"Idle No More" protesters gather in front of the Toronto Sun building in Toronto, on Saturday, January 19, 2013.
Credits: Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency
TORONTO - A small group of Idle No More demonstrators marched to the doors of the Toronto Sun on Saturday to protest what they claim to be “racist” statements made by Sun Media commentators.
Around 100 demonstrators chanted, bellowed, hoisted placards and waved First Nations flags outside the Sun’s King St. E. building for just over an hour in the early afternoon, protesting commentary made both in the Sun newspaper and on the Sun News Network around the plight of Native Canadians, the funding of reserves, the Idle No More movement, and the ongoing hunger strike of Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence.
“You continue to degrade our people and our nations, and all I’m saying is you better watch what you’re saying,” protestor Davyn Calfchild told Sun Media commentator Ezra Levant, who attended Saturday’s protest to interview demonstrators.
Another identifying himself only as “Jode” said the group was there to “protest Sun Media ... what it represents and the agenda they push ... (and) the actions you take by picking up your pen ... knowing in your heart that you are sending out a racist agenda.”
On a late December episode of his talk show, The Source, Levant took issue with what he called a lack of transparency when it comes to government money going to chiefs in charge of improving living conditions on native reserves. He also talked of the publicly-funded Assembly of First Nations and questioned why many people under its governorship continue to live in sub-standard conditions.
Toronto Sun Publisher Mike Power said the Sun has taken strong positions on questions around accountability when it comes to billions of taxpayer dollars spent on Canada’s First Nation’s reserves, as well as some Idle No More protest tactics, such as the blocking of rail lines.
“No one supports free speech or the right to peaceful protest more than we do,” Power said. “But disagreeing with some First Nations leaders or Idle No More blockades does not make our paper or our journalists racists.”
“We’ve been utterly consistent in opposing wasteful and ineffective public funding, whether it happens on a reserve, in Ottawa or Toronto City Council, he added.
The Toronto Sun has also repeatedly documented the many challenges facing native people living on reserves and in cities like Toronto, Power said.
In 2008, the Sun’s Mark Bonokoski 15-part Red Road series garnered two awards — including one from the Union of Ontario Indians — for detailing the social ills facing Canada’s urban aboriginals including poverty, incarceration, racism, cultural isolation, diabetes, HIV infection, homelessness, alcoholism and drug addiction.
“Your articles dealt with the social problems that disproportionately face First Nations people when they live in urban settings,” the Union wrote after awarding Bonokoski an honourary mention for a Debwewin Citation. “But you trust and rely on the words of First Nations citizens in your features, a dramatic departure from how mainstream media usually tell our stories.”
A similar Idle No More protest recently took place in front of the Calgary Sun, another Sun Media paper. Staff there summed up that paper’s view of the protest on its editorial page.
“We’re not afraid of being called names when we shine a light on injustice, misspending or anything else that affects the lives of our readers, viewers and users. We make no apologies for that.”