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The road to misinformation passes through closed newspaper offices

This week's Market Squared connects the dot on three of the week's big news stories.
The #1MillionMarch4Children Guelph event drew roughly 150 people in support of the event Wednesday and 1,000 protesting the event in Downtown Guelph.

So how did you spend your Wednesday morning? Because about a thousand of your fellow citizens ran the Square.

One group was there to express concern about sex education, a lack of parental input in the school system and the belief that Canada’s educators are indoctrinating kids into something called “gender ideology.”

The other group, which was three times larger, read that last part to mean an attack on the 2SLGTBQIA+ community. Members of that community, and their allies, read the other group’s intentions to mean an erasure of their visibility, thus forcing them back into the proverbial closet if you will.

If you talk to the local organizers for the #1MillionMarch4Children they will tell you that their march was not about homophobia or transphobia, it was about love. Still, one man told me Wednesday that there seemed to be no regard for “straight pride” in the counter protesters, and I heard one woman on TV explain that she didn’t want her six-year-old granddaughter being taught masturbation in school.

As we were counting down to Wednesday events, I was flashing back to September 2015 and a series of province-wide protests about the then-new sex education curriculum. I was told at the Guelph protest by one of the organizers that kids were being given picture books that depict men and women having sex, and how it was inappropriate for Grade 3 kids to be taught how there are different types of families.

“Why are we pushing this on kids?” Jakki Jeffs, the organizer, asked rhetorically, “I think its most unfair that the government is putting this out right now because it’s using our [tax] dollars.”

In revisiting the Guelph Politico archives on this protest, I was unsurprised to recall how Jeffs reached for a comparison between her disagreement over the contents of the new sex ed curriculum and an equivalent example from history. “In another era in the history of the world, another government tried to indoctrinate children,” she said.

Yes, she was talking about Nazi Germany.

At Wednesday’s protest, it was kind of appalling to hear protesters use another historic genocide as an analogy, they were comparing this latest “indoctrination” to Indigenous children being removed from their homes and sent to residential schools where they were essentially tortured.

“Remove the race factor from the residential schools and what happened? The state imposed a set of ideologies on people and took their children away and what's happening right now is that the state has agreed on a set of ideologies,” one man told me.

Of course, it’s impossible to “remove the race factor” because the whole point of residential schools, at least according to Canada’s first prime minister John A. Macdonald, was to “take the Indian out of the child.” It was interesting to see some people in the 1 Million March group wear the orange Every Child Matters shirts associated with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, but I will let members of our Indigenous community speak their minds about whether they find that appropriate.

Still, it was emblematic of the confusing confluence of causes and motivations among the 1 Million Marchers. Many of the speakers were spewing such fire and brimstone that I thought I was at a revival meeting, and there was still a lot of anger about long forgotten vaccine and mask mandates. There was also a reference to the UN’s Agenda 2030, a set of guidelines so benign that it’s like when Christian author Phil Phillips called the Smurfs satanic in 1984.

While the vast majority of people may not take these ideas seriously, a still surprising number still seem to believe that teachers are conspiring to turn all kids into trans or non-binary human robots. Or something. That’s a lot to put on a group of people that make up approximately 0.36 per cent of the population combined according to the 2021 census.

I’ve heard from some people that they were concerned about giving the #1MillionMarch4Children any publicity in advance, even if the intent was to look at the motivations of the event critically. I heard many of those same critiques about the small protests against mask mandates or other COVID and vaccine conspiracies that happened over the course of the pandemic, and then January 2022 happened.

Things may start small, easy to ignore, but then they can become big and almost impossible to ignore.

There was a lot of surprise among many Canadians about just how big the Freedom Convoy could get, and how well financed it was, and despite our desire to put the blame on foreign agitators, YouTube streamers and Twitter bots, the Freedom Convoy was made in Canada for Canadians, and it was built little by little right under our nose.

This is where I pivot to lament the further erosion of local news.

It was about this time last week that people were digesting the news that Metroland was cutting again. In an effort to stave off bankruptcy, 71 community newspapers will no longer print and 605 jobs will no longer exist at the end of the year. The Hamilton Spector won’t even have an office space anymore as even the conceit of a newsroom seems too costly for the budget of a modern newspaper company.

For the last 20 years, community media outlets have been asked to do more with less. As the community grows, local media outlets have become smaller and smaller and that’s much to the concern and dismay of many people in Canada. Still, while two-thirds of people think the news should be free to access, at least according to a poll by Leger, only six per cent are willing to help cover the costs with a subscription.

We cannot tackle the scourge of misinformation without a free and robust press. Our media can catch the little stories so that they don’t turn into big crises, but that only happens when media outlets are more focused on what news to cover as opposed to their general survival.

There’s been justified praise the last few days about work reporters have done to expose the malfeasance in the Greenbelt debacle, but that’s one story. How many more Greenbelt debacles are waiting to be uncovered at all levels of government? How many are being missed? And how many are being missed due to the proliferation of noxious false conspiracy theories? Hopefully, we’ll find out.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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