Conservative Member of Parliament from Alberta Kerry Diotte filed a $150,000 lawsuit for defamation on Nov. 19 against the Gateway, the University of Alberta’s student newspaper, in a shameless and unprecedented attack on student journalism.
In his statement of claim, Diotte asserts that two articles published by the Gateway wrongly accuse him of being a racist, damaging his name and reputation.
The first article, published on Nov. 2, focused on a photo posted to Twitter by Reed Larsen, president of the U of A Students’ Union, posing with Diotte. Diotte took issue with a line in the article that states, “several U of A students voiced concern over Larsen’s meeting with Diotte, who has a history of making racist remarks.”
The Gateway points to a social media post from February of 2017 picturing Diotte with Faith Goldy, an ex-Rebel Media personality, thanking Goldy for “Making the Media Great Again (sic).”
Even more gut-wrenching is the fact that Dioitte posted the photo just weeks after the Quebec City mosque shooting that left six dead, where Goldy was widely criticized for spreading conspiracies that the shooting was perpetrated by Muslims rather than the white Canadian male who is currently facing charges.
— KerryDiotte (@KerryDiotte) February 24, 2017
The second article is an editorial published on Nov. 5 on the same topic, which Diotte alleged is defamatory in whole.
The Gateway did make a mistake by falsely alleging that Diotte endorsed Goldy in her race for Toronto mayor—but mistakes can and will happen at student publications. Given that these are newspapers meant to educate students on how to report the news, it’s nearly inevitable there will be missteps. You would think that Diotte, having previously been a journalist, would appreciate this.
That’s not to say false reports should be taken lightly. We concur with the Canadian University Press (CUP) that accusations of defamation need to be treated seriously and student journalists deserve to be held to the same standards as any journalists.
But there needs to be a middle ground, and Diotte’s hefty defamation lawsuit seems like a blunt tool to silence criticism rather than a means to remedy the Gateway’s possible mistakes.
— Canadian Univ. Press (@CanUniPress) November 21, 2018
This reaction is especially unnecessary given that the mistake has already been properly remedied by the Gateway: They were quick to add corrections and editor’s notes to both stories in question.
Moreover, the fact that Diotte is a politician, one who has stated that “freedom of expression—so long as it isn’t violent or threatening—is … a sacred right,” is also contradictory. Student press rallies the next generation of journalists, and to pursue a lawsuit for which the complaint has been remedied is a frivolous attack on the Gateway’s young journalists and their ability to keep reporting on their campus. If Diotte is such a champion of freedom of expression, he should understand that his lawsuit is putting that in jeopardy at the U of A.
The fact that Diotte is taking this action as a former journalist is also problematic. Doitte of all people should know how important a free press is to any democratic society. A $150,000 defamation suit would do more than just cripple the Gateway for this academic year, but many more to come.
At a time when freedom of the press is increasingly being drawn into question, especially with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling against Vice Media on Nov. 30, people in authority and positions of power need to be cautious in how they interact with the media and the message this sends to the public. We’re fairly sure Diotte has better things to do, as an MP, than sue a student newspaper for a mistake they’ve already worked to remedy.