Right-wing outlets Rebel, True North win legal battle to cover leaders' debate
TORONTO -- Two right-wing media organizations won a legal battle Monday to allow their correspondents to cover this week's election debates, in a ruling they touted as a victory for freedom of the press.
A federal court judge in Toronto said Rebel Media and the True North Centre for Public Policy successfully established that they would suffer "irreparable harm" if denied access to the English-language leaders' debate taking place in Gatineau, Que., and its French-language equivalent later this week.
Justice Russel Zinn ordered the Leaders' Debates Commission to provide accreditation to the three men the commission had previously rejected, but said he would release his reasons for the ruling at a later date.
Ezra Levant, one of Rebel's founders and its main personality, celebrated the judgment on Twitter. "We won! We won! Freedom won! Canada won! Journalism won!" he wrote.
The two organizations turned to the court after learning their representatives had been denied access to Monday evening's debate on grounds that they engaged in advocacy. They are also seeking a judicial review of the decision and the process used by the commission, though that will be dealt with at another time.
Lawyers for the commission opposed the organizations' motions, saying their client acted within its mandate to uphold the high journalistic integrity of the debate.
Both Rebel and True North said they were notified last Friday that their requests for accreditation had been denied.
The organizations said they received a two-sentence email from the chief of the parliamentary press gallery, who cited their involvement in advocacy as the reason for the rejection.
They argued, however, that other media outlets involved in advocacy, such as the Toronto Star newspaper, had been given the green light to attend.
They also said in separate court filings that the commission acted unfairly and in bad faith by waiting until the last business day before the event to convey its decision.
True North said in the documents that the lack of "meaningful feedback" and transparency in the process, combined with the absence of avenues to appeal, made the commission's decision arbitrary and unreasonable.
It also alleged the decision amounted to "an attempt by the current government to censor and silence media outlets that have provided a platform for Canadians with views inconsistent with its mandate."
Lawyers for the commission argued Monday there was no harm because the two organizations could nonetheless report on the event by watching it live on television or online.
"There's nothing preventing these groups from reporting on the debates," Ewa Krajewska argued.
While Rebel and True North would not get a chance to ask questions of the leaders after the debate, "they do not have a legal right or entitlement to that opportunity," she said.
Krajewska said two other applicants had been denied accreditation on the basis of advocacy and one on the grounds that they were not a practising journalist.
Two Rebel staff members -- political commentator David Menzies and reporter Keean Bexte -- had applied to cover the debate. Journalist Andrew Lawton, who is a fellow with True North, had also sought accreditation.
Shortly after Monday's ruling, Lawton said on Twitter he had arrived at the site of the debate in Ottawa and been told his credentials were being printed.
Late last month, Lawton said he had been barred from covering a public Liberal party event in Thunder Bay, Ont., and had subsequently received an apology from the party.
He also made headlines last year while running as a Progressive Conservative candidate in Ontario's provincial election.
Lawton came under fire then for past comments that critics described as misogynistic, racist and homophobic, which he blamed on a years-long struggle with an unspecified mental illness.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2019.