The Ontario Election unofficially kicked off on March 10, when the Progressive Conservative party—marred but undeterred by scandal—filled the absent seat for the leadership of their party. Doug Ford was propelled to the top, and the other parties were propelled into action.
What developed into an exciting election unfolded in the pages and on the airwaves of Ontario’s multilingual and multicultural media. Voters across the province were engaged and curious about the results. This election saw 58 percent of Ontarians actually get out and vote, the highest turnout in the province since 1999.
An Ipsos poll on election-day said that 42 percent of voters were doing so “strategically.” Giving Canadians another instance of an “anybody but” election, similar to the last federal vote. Ontarians were making calculated decisions up until the moment they cast their ballot, making the information they were consuming critical up until the final second.
Over the course of the election, MIREMS wrote about the NDP’s rise in the polls, and the impact of editorial and opinion pieces on the campaign—all too crucial in an election that was “too close to call” even a few days out from voting day.
In LISPOP’s election post-mortem, they said “of the 23 grey seats listed as too close to call, 15 were won by the Conservatives, 4 by the Liberals, 3 by the NDP 1 by the Greens.
Some of those 23 heated ridings were in Mississauga, Scarborough, Ottawa, Hamilton, Thunder Bay and London. While considering all the factors that contributed to losses and victories across the aisle, MIREMS is focused on one: Language.
Province-wide, 27.5 percent of Ontarians speak a language other than English and French as their Mother Tongue. A jump up from the national average of 21 percent.
In Mississauga, 52.7 percent of the population has a mother tongue other than English or French. In London, 19.1 percent and Ottawa 19.6 percent speak an unofficial, immigrant language as their Mother Tongue. In Hamilton it's 23.2 percent. At least one in five voters in these crucial areas could have turned to their local ethnic media for information on how to vote, and more importantly who to vote for.
In Brampton, where 48.41 percent of the population speaks a language other than English or French as their mother tongue, the NDP won three seats. With such a large multilingual population, the ethnic media is incredibly active in Brampton.
To further understand the role of language and language representation in the Ontario Election, MIREMS looked at Ontario Election-specific stories in the province's ethnic media from May 1 to June 7. The language breakdown of these stories sees the most coverage from Chinese sources, followed by Tamil and Mandarin.
Compared to the distribution of Ontario’s sources we can see that Chinese, Tamil and Mandarin sources were more active in discussing the election than their foothold on Ontario's ethnic media landscape.
In an article in Chinese Canadian Times the author reflected on the final leaders' debate saying “the debate probably was not able to change the mind of most Chinese voters, but rather provided supporting evidence for one to make fun of the parties that one doesn't support.” At the end, the author concludes that Ford is not going to be the saviour, neither is Horwath or Wynne. “It doesn't matter who will win the elections, there won't be upside down changes in the future of Ontario.”
Stories like these can have a large impact because they connect directly with readers in their mother tongue. When driving home campaign messages or rallying for support, connecting with voters is paramount. In MIREMS’ analysis of editorial and opinion stories, we saw an audience for opinions and ideas that weren’t necessarily getting coverage in the mainstream media.
A further comparison of Ontario’s multilingual sources and coverage of the election against Ontario’s breakdown of mother tongues is also worthwhile. Absent the top reporting languages is German, which still makes up a considerable chunk of Ontarians’ mother tongues.
Looking and listening for demographics and different languages is a unique and effective way to connect with and understand audiences. Whether or not the ethnic vote swung the election deserves further analysis, but the impact of multilingual media on Ford’s success, the Liberal’s destruction and Horwath’s climb is worth considering.
Ontario’s dynamic provincial election has almost come to an end. What began as a big lead for Doug Ford and the Conservatives has splintered into sweeping new support for Andrea Horwath and the NDP, and steep losses—bookended by Kathleen Wynne’s concession of defeat—for the Liberals.
With swift changes in the polls, allegations and denials, bad budgets and no budgets the election campaign has kept voters on their toes and glued to the news.
MIREMS has paid close attention to the multilingual and multicultural media during this time. Editorials, opinion pieces, columns and commentary stories help us understand not only what is being said, but by who, and why. And following the storytellers, not just the stories, can be illuminating.
In the city of Brampton, where 27.8 percent of people speak a language other than English most often at home the ethnic media has been vocal throughout the campaigns. After allegations of PC candidate Simmer Sandhu’s involvement in the 407 ETR data breach Punjabi CAIO 530 AM Morning called Sandhu, who pulled out of the East Brampton race, “a nice and educated guy.” A different tone came from Canadian Punjabi Post which wrote that the incident changed the entire campaign atmosphere in all of Brampton. Continuing to say “Ford’s charisma has faded away in Brampton and the situation has directly benefited the NDP.” An editorial from Canadian Punjabi Post questioned Ford’s decision to nominate Sudeep Verma as Sandhu’s replacement and not Naval Bajaj, who was second in the nomination race asking “whether Doug Ford’s decision to nominate Verma was a political flaw or a gift to the NDP?”
Mark Strong on Caribbean Radio G 98.7 FM Mark & Jem in the Morning called Wynne’s admission of defeat “very selfish.” Mentioning as well how Horwath said Wynne was playing a dangerous game conceding but encouraging people to vote Liberal anyways to create a minority government. The host said Ford says he’s there to work for the people “while the NDP stands for the wrong kind of change.”
A twice-monthly Punjabi source from Toronto, Good News, also weighed in on the election this week. The author, Ebram Magar predicts June 7 will be a historic day for Ontario. “Ontario is living in its worst days since 2003,” says Magar. He says the Liberal party is “weak, has nothing to offer and many failed projects.” Magar continued saying: “Many believe the NDP is an extension of the Liberal party; it is a party that has expensive plans and they plan for more debt, increases to the Carbon Taxes, and teaching sex ed in schools. Their plan is to make this province a sanctuary. The NDP wants to offer anyone crossing the border into Ontario access to all health and social services, even for illegal people. This will not be paid out of Andrea's pocket, but out of our pockets.” The article didn’t support Ford’s conservatives outright, but gave clear criticism towards his opponents.
In contrast, an editorial in Italian Corriere Canadese called the Conservative’s campaign a “trainwreck.” Saying the only reason people have not turned their back on them is the desire for a change in government and the “right-wing media’s emphasis on Liberal and NDP mistakes, while ignoring those of the Tories.”
Mónica Percivale wrote a column for Spanish Correo Canadiense titled: The verb, to vote: How to conjugate it for the June 7 election. She argued that all parties and candidates have their flaws and features, but that the NDP offers excellent options—with Hispanic candidates in two ridings “who will without a doubt bring our needs and concerns to the provincial legislature if they are elected.” She encourages all readers to “vote without fear and with the conviction that exercising our sovereign right to vote can only strengthen us.”
Amid Ford’s plans for a buck-a-beer and scrapping the carbon tax, his plans for cannabis registered on ethnic media’s radar. MIREMS knows multilingual and multicultural communities have often expressed unique opinions about cannabis legalization. And during this campaign, conservative-leaning publications criticised Ford’s stance on cannabis legalization. In Toronto’s Chinese Today Commercial News Ze Hui wrote that Ford’s plan to create a free cannabis market will “lead to further proliferation of the substance in the community.”
An editorial from Manuel da Costa in Toronto’s Portuguese Milenio Stadium gave some scathing and almost humourous remarks after the final leadership debate in Toronto:
“I’m sorry some people want me to stop writing. Sorry, I won’t. “I am really sorry that more people don’t like me, but I’m not sorry about what I’m about to say,” said Wynne. I watched the last leaders’ debate and started liking Kathleen Wynne. The insanity of it all changed my view about the future of this province. Wynne looked proper and professional, hiding the fact that she has harmed this province for the last 5 years. So Sorry! Ford, showing his chest hair because he can’t afford a Deco Label tie attempted to scare the voters about the other parties but is without any substance. And then Horwath, with red lipstick and a blue blouse couldn’t make up her mind about which party she should belong to. Maybe an orange outfit would suffice and she could move in with Justin Trudeau. The three candidates all offered recipes for disasters. Shame on them for not taking the interests of the voters seriously. Sorry!"
Following these editorials, columns and opinion pieces provides MIREMS with a direct line to the opinions of publishers and commentators that are being shared with listeners and readers across the province in their mother tongue or from the mouth of someone who is a part of their community.
The Ontario provincial election is still too close to call, with election day a week out. What began with Rob Ford and the Conservatives with a clear lead has become a much closer competition. Since May 1, Andrea Horwath and the NDP have been steadily rising in the polls: Slated to snag seats long held by the Liberal and Conservative parties.
This is Horwath’s fourth provincial election—third as leader of the NDP—and she’s got her work cut out for her if she hopes to win. Paying close attention to the opinions and voices of voters across the province is paramount to any politician’s success, and MIREMS makes those voices—otherwise hidden behind language barriers—accessible.
MIREMS is currently monitoring 616 multilingual and multicultural media sources in Ontario, ranging from Windsor’s Arabic Almohajer Al Jadeed, South Asian Saanj News in Caledon and Ottawa’s six Arabic and seven Chinese sources.
A special collection of editorial and opinion stories from these sources over the past month highlight the role of multilingual and multicultural media in this election as well as Ontario politics year-round.
Many reports covered the opinion that voters are leaning towards the NDP the same way they leaned towards the Liberals in the last federal election. The “keep the conservatives out” mentality has certainly moved some voters from Liberal to NDP, but this alone isn’t enough to swing the entire election. As Inacio Natividade wrote for Sol Portugues: “The idea is that given the polarization of the electorate, there’s still an undecided portion in the volatile electorate that could be a surprise factor and give Andrea Horwath a final victory.”
The Canadian Punjabi Post called the rise of the NDP in the polls a “big surprise.” Christo Aivalis writing for the Philippine Canadian Inquirer went further. In his article titled: “How an NDP victory in Ontario is a real possibility” Aivalis comments on the surprising turn of events, with the race now almost neck and neck between Horwath and Ford; a contrast to first thoughts of Wynne and Ford’s race adding: “The momentum is with the NDP.”
Some sources threw their support behind the NDP. A column in Share, a weekly newspaper serving the Black and Caribbean community in the GTA urges readers to give the NDP “genuine consideration.” Noting that Horwath’s platform’s focus on health care, pharma care and childcare “deeply resonate” with many Ontarians, mentioning as well, her party’s complete ban on police street checks. On CIAO 530 AM Morning with Tejinder Sidhu callers chimed in to support the NDP’s position on auto insurance policies.
Other sources shared opinion and editorials that were more critical. Toronto’s Farsi Salam Toronto, a weekly paper weighed in on all three candidates' promises surrounding the price of gas, calling Horwath’s pledge “vague.” And an editorial on 51.ca the online Chinese source out of Toronto says “The New Democratic Party is handing out candy; their candy is sweeter and has nicer packaging than the Liberals'. In the end, however, perhaps voters only get to see the colourful wrappers, but don't actually get to eat the candy.”
Multicultural and multilingual media has also given two NDP candidates a direct line to connect with their voters. Kingsley Kwok was introduced to the readers Chinese source Ming Pao Toronto in an article highlighting candidates in the area. Sandra Lozano, a Salvadoran-Canadian candidate for Vaughan-Woodbridge wrote an article for the Spanish source Correo Canadiense saying she’s proud to be the first Latina woman running in her region finishing with “I believe the NDP is the change that Ontario needs, a positive and energetic change."
Four years ago, during the last provincial election, MIREMS paid close attention to the multilingual media. The Punjabi Post reported in 2014 on Horwath’s campaign launch in the incredibly multilingual and diverse city of Brampton where MIREMS monitors 22 multilingual and multicultural sources. This year, the NDP party leader kicked off her campaign in Hamilton, which has six sources covered by MIREMS consultants.
As the next two weeks unfold, the polls will make their predictions, and news sources across the province will stay on the election trail.
Ensuring that all Ontario voices are accessible is the foundation of MIREMS’ work, and could hold the key to swinging voters and winning seats.
MIREMS 2014 Ontario Election Sample Report
Look back at some stories and headlines from the 2014 election, as told to Ontario's multilingual and multicultural communities.
Is Canada’s bilingual identity expanding?
In The Walrus’ 15th-anniversary special print edition, writer Mark Abley asks: “The official languages act will soon turn fifty. Have we outgrown it?” in his article Beyond Bilingualism. The article, which was The O’Hagan Annual Essay on Public Affairs, looks at Canada’s history with both bilingualism and multilingualism.
With the same questions in mind, in February StatsCan’s Mega Trend release was: “The evolution of language populations in Canada, by mother tongue, from 1901 to 2016.” This study followed trends of mother tongues in Canada, largely influenced by immigration and the changing role of language in Canadians’ identities.
Both publications focus on the role of language in Canadian identity, history and growth. At the centre of this discussion of language lies what we call our mother tongue.
The mother tongue is the beginning of language. It is where communication starts, the sounds that become feelings and instructions; it speaks to human understanding behind-the-scenes. And in Canada, it plays a distinctly unique role in national identity.
It wasn’t until 1941 that the concept of a mother tongue was even defined in the census. Shifting trends in immigration have correlated directly with changes in languages spoken in Canada. In 1901 Celtic languages like Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and German dominated the non-official languages. Today, Colaisde na Gàidhlig, The Gaelic College— tucked away on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia—is the only Gaelic school of its kind in all of North America.
In Beyond Bilingualism Abley says the rise of minority languages due to immigration as well as the reclamation of indigenous languages across the country—in the 2016 census over 70 indigenous languages were reported being spoken across Canada—has influenced this shifting idea of national multilingualism.
Over time, the percentage of Canada’s population that speaks English has remained fairly constant. Non-official language groups have filled the space left by French’s steady decline.
Abley notes, however, that the French language is keeping its footing, thanks in part to immigration from French-speaking countries such as Congo and Rwanda. Provinces like Quebec and New Brunswick play a large role in Canada’s French-language identity, but even Montreal is seeing great linguistic growth. As Abley writes “Montreal has more trilingual residents than anywhere else in Canada.”
Linguistic diversity is increasing across the country. The second most spoken language in Halifax, Nova Scotia is Arabic, and an hours’ drive from The Gaelic College in Cape Breton is Eskasoni Immersion School—Essissoqnwey Siawa'sik-l'nuey Kina'matinewo'kuo'm in Mi'kmaq—which teaches students from kindergarten to Grade 5 entirely in the indigenous language Mi'kmaq.
After changes to immigration laws in the 1960’s Canada saw a rapid rise in immigration from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, the West Indies and Africa.
Languages such as Chinese have seen incredible increases. Only 100,000 people declared Chinese as their mother tongue in 1971. That number rose to 1.3 million in 2016. This change is reflected in the rise of Chinese local and national media in Canada since then, specifically in BC.
After English, Filipino languages are now the most widely used languages in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary. In his article Abley mentions the website of a car dealership in Winnipeg ’s north end.
“We are proud to speak English, Punjabi, Tagalog, Hindi, Arabic Portuguese, Polish, Ukrainian and French. “The order is revealing,” says Abley. Winnipeg has over 50,000 people who speak a mother tongue from the Philippines—the largest percentage of Filipino speakers in any city in Canada.
Being able to offer services to new immigrants as well as first and second generation Filipino-Canadians in their mother tongue makes the dealership stand out in a city where 6.9 percent of residents speak Tagalog.
In the 2016 census one-fifth of Canadians reported having a mother tongue other than English, and at the end of 2017, one-fifth of Canada’s population were immigrants.
Graphic by Caora McKenna
Abley writes that “In the era of Trudeau, the future appears multilingual,” and in MIREMS' experience, this is certainly true.
MIREMS' President, Andrés Machalski has been making feelings, opinions and ideas hidden behind the mother tongues of multilingual Canadians accessible to decision makers for over 30 years.
"Multilingualism has become enshrined. It’s not going to go away," says Machalski. "The languages will change as they respond to demographic change, but not the idea that we live in a multilingual society."
By increasing access to Canadians expressing their opinions in their mother tongues, businesses and decision-makers can be better informed about these growing and vital communities. MIREMS offers this link and works to make language barriers transparent.
Since MIREMS’ latest blog on multicultural media’s coverage of recent increases in irregular border crossing, the issue—specifically the Safe Third Country Agreement—continues to get media coverage across the country.
The Safe Third Country Agreement establishes that asylum seekers who arrive at formal US-Canada border crossings are turned back and told to apply for asylum in the first country they arrived to.
In the past 12 months, Canada has seen an influx of this kind of migrant, fuelled by uncertainty surrounding immigration programs in the US like TPS and DACA under the Trump Administration. These announcements are in part responsible for the record-breaking number of migrants taking unofficial routes into Canada—their only option if they’ve already applied for asylum once already—thanks to STCA.
Amidst coverage about the rise of border crossings, Anna Mehler Paperny reported for Reuters in April that Canada has been working to change the Safe Third Country Agreement in a way that allows them to “turn back thousands of asylum seekers walking across the border” but that it was the US who wasn’t cooperating.
The Canadian officials Paperny spoke with said they want the STCA to apply to the entire border between Canada and the US, not just the 117 official border crossings.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Canada has not yet started formal talks with the US on amending the agreement, though US officials are reported to be reviewing the agreement.
The issue of asylum-seeking migrants highlights a point of contention among immigrant communities. On one hand, they are sympathetic towards those fleeing their home country in hopes of a better life. On the other hand, they are hesitant to encourage the notion that there’s an “easy way” to join life in Canada. Some border crossers are said to be “skipping the line,” others “have no other choice."
Multicultural and immigrant media published various responses to these reports. Spanish sources were more sympathetic, noting that some people in the US are under new pressures, and “Canada is the only escape route they see” Voces Latinas CHHA AM 1610, a Spanish radio show said. Adding: “However, it is also fair for Canada to put limits on the numbers of people it accepts, not to reject those who really need asylum, but to be able to integrate those who come.”
An opinion article published in Toronto’s Sri Lankan Ceylon Express said the Liberal government’s allocation of funds to deal with illegal immigration is “reassuring”, and will “enable the swift processing of asylum claims and the deportation of those who do not qualify for refugee status in Canada.” Adding that “Cracking down on these illegal border crossers at the border itself will not go along with PM Trudeau's philosophy of openness.” The Chinese online daily BCbay.com quoted Trudeau saying “we are going to remain compassionate while ensuring our laws are enforced.”
The weekly newspaper Hindi Abroad in Toronto printed a story headlined “Prime minister is trying to send back the refugees,” and the Punjabi daily source Hamdard Daily’s headline read “Canadian government to tighten noose over illegal entry into Canada.” Toronto’s Russian Express called the Conservative’s request for “immediate measures to limit illegal migration” a “timely” one. And talk-show in Edmonton, Desh Punjab Radio had a caller who mentioned Conservative MP Maxime Bernier “who wants Canada to close the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement and send those who cross illegally back to the United States.”
Many sources quoted prominent immigration lawyer Stéphane Handfield who recommended amending the agreement. Which would “ease the pressure on Quebec which has had the vast majority of asylum claims in the last two years,” (Atin Ito, Filipino, 01/05/2018).
Jean-François Lisée, the leader of Parti Québécois, Quebec’s opposition party, suggested building a fence with signs near the new Quebec-New York border crossing. Vancouver’s Van People said Lisée said: “that the signs are not meant to expel and exclude; it's meant to send the message that ‘this is the wrong road’."
The issue is sure to stay on the forefront of immigration news, as the weather continues to warm, and talks about renegotiating the Safe Third Country Agreement become more official.
MIREMS continues to pay close attention to these issues, and help make opinions and voices normally hidden behind language barriers more accessible to decision makers.
As temperatures rise, so too does pressure on the government to address rising numbers of asylum-seekers crossing the US-Canada border.
The RCMP intercepted more than 3,000 irregular border-crossers in January and February 2018, part of a total number of 7,800 asylum seekers processed by the federal Immigration Department and the Canada Border Services Agency during the same time period. On Easter weekend 600 people crossed the border.
Last summer, MIREMS reported on the increase in cross-border asylum-seekers and what the ethnic media was saying to inform, encourage and discourage this migration.
“Uncertainty over the TPS and rumours circulating in the US that Canada would accept Haitians with open arms, meant Canada saw the highest number of asylum seekers in years—5,712—cross the Canada-United Stated border in August. Canada’s ethnic media was part of the conversation.”
MIREMS looked at stories published by our sources between April 4 and April 19 covering cross-border migration. These sources are keeping close tabs on the situation.
The majority of 2018’s migrants are Nigerian and Lok Awaaz in Edmonton reports that this suggests “word-of-mouth about Canada as a safe haven for asylum seekers has continued to spread despite Canadian efforts to counter it.” (12/04/2018).
The Chinese source 51.ca quoted American refugee lawyer Stephanie Handfield saying that “many refugees in the US feel that if they can find a way to set foot on Canadian soil, and then fill out a refugee claim form, they can settle permanently in Canada.”
This is a common thought, and it comes from the loophole in the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement which prevents people arriving from the US to claim asylum protection at an official Canadian port of entry. Though once on Canadian soil, a person can claim asylum protection. That’s the incentive for making illegal crossings.
An article in Chinese Readers says "Trudeau’s 'Canada welcomes you' message gives refuges the illusion they will have a good life in Canada, and adds that only 10 percent of refugee claims are approved; the success rate is very low” (08/04/2018) which is incorrect. In 2013 the acceptance rate was at 43 percent, and rose to 70 percent in the first nine months of 2017, falling to 54 percent by November of 2017.
A main issue is the backlog of applications, though the Liberal government has committed $74 million to address this with the Immigration and Refugee Board, as well as cutting work-permit wait times for asylum seekers from three months to three weeks and issued more than 12,000 work permits to asylum seekers in Quebec.
Conservative critics are saying it's not enough. According to a motion put forward this week by Conservative MP and immigration critic Michelle Rempel, a tweet from the Prime Minster in January 2017 is partly to blame for the “crisis created by the influx of thousands of illegal border crossers.”
A headline from Bharat Times in Montreal is shares this criticism saying “Justin Trudeau is failing to manage illegal border crossings.” (06/04/2018).
The motion from the conservative government is also pressuring the Liberals to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement. An article by the Chinese BCbay.com in Vancouver quoted Jane Dench, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, who says “refugees who pay large amounts of money to enter Canada only to find out they've been lied to by the scammers when they're filling out the refugee claim. Dench said that if the Safe Third Country agreement was suspended, refugees would be less vulnerable to scammers.” (08/04/2018)
There’s also pressure from Quebec. The overwhelmed and nearly infamous border crossing at Roxham Road, has resulted in a plan to move asylum-seekers to Ontario—if that’s their preferred destination.
Chinese source Dawa Business Press in Vancouver reported that “Quebec has yet to receive a formal response from the federal government for the reimbursement of claimants who flocked to the province over the past year, and has asked IRCC to expedite the review process of the refugee claims as there has been a severe backlog,” (07/04/2018) and Canadian Tamil Broadcasting Corp. reported that Montreal is reluctant to use the Olympic stadium for refugees this summer. “Magda Popeanu, vice-chair of the City's executive committee, says that they welcome the asylum seekers and are prepared to provide alternative accommodation for them.” (07/04/2018).
The 600 asylum-seekers who arrived over Easter weekend raised concerns across the country. Warmer weather and continued uncertainty in the United States could mean Canada is on track to see record breaking numbers like we did last August: 5,712 refugee claimants, an 82 percent jump up from July.
Gui Ding wrote for Sinoquebec Chinese Newspaper asking if the Canada-US border can remain peaceful. Noting the differences in Trudeau and Trumps attitudes, the author suggests there might be a need for both Canadian and American troops along the border, saying “Trudeau is more friendly to Middle East refugees, and it is possible that there will be terrorists among the refugees that Canada is planning to take from Israel, which could pose potential security threats to the US.” (06/04/2018).
Press Secretary to Immigration Minster Ahmed Hussen, Mathieu Genest was quoted widely in the ethnic media saying “Canada is an open and welcoming country to those in need of protection, but our government is committed to orderly migration to protect Canadians and our immigration system. Our government is prepared for any future fluctuations.”
As uncertainty surrounding immigration continues south of the border, the pressure to adequately handle asylum-seeking migrants will continue. Canada's ethnic media provides a first hand look at how communities are responding to these pressures.
Written by Caora McKenna
Speculations about the Russian double agent Sergei Skripal’s assassination attempt in London have swept up many nations in the Western World. The secretive circumstances surrounding the case, particularly regarding Skripal’s past as a double agent for the MI6, have allowed for speculations by journalists on all sides of the issue. Theresa May’s government was first to expel Russian diplomats from their London offices as a retaliation measure, swiftly followed by Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau. European Council President Donald Tusk says that 14 EU countries, including France, Poland and the Baltic states, will be taking similar measures. A combined total of 342 diplomats have been swept up in these diplomatic gestures by all sides.
Where does Canada fit in this complicated international situation? Recently, CBC interviewed the Director of the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, Janis Sarts. She warned that Canada is the next natural target for Russian election interference. In addition to the strong allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Elections, there have also been rumors of meddling attempts in Germany, France and Czech Republic, among others. Canada will soon need to start paying closer attention to the strength of its democratic institutions and their vulnerability to foreign influence. Even without any external interference, a doubt may be cast that may undermine democratic processes unpredictably and destabilize Canadian leadership. It may also contribute to the confusion in the NATO block, which is already spreading, as to how to react to these new kinds of threats.
Western mainstream media appears to have sided with the UK, while being relatively accepting and without emotional calls for action. An exception to that rule is the Globe and Mail, which published an opinion piece titled “Back to the USSR: Putin and the new Cold War”, which places the Salisbury attack within the context of many of Putin’s actions in the former Soviet republics. The article was heavily criticised by the Russian Embassy in Canada.
Today, mainstream Canadian media outlets such as National Post and CBC seem to address the issue in fairly neutral tones. There is a clear presumption of Russian guilt – CBC cited a British businessman calling it “state-sanctioned terrorism”, yet the notion of a foreign state ordering an assassination does not seem to create panic. While Justin Trudeau has taken a strong diplomatic stance on the issue, the outpouring of think pieces in the Canadian media about what these new threats to the international system mean for Canada has yet to come.
Meanwhile, an attitude of innocence and a somewhat ironic confusion dominates the Russian media. It has repeatedly stressed the lack of observable evidence – ignoring how the intelligence character of the case may mean not all evidence is necessarily available to the press. Whether or not there really is evidence is unknowable, and yet, Russian media, not entirely unlike Canadian and British media, seems to accept the state line without much questioning. Izvestia, a Moscow based outlet, reported that “London has not produced any evidence yet of Moscow's involvement in this incident. Nevertheless, Great Britain was supported by many Western countries”. One outlet, Moscow’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta, called Chrystia Freeland’s “statement about Ottawa’s support for Britian’s unjustified accusations against Russia” was “puzzling.” Similar tones echo through Russian media coverage, where plausible deniability is maintained instead of analyzing potential culprits. Daily outlet Korrespondent from Kyiv said Freeland’s statements are “unacceptable and deserve condemnation.”
These nuances in Russian media coverage of the event are subtle, but they shed light on the way the Russian media operates and how ordinary Russians often perceive that the West irrationally accuses Russia of crimes without evidence out of sheer ‘Russophobia.’ Understanding that the Russian mindset differs significantly from that of the ordinary Canadian may not seem pressing today, where the issue at hand is an attack on a foreign country with little immediate consequences for Canada today. But if NATO analysts are right, Canadian policy makers need to realize that the differences between Russia and Canada are deeper than they might appear on the surface. And unless Canada invests seriously not just in diplomacy, but in quality intelligence analysis, it may be unprepared to deal with potential Russian hybrid threats and political fallout that is sure to follow.
Written by MIREMS consultant Paula Zvejniece. Born and raised in Latvia, Paula is studying War Studies at King’s College in London.