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 ANALYSIS

       

          A Harper Campaign Event, RCMP Search Dogs and Me


 

By Susanna Kelley

 In a departure from how campaign events involving Prime Ministers before Stephen Harper have been conducted, Conservative Party handlers refused a journalist admission to one of his campaign events this week because the RCMP and its search dogs weren't available to search her.

Full disclosure: that journalist was me.

Let's think about that, rationally and reasonably.

The Conservative Party apparently think the fourth estate are so dangerous that the protocol at the Prime Minister's election campaign events is to have them searched by the RCMP dogs if they are anywhere near Stephen Harper physically.

Here's the background. On Tuesday morning, when I arrived 20 minutes early for Mr. Harper's 10:30 campaign event in Toronto, I was met by a campaign aide who said I was "too late" to come into the event.

There was a security process, he said, including an RCMP search with searcher dogs, and there were no RCMP officers around, so I couldn't come in.  The media were required to be there an hour early to "register" and be searched and I was past that deadline, even though there was 20 minutes left until the event started.

Other reporters had been let in after the deadline, he said, but no, I couldn't come in, it was too late.

When I protested, he checked with those higher up the campaign's public relations food chain and came back with the same answer again: no, I would not be allowed in. I asked his name but he refused to give it, although another campaign aide asked for mine (which I happily gave) and they were registering the name of every journalist there.

Let's be clear: searching reporters with sniffer dogs is a major departure from the way campaign events have been handled with previous Prime Ministers.

As a matter of fact, in my 25-plus years of covering federal and provincial elections, which includes events too numerous to count with sitting Prime Ministers, I've never come across any protocol like that at a campaign event except with the current Conservative Party.

For my journalistic colleagues on Parliament Hill who are used to this kind of treatment, they have all my sympathy in trying to do their jobs in this kind of paranoid environment.

Democracy needs vigorous attention by the fourth estate to function properly, to obtain and pass on the information the public is entitled to and which it must have access to, via a free and unfettered press, to make informed voter choices at election time. 

This is what enables voters to choose what kind of society, and what kind of laws they wish to live under.  And that is the very essence of democracy.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed as a fundamental freedom under the Canadian Constitution's Charter of Rights and Freedom:

" 2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;"

A check with the other two parties reveals neither requires the media to be searched by RCMP officers or their search dogs before covering their leaders.

The NDP says anyone is welcome to attend its events. The Liberals say it is not their protocol.

Asked whether it will be the normal protocol to require that reporters submit to searches by RCMP and their search dogs for all Conservative campaign events, a party spokesman refused to answer the question although it was asked numerous times over a 14-minute interview.

"The media advisory I sent you clearly says media should arrive at 9:30 and that's precisely to allow for the proper screening and the proper security checks and the orderly registration," said CPC spokesman Chris Day.

"There are various reasons that we ask reporters to arrive well in advance of an event involving the prime minister, security is one of those, logistics is another, early registration and not having giant backlogs or line-ups of people that delays the event," said Mr. Day.

He later sent an email saying I could "attribute the following to 'the Conservative campaign":

"We do not comment on security arrangements for the Prime Minister’s events. Please contact the RCMP for any questions regarding RCMP operations and protocols.”

In other words, arrive in time to be subject to these RCMP searches by officers and search dogs, as a requirement to cover Conservative central campaign events, or be barred.

The Conservative Party must run on its record and be accountable for that in this election.

This severe level of control is one more piece of that record.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : August 06, 2015

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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