigators and mercenaries from both Canada and the U.S.” (emphasis added)(frostyamerindian); (3) “former politician, David Peterson… called McHale and his gang a ‘bunch of wackos’.” (Mohawk Nation News); (4) Gary McHale is “NOT from Caledonia” (emphasis added). (Ryan Paul); (5) Vigilante militia group set up by “an associate of anti-native sovereignty activist Gary McHale” and “Neo-Nazi groups have long participated in McHale’s various protests“. (peaceculture.org); (6) “Gary McHale … claims FN and 6 Nations are terrorists.” (rabble.ca); (7) OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino explained that: “I want every avenue explored by which we can now bring McHale into court seeking a court order to prevent him from continuing his agenda of INCITING PEOPLE TO VIOLENCE in Caledonia.” (emphasis added) (CBC news); (8) OPP Commissioner Fantino further stated: “We should be able to prove to court that McHale’s forays into Caledonia have been PLANNED and executed for PURPOSES of breaching the peace which today also resulted in VIOLENCE. We can’t allow this vicious cycle to continue…”. (emphasis added) (CBC news). Regarding his “reputation”, McHale posts many negative comments about himself on his own website and could hardly claim he has any remaining reputation that could possibly be tarnished by my blog. I would post examples, but I prefer to keep my blogs profanity-free out of respect for the younger folks who read my blogs and cite them in their school work. 🙂 My father always told me that only narcissists think that the whole world revolves around them and that most “protests” are simply desperate attempts to get attention. I have had rare occassion to consider his specific advice, but can see now what he meant. This of course presents the dilemma of whether to respond and give the narcisist his desperately-desired attention or not respond and risk the public believing the hateful misinformation. I still wrestle with this dilemma. Despite this brief update meant to address some petty non-sense, I would ask that readers please focus on the original message of my blog being about TVO and how they might learn from their mistake with this show and perhaps make an effort to do better the next time.


  1. As I am in the US I am not able to watch some of the feeds from Canada, but I will do my best to search this out online.

    Being here in the US, I have tired of the lack of professional journalism that I took for granted back in Canada yet I also believe you have raised some very important issues with respect to the fashion that Indigenous issues/rights/claims are treated by non-Indigenous media. They should provide a balanced and educated breadth of approach to the subject and it seems that last minute invites do not allow an opportunity for a truly representative panel across the spectrum.

    For Blatchford… well I can say I have enjoyed some of her work over the years, but 'pitbull journalism' comes to mind. She has been such a staple in Toronto area journalism for years that the 'grandfathering' aspect of her writing prose and research stands in contrast to an educated, balanced, and IMPARTIAL presentation of the facts and gathering of information, interviews, and data that I prefer as a consumer, reader and viewer with a penchant to make my own mind up and refuse to be spoonfed as an ignoramus or lemming.

    Keep up the great work Pam.

    Do not give up on TVO just yet however as they will see that resorting to Fox Network mentality truly goes against their principles in the long term!



  2. Thanks AJ. I agree with you about TVO in the sense that everyone makes mistakes. I think they can easily make changes to improve their journalism in the future. The ball is in their court now. 🙂

  3. Just an aside: what lands are we allowed to claim? The land in question in Caledonia is off-limits from any land claim? Why?
    Just some questions I'd like to see Blatchford answer.

  4. I enjoyed reading your post about TVO's The Agenda. Your passion is palpable.
    I immediately went to TVO's website to watch Blatchford. Let me say up front I'm not a fan of this journalist but I have to disagree with your assessment about Blatchford portrayed as an expert on Caledonia blockade.
    She didn't come across as such. Indeed when she said she didn’t read her own book to prepare for the interview, I was incredulous.
    Then when she admitted she didn't witness any of the Caledonia events because she was in Afghanistan, and wrote the book based on news reports and interviews, she lost all credibility in my eyes and the in the eyes, I believe, of most viewers.
    The Solidarity with Six Nations site http://6nsolidarity.wordpress.com/ provides a detailed appraisal of her book. I really enjoyed reading their analyse and I shared it with my colleague at the University of Calgary who teaches a Sociology class on Native issues.
    "Blatchford says her book is not about aboriginal land claims, but the failure of
    Government to govern and to protect all its citizens equally." (From Solidarity with Six Nations)
    What Blatchford failed to address is that the government (both levels) failed to protect Indians equally for over 150 years!!
    You're right about Steve Paiken. He was way far too easy on her. Not only did he ignore the above point, he was grabbing at straws to stir controversy by suggesting that no one wanted to face her on this issue. What bulls***t!!!
    Keep up the good work. I look forward to your next post and don’t give any valuable web space to people like McHale. He and Kevin Arnett are of the same ilk…once people hear them out, they lose any semblance of authority.

  5. I've ben reading up on your blog off my Blackberry so I haven't had the chance to post. I haven't even been posting in my own blog. I appreciate how much time it takes to write a good blog and analysis as you do on a regular basis and am very appreciative of you commitment.

    Ultimately, education is the solution against extremism and ignorance. I hope that what iskote says is true, that people see through the ignorance of unresearched and biased people.

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments. I wish I could be as optimistic that the general public will see through uninformed work, but sadly, many rely on headlines to form an opinion.

    However, I take your point Iskote, that I should have said more clearly that it was TVO that set Blatchford up as though she was an expert.

    While I agree that she did say the issue was one of lawlessness as opposed to the claim, I disagree that this in itself is not a statement about the Caledonia land claim and the rights of Six Nations members.

    There are far too many hidden messages within the books, articles and statements of right-wing writers to let her off the hook that easily. If we don't consider these things in a critical way, we might miss the army hidden in the Trojan horse.

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