All Governments Lie documentary takes aim at mainstream media
All Governments Lie documentary takes aim at mainstream media
Guests: Fred Peabody, Amy Goodman
AMT: Hello, I’m Anna Maria Tremonti and you’re listening to The Current. Well, we are less than a week into our new season but it’s already time to check in on what you’ve had to say on the stories we are following. And we will follow up on some ongoing stories as well coming up, such as the wall Donald Trump would build along the US-Mexican border. But first, all the news that’s fit to print but never gets reported.
VOICE 1: When is the last time you heard CNN say the Pentagon is lying?
VOICE 2: You know we don’t have state media in the United States but if we had it, how would it be any different?
VOICE 3: I think the media is really nihilistic. It’s about making money. What makes money in this country happens to be avoiding difficult truths about our society.
VOICE 4: Good journalism today has the state in its crosshairs and you never want to punch down. You always want to punch up.
AMT: Well, “all governments lie” was the mantra of investigative journalist I.F. Stone and that is the title of a new documentary film which is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival. You heard a bit of the trailer of All Governments Lie just now. We’ll post a link to that trailer for you to see at www.cbc.ca/thecurrent. This film investigates the state of journalism today in the US and it is in part a tribute to I.F. Stone who from the 1950s to the 1970s worked to reveal US government and corporate deception in a weekly newsletter. Even if I.F. Stone has been largely forgotten, it is this film’s hope that his message will not be. Fred Peabody is the director of the film. He joins us from Vancouver. Amy Goodman appears in this documentary. She is the co-founder, host and executive producer of the independent news and current affairs program, Democracy Now. She’s in New York. Hello to you both.
FRED PEABODY: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Hi Anna Maria.
AMT: Fred, let’s begin with you. You’ve rooted a documentary about contemporary media in I.F. Stone’s legacy. Remind us who I.F. Stone was.
FRED PEABODY: I.F. Stone is kind of a legend amongst investigative journalists and almost unknown to the public these days. But he published a four page newsletter out of his home in Washington, DC from 1953 to 1971 and it was called I.F. Stone’s Weekly. He and his wife Esther basically were the entire staff and he was able to get subscribers because before that, he had worked at The Nation and at some newspapers in New York City where he—people knew him, particularly people on the left, progressives as we might call them now. They knew that this was a guy who was smart, wrote extremely well, had a sense of humour and told the truth. And that’s why they subscribed and his early subscribers included Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe.
AMT: Amy Goodman, how much of an influence has I.F. Stone been on your career?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I think overall, the legacy that he left and the three words that are the title of this documentary, “All governments lie”, are the place where journalists have to start. And that is not, I think, often taught in traditional journalism schools. But you start not by parroting the state line, but by questioning it. You know they have their paid spokespeople to put out their information and sadly often these spokespeople simply do lie. And it’s our job as journalists not to act as a megaphone for those in power. And that’s certainly what I.F. Stone taught us.
AMT: Why did you want to start Democracy Now, Amy?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, 20 years ago was the first daily election show in public broadcasting. It was the year that President Clinton was re-elected. And we felt it was a really important way—I mean when I was called to be the host of this new show, I was in an underground house in Haiti and I was covering people who were trying to get involved with politics, people were being gunned down in the streets and those who were going to the polls were afraid they could be gunned down. But they still went and the overwhelming number of people in Haiti voted. But in the United States, most people didn’t vote. And I was curious. Why is that? Are people just apathetic? I don’t think so. But one, they thought perhaps that there wasn’t a real choice offered and two, I wanted to find out what they’re doing in their communities. And using the primary system in the United States as a kind of roadmap, we made our way through the country looking at how people were engaged in their communities. And now, 20 years later, I mean it started on what, nine community radio stations—we’re on 1,400 public radio and television stations around the United States and around the world. And I think that is really a testament to the hunger for independent voices.
AMT: Well, as you recount this and you talk about the 20 years, how has the quality then of mainstream media journalism changed in those 20 years since Democracy Now started?
AMY GOODMAN: The question is has it changed. Sadly, what matters about these corporate networks is who owns these networks. And I mean let’s look at the last election. Twenty years later or I should say this current 2016 election, who they broadcast—it has become Trump television and Trump radio. What we do atDemocracy Now—what I think is pivotal and what the corporate media misses—is covering the movements. It’s movements that matter. It’s movements that make history.
AMT: And you know Fred Peabody, Amy is talking about the overall news coverage. I want to ask you to describe very—in the particular state of investigative journalism today.
FRED PEABODY: Well, I think the problem is that you know investigative journalism takes time. It takes time and it takes money. And the mainstream media outlets—these days particularly—are all about the bottom line. They’re owned by huge corporations that really have no commitment to journalism and that they are not able to spend the resources even that they did probably 20 years ago.
AMT: I mean are they not able or do they not want to? Because they still have money. They spend a lot of money on other stuff.
FRED PEABODY: That’s a good point. I mean yeah. Look, there’s money there, huge profits for the corporations and yet they’re not giving it to the newspapers to improve the quality of the journalism.
AMT: And you know it is not solely investigative journalism, it is—Amy, you just touched on the ongoing coverage of what’s happening in—we’re talking about the US right now, in the US today. I’ve got a clip. This is you, Amy, just a few days ago. Let’s listen.
We’re standing at the access site of the Dakota Access pipeline. It looks like there are at least three bulldozers that are—to people’s surprise at this moment—actually bulldozing the land. There’s a helicopter above, there’s security here and hundreds of people have been marching up when they heard that the construction site is actually active right now.
AMT: Okay. This is a confrontation at you say the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. Amy, this is an Indigenous fight over land.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, it is. And this is a battle really for all of us. It’s around the whole issue of climate change. But this was amazing. Labour Day weekend. The Democracy Now team went out there and we were on the site—this is the largest gathering of tribes—over 100 tribes, nations have gathered in North Dakota to challenge the Dakota Access pipeline. It has been growing over the months. And on Saturday of Labour Day weekend, hundreds of people marched to the site that had been a site where they’re building the pipeline. They didn’t expect it to be active at that moment. They were going to plant their tribal flags. And bulldozers were destroying the burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux, the reservation in the area.
AMT: How many people are there with cameras with you, Amy? Beyond you.
AMY GOODMAN: There was Democracy Now and there were many people with their iPhones. That’s it. Our video of this moment—and it is astounding what took place—the security unleashed dogs, one of the dogs’ mouth was dripping with blood, nose and mouth. We were the only ones, the only major network there to cover this.
AMT: Fred Peabody, Amy Goodman talks about a massive demonstration that is really pivotal, that the mainstream media don’t attend and are not covering. You spoke with several journalists, one in particular, John Carlos Frey. He’s an independent reporter. He’s been working a long time on a story about mass graves of illegal immigrants in Texas and he basically takes us through this in your film and talks about how the mainstream media ignores all of these graves. Why? Why do those stories not get covered? Why is what Amy is saying, why is that not covered in another way?
FRED PEABODY: I wish I had all the answers. But I think you’re right that John Carlos Frey could not possibly do the work he does if he were working for a mainstream media outlet. And he has a very different model from some of the independent journalists that we present in the film. But he’ll spend a year investigating a story like this, but then he tries to get it on the mainstream media so the story gets out there. And occasionally he does get his stories after he’s spent the year researching it and even filming some of the interviews. He does get some of his stories on shows like 60 Minutes or Dateline and PBS. But it’s a real battle because he says even in the case of PBS, they’re thinking about ratings, about what their either advertisers or corporate sponsors in the case of PBSmight be you know interested or offended by, and also what their viewers would like to watch. And apparently it’s not good for ratings to talk about poor people. And as Matt Taibbi says, you know a story about people on welfare, that’s not a story. But if Kim Kardashian falls into a puddle in Central Park, that’s a story.
AMT: I want to ask you about that because Matt Taibbi works forRolling Stone. They’re the ones who put Kim Kardashian on a cover.
FRED PEABODY: Yeah. They’re a strange kind of schizophrenic, very unusual organization. You might say quirky. But they’ve always supported going back to the time of Hunter S. Thompson who also did his you know outstanding writing. Even though they’ve basically got a rock and roll magazine, they’ve had this strong commitment, right from the beginning, to questioning authority I would say. And I guess that’s part of the rock and roll mentality. But there’s always been a mandate there for people. Matt Taibbi has kind of inherited the mantle of Hunter S. Thompson and he has a free rein to—that he would not have if he were working for Time magazine.
AMY GOODMAN: But you know, Anna Maria and Fred, while he may not make his way onto a major network, when he does a report like he just—like John Carlos Frey just did, or Matt Taibbi—you know they’ll be on Democracy Now. We have to challenge the corporate media but we also have to build our own media. I think that, for example, Democracy Now is showing public broadcasting—because we’re on many PBS and NPR stations in the United States—we’re turning their audiences, their formulas for their audiences on their head. You know diversity, young people, because people care about authentic voices.
AMT: Well, I have a clip I want to play from Ralph Nader, the former American presidential candidate, a long-time advocate against what corporations do when it comes to consumers. Listen to what he says in the film.
The problem is most of the big media are businesses. They respond to their investors in the stock market and their advertisers. And independent journalists bring their conscience to work and they call the situation as it really is factually. So they’re a rare breed. They’re not indentured to commercial motivation.
AMT: Fred Peabody, that term, “indentured to commercial motivation.” Do you think private media companies are capable of producing important investigative work?
FRED PEABODY: Oh. Look, I think it’s important to—and I’m sure I.F. stone would be the first to say—look, there are honourable men and women working as journalists in the corporate mainstream media. And they’re trying—many of them are trying—to do what they can and trying to expose injustices and report the truth, including the truth about government lies. There are some. But they’re not encouraged to do that. It’s not a way to get promoted. You know even at some place like the New York Times which I used to think was you know the holy grail of journalism. But when you see how they behaved on the run up to the invasion of Iraq, they were the most egregious, as Carl Bernstein says in our documentary.
AMT: Well, they did apologize. They actually took out a full page apology for the work of Judith Miller.
FRED PEABODY: Yeah. And I guess if it happens again, they’ll apologize again. I don’t trust them.
AMY GOODMAN: I hardly think an article on page A10 of the New York Times talking about how they got it wrong in Iraq makes up for their drumbeat front page coverage of Judith Miller, Michael Gordon and others, you know citing unnamed sources beating the drums for war.
AMT: No, I’m just making the point that they did acknowledge it internally. But now, that’s interesting because you don’t mention the McClatchy papers once known as Knight Ridder, who actually were doing the stories in Washington, questioning weapons of mass destruction, doing all of that. But nobody in Washington read them because their subscribers were elsewhere.
FRED PEABODY: Yeah. And as David Corn says in our documentary, there was a story buried on page 19 or something of theWashington Post in the pre-Iraq invasion period where the headline was something like you know “Bush administration’s case for war is wrong.” But why was that buried on page 19?
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s really key is where not only where it’s placed—because you’ll see occasional excellent exposés, even in the corporate media. But it’s the drumbeat coverage, what appears day after day on the front pages of the papers. I mean it’s the people, the pundits they choose to go to. You know these know-nothing pundits, these pundits who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us and getting it so wrong. It’s the generals who are interviewed, who are just described as kind of elder statesmen instead of the fact that they’re for example now working for a weapons manufacturer who profits from the war that they’re advocating for. But that’s never identified.
AMT: Do you think Fred, that a lot of consumers of media in North America are beginning to understand this? I mean Amy makes the point of the great success of Democracy Now. We know that the numbers of network television news are not good. Even cable numbers on US cable, they’re not great. People are just not going to some of those places. Do you think that maybe the public might be smarter than the news executives?
FRED PEABODY: Well, I think that the public under 30 particularly is smart enough to know that the news that is on TV every night in your town is not really the news. And that’s why people—I mean people under 30, my son is 26—his generation, they don’t get their news from the mainstream media. They don’t even have cable. They do get their information and news from various sites on the Internet and a lot of people are accessing links to articles on Twitter and that kind of thing.
AMT: But you know that a lot of those links to articles are legacy media.
FRED PEABODY: Yeah. But a lot—I know it’s how you configure your Twitter feed. But I don’t think that the 20-somethings of today really are as interested in what the large corporate conglomerate mainstream media outlets have to say. I think they largely find them boring.
AMT: But you used to work at CBC and I’m wondering the American media market doesn’t really have an equivalent to the CBC. It hasNPR, which is somewhat equivalent. How does the public broadcaster or public broadcasting—if you look elsewhere—fit into that discussion?
FRED PEABODY: I think we’re very lucky to have the CBC and—
AMT: Not everyone would agree with you but keep going.
FRED PEABODY: Well, okay. I was very lucky to work for CBC Radioback in the late sixties, early seventies when I felt that there was almost a radio revolution going on. In fact, that was part of an ad campaign that they were running for CBC Radio back in the late sixties. Shows like As It Happens were being born, there were other shows that did one-hour documentaries like Concern and Soundings were—and that’s where I cut my teeth as a documentary producer. And you can do social issues. You could question authority. I would say that we are fortunate in Canada and we also have I’d say perhaps a more enlightened view of the US mainstream media. I’d say there is more skepticism generally among the Canadian public and as Amy says in our film, the reason it matters—as I.F. Stone says, “All governments lie.” The reason it matters is that government lies cost lives. And nowhere is that more true I would say than looking at the case of the United States.
AMT: I have another clip I want to play for the film. It is Cenk Uyger. He is the co-host of The Young Turks. And before we hear from him, Fred Peabody, describe what The Young Turks is.
FRED PEABODY: The Young Turks is an online two-hour-long daily news commentary show that Cenk Uyger and his co-anchors and co-producers turn out. Tons of humour, tons of attitude.
AMT: Okay, so I’ve got the clip here. Before I play it, he was an anchor at MSNBC for six months. He said he was let go because viewers didn’t like his tone. Listen to what he says about the attitude he was expected to have.
They don’t have to tell an anchor coming into the mainstream media hey, be pro-government. Although with me, I was so thick-headed, they had to, right? [chuckles] They just don’t hire that guy. And if they make the mistake of hiring him, they demote him or they fire him. And then the message is clear in the building: Shh. We don’t criticize the powers that be. We don’t criticize corporations. We are a giant corporation. We don’t take on the establishment. We are the establishment and the guys who play ball get promotions and everyone in the building sees them getting promotions. So it is an evolutionary process by which the mainstream media gets the product that it wants.
AMT: Amy Goodman, I want you to speak to that because he’s talking about a culture where over time, the expectation of what journalism is begins to morph.
AMY GOODMAN: Right. I mean what he’s saying is that it’s not as direct more often than not, as someone saying you are not allowed to do this because you’re not allowed to speak against the government or corporations. It is a shared ethic, a sensibility. People know what will make them rise in the company and what won’t. I mean ultimately, you know in this high-tech digital age with high-def television and digital radio, what people are most afraid of is static. But what we need is the dictionary definition of static: criticism, opposition, unwanted interference. We need a media that covers power, not covers for power. We need a media that is the fourth estate, not for the state. And we need a media that covers the movements that create static and make history.
AMT: You know Amy, this was particularly noticeable when the United States first went to war in Iraq. There were people who were—I talked to some American journalists who actually said well, that would be unpatriotic to ask that question. There was the issue of patriotism that somehow if you were going to be patriotic, you shouldn’t ask.
AMY GOODMAN: Right. There’s a kind of circling the wagons around the White House in a time of war. That’s exactly when the media has to ask the very tough questions. I mean the group FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, did a study six weeks before the US invasion of Iraq and they looked at the four major nightly newscasts. ABC, CBS, NBC and the PBS NewsHour. There were 393 interviews done around war. This was when half the population was opposed to war, half for war. Three hundred ninety-three interviews done around war on the four major nightly newscasts. There were only three of almost 400 that were with anti-war leaders. That no longer is a mainstream media. That’s an extreme media beating the drums for war.
AMT: So what do you want people to take away from your film, Fred?
FRED PEABODY: Well, my bottom line hope is that we plant some seeds with this documentary and that maybe some young men and young women will see it and decide that they want to become the next I.F. Stone or the next Amy Goodman, the next Naomi Klein. I also hope that we will raise the consciousness of at least some people who see the film to realize that the news outlets that are on the big billboards in your town and on the sides of buses in your town are not necessarily giving you the real news and that there are alternatives there, but they can’t afford to buy the billboards and put the ads on the sides of buses. And so they’re not as in your face as the mainstream media and sometimes you have to be a bit of an investigative journalist just to find out about them.
AMT: Amy Goodman, if you could sit with the executives of the mainstream media in the United States and they promise to take your advice, what advice would you give them?
AMY GOODMAN: Open up the media. I see the media as a huge kitchen table that stretches across the globe that we all sit around and debate and discuss the most important issues of the day. War and peace, life and death and anything less than that is a disservice to a democratic society.
AMT: Fred Peabody, Amy Goodman—thanks for your time today and your thoughts.
FRED PEABODY: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Thanks so much.
AMT: Fred Peabody, director of the documentary, All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I.F. Stone. It premieres tomorrow at the Toronto International Film Festival. Amy Goodman appears in that documentary. She’s the co-founder, host and executive producer of Democracy Now. Well, stay with us. In our next half hour, The Current’s Friday host and the host ofOut in the Open, Piya Chattopadhyay, joins me to sift through a week’s work of your—worth of your—I can barely speak. Piya, you’re already here.
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: Week’s worth of?
AMT: Put the mic up for Piya. Hi Piya.
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: Hi. [laughs]
AMT: Piya Chattopadhyay joins me and we will go through a week’s worth of tweets and posts and you know, correspondence. Okay. This is The Current on CBC Radio One, Sirius XM and online onwww.cbc.ca/thecurrent. Nice to see you.
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: And you.
Back To Top »
Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall will endanger wildlife, says scientist
Guests: Sergio Avila
AMT: Hello, I’m Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
VOICE 1: If I didn’t have homework, I think I would hang out a lot with my friends.
VOICE 2: Canadians are saying they’re feeling vacation deprived and almost half of us are saying we wish we had more vacation time.
AMT: Are you a Donald man or a Hillary man?
VOICE 3: Donald. Oh, I think he’s kind of a loose cannon but you know what, maybe the country needs that.
VOICE 4: There’s a significant and grave threat to medicare, to access as we know it.
AMT: A taste of the week that was here on The Current, our first week of a new season and now it’s time to check in on what some of you have to say about all of the stuff we’re talking about. Joining me to help read through the tweets, the posts, the e-mails, is the host of CBC Radio‘s Out in the Open and this week’s Friday host ofThe Current, Piya Chattopadhyay. Welcome back.
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: Thank you. It’s nice to be here. Let us get to the mail, shall we?
AMT: Okay. Well, Tuesday, as most kids headed back to school, we looked at the growing backlash against homework from both educators and parents.
Well, an example is in grade one they had this mapping project where they had to draw a map of their community, put it on bristol board with their streets, their neighbourhood, their landmarks and their route to school. And my two six-year-olds, they just didn’t have a clue how to even begin such a project. Necessitated parental involvement which is not necessarily a good thing because not all parents can provide that kind of support so it’s an equity issue. But also, you know it starts a trend of parents being really involved in their homework which we get criticized for later, as being helicopters. But I think the thing is the school kind of sends the helicopter to the home.
AMT: That is Katie Lynes, mother of two teenage twins. Her battle against homework started when her kids were in grade one. After we heard about her frustration, we heard from many of you.
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: On Facebook, Travis Morgan wrote: “Homework should be no more than reading or short simple assignments that shouldn’t take up more than 20 minutes total. It should just be a refresher for the day.” Liane Ferraro added: “I want my child out playing and enjoying nature, not indoors hovering and stressing out when it comes to homework. Day one and he received homework. Argh. Here we go. Guess how I’m spending my evening.”
AMT: I like how you did that “Argh.”
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: I’m like a pirate. [laughs]
AMT: Kevin Greenshields added these thoughts—no argh from Kevin—“I think your discussion missed the bigger point. Our school system needs an overhaul. The most successful school system in Western society is in Finland. Their students go to school less than our children do. There is no homework until they are well into their teens. As a teacher for 25 years, I’ve seen the focus on the needs of children erode with a focus on homework and standardized testing.”
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: On Twitter, Frank the Tank tweeted: “A resounding no to homework in elementary school. Mostly it’s a major intrusion on family time.” While Sue Paul Wells added: “I’m convinced homework killed my son’s desire to pursue post-secondary education.” And Mark Girard from North Vancouver e-mailed us his perspective: “I have no problem with other people not wanting their kids to do homework but when it comes to mine, she will be doing hers and she will acquire the emotional toughness or grit to outcompete her peers when they become adults. The fewer of my daughter’s peers learning a strong work ethic through responsible homework completion, the easier it will be for her to climb her economic, social and intellectual ladders.”
AMT: Okay. Well, moving on to a different story.
On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall.
AMT: Well, that is Donald Trump reinforcing the notion he will definitely be reinforcing the US-Mexico border wall. That is if he becomes president, the race is still on. A physical barrier between the two countries however, is not theoretical. The US and its southern neighbor are already separated by over 1000 kilometres of fences of various sorts, running along one-third of the length of the border. This was actually put in place under President Bush. Here on The Current, we’ve had plenty of conversations about the implications of border barriers for immigrants, politics, trade. But some scientists are raising concerns about the effects of these geo-political machinations on wildlife, especially if the wall does in fact get bigger, taller and longer. Sergio Avila is a conservation research scientist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This week, he is one of the scientists presenting his work to the environmental chiefs of Canada, the United States and Mexico at a meeting of theCouncil of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America and we have reached Sergio Avila in Merida, Mexico. Hello.
SERGIO AVILA: Good morning.
AMT: You’ve been living in the region along the US and Mexico border for roughly 20 years. What changes have you seen over time?
SERGIO AVILA: Oh, I’ve seen changes in terms of people on both sides of the border—after some of these policies have been in place—not being able to conduct their normal life as they used to. There are families that were separated. And in terms of wildlife, I have seen the blockage and the destruction of some habitats and corridors and the destruction of the borderlands.
AMT: So what did the barriers look like—that are already there—on that border?
SERGIO AVILA: There are so many different barriers that are solid metal walls, that are recycled landing maps from World War II, there are Normandy style vehicle barriers. There are different type of walls and fences, concrete and metal railings. It’s a mix-match.
AMT: And you look at the wildlife. How has it been affected by that?
SERGIO AVILA: Well, a lot of what we’re observing is that a lot of animals, a lot of populations are being divided and blocking corridors for wildlife. It’s a big problem for wildlife, especially in a time when climate change is putting pressure in some animals and they need to migrate either north to find cooler areas or in higher elevations, from a lower elevation to high elevation, and so this kind of infrastructure is blocking those kind of movements.
AMT: What kind of wildlife are we talking about?
SERGIO AVILA: We’re talking about a great diversity of wildlife. In fact, I was hearing the first statement when you started the show and I’ll tell you the borderlands—the Mexico-US borderlands—are beautiful right now. We are talking about animals like black bears, jaguars, antelope, the iconic bison, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, anything that is a large land mammal but also small animals are affected, like reptiles and amphibians, even birds.
AMT: And so what would the impact on them be over time?
SERGIO AVILA: Over time, it is difficult to predict, but one of the things that is possible, it is the separation, the genetic separation of some species or losing some populations on either side of the border. This is important to address because it really doesn’t matter if you’re south or north of the border, you are trapped anyway. And so the separation of some of these species and more immediately what I have seen is animals not being able to go across the border to go reach the places where they eat or where they drink water. Very dramatic images of herds of javelina or herds of deer just looking at the border, kind of just wondering what is this?
AMT: And the water, is it changing water patterns. Is it affecting water patterns?
SERGIO AVILA: Yes, in some places. This infrastructure was built in areas where some seasonal rivers run. We have a monsoon season in the summer and we get a lot of strong rainstorms that carry a lot of water and in some places, solid walls have blocked these natural places so the water has to find a way to go. It goes under, it goes around. It has destroyed in fact the infrastructure and in some places it flooded town square. There were lots of human lives lost. There were huge economic losses and that was just because water was blocked.
AMT: How easy is it for you to do wildlife research along that border?
SERGIO AVILA: Oh, not very. Not very easy. It requires—I mean we are talking about public lands in the United States, so these are places that everybody can reach. But it’s not always easy. We have to say that border infrastructure is not only the walls and the barriers but there’s also all the patrols, the roads the helicopters, the all-terrain vehicles, the bases, the generators, the lights and so all of this makes it very difficult to reach that area.
AMT: And you are a naturalized American, right? You were born in Mexico?
SERGIO AVILA: I was born in Mexico, correct.
AMT: But you’re an American citizen.
SERGIO AVILA: That is correct.
AMT: Can you go to that border, given all those patrols and the minutemen and everybody else, can you go to that border without being questioned to do your research?
SERGIO AVILA: No. [chuckles] No. No, I can’t. I mean I can, I can, but I am Hispanic and I get a lot of attention when I go to that area.
AMT: Hmm. So as someone born in Mexico now living in the US, how hard is it even to talk about the reality of a wall that could entirely separate the US and Mexico?
SERGIO AVILA: You know I really don’t focus on my nationality. I am focused on nature and on giving people information and inspiring people to live in harmony with nature and to learn about what’s going on in some of these places. And regardless of my nationality, I speak and I try to give a voice for plants and animals in the desert. The desert is not a barren land as many people imagine. It is beautiful deserts and mountains and rivers and valleys. And I think people need to have a complete picture of what the border looks like and what the damage is in order to make a better informed decision.
AMT: Because neither plants nor wildlife actually know what a border is.
SERGIO AVILA: That’s correct. They don’t have these funny straight lines, they have their own borders. And besides the Mexico-US borderlands, it’s the mix of these northern and southern, let’s say temperate and tropical areas, so it’s one of those places where you can find bald eagles in the same mountain range as military macaws. And you can have beautiful saguaro forests, the classic iconic cactus from the desert and little tiny birds living inside of that cactus and those are the plants and animals that I want to give a voice to.
AMT: Well, thank you for sharing your work with us.
SERGIO AVILA: Thank you for the time.
AMT: That is Sergio Avila. He’s a conservation research scientist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and we reached him in Merida.
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: Alright. Well, let us move on to another story. Last week, we took on the topic of the increasingly expensive hydro bills many Canadians are facing in Ontario, where electricity rates are among the highest in North America. Some say that skyrocketing energy costs have forced them into energy poverty. We spoke with Francesca Dobbyn, the United Way‘s executive director in Ontario’s Bruce Grey County.
We have people who walk away from their houses because they can manage the mortgage but the hydro bill is bigger than the mortgage. I have people who are unplugging their clock radio in the morning. The alarm wakes them up, they unplug it and when they go back in their bedroom that night, they plug it back in and they turn their clock radio on. All to try and reduce consumption. It’s totally a crisis. If we had you know 30 people in our community with the measles, it would be a health crisis. We had you know 3,000 people were sick from E.coli in Walkerton all those years ago. That was a crisis. We had 60,000 people disconnected from their hydro and that’s not a crisis?
AMT: Well, after that story, we heard from many of you on Facebook. Trevor Parker wrote: “Just under $12,000 in hydro bills in three years. Hydro or rent? Usually hydro because they will turn you off. Then you get behind on rent, your landlord wants to kick you out. Chance of a good reference from a landlord when I leave? Not a chance.” Paul Watchman added this: “Privatization is immoral. It has always led to reduced service, higher prices and massive profits that go out of the province instead of keeping our taxes down.” And Fort Fazio wrote: “Ontario premier Wynne’s answer – Sell off Hydro One. How that lowers consumer costs is a mystery historians will ponder for years.”
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: We also heard from lots of you on Twitter on this particular topic. @MaryGoddard10 tweeted: “It’s shameful to watch seniors cut back on not just healthy food but food in general to pay hydro bills.” @apricotvalleywf added: “We are converting all our appliances to gas. It’s really sad to have to recycle or sell perfectly good ones. And Michelle Todhill of Duncan, British Columbia sent us an e-mail: “I checked the prices of the Hydro One site and compared them to my BC hydro bill. If I lived in Ontario, my electric bill would be more than double what it is in BC. The crazy thing is the hours that are considered peak, mid- and off-peak change seasonally. How on earth is it reasonable to expect people to conserve electricity when they cannot do laundry or prepare meals without running into peak times?”
AMT: Well, thank you all of you for writing in on that one. A really important issue. Obviously really hit a chord, eh, Piya?
Back To Top »
Ontario law strengthens workplace harassment investigations, says lawyer
Guests: Janice Rubin
AMT: Moving onto a topic now that we have dealt with extensively in the past, workplace harassment. Twenty-eight per cent of Canadians say they have been sexually harassed at work according to a 2014 Angus Reid poll. The vast majority, four out of five of those, say they did not tell their employer. Of course, that means it’s very often no investigation at all. In Ontario, a new law comes into effect today that brings employers under a stronger obligation to uncover any harassment at work. And some lawyers say it will bring the issue further out into the open. Janice Rubin is an employment lawyer and partner at Rubin Thomlinson LLP. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Janice Rubin also led the investigation into the CBC‘s handling of former Q host Jian Ghomeshi’s behaviour. She issued that report in April of last year. Janice Rubin is with me in our Toronto studio. Hello.
JANICE RUBIN: Hello.
AMT: This new bill, 132 in Ontario, you see it as a game changer. Why?
JANICE RUBIN: I do. It is the first time in the country that we have a clear, crystal clear statutory directive to employers that they must conduct workplace investigations into complaints of workplace harassment and incidents of workplace harassment. And that directive has teeth. In as much as if an employer fails to do an investigation or fails to do an investigation that is appropriate in the circumstances, the Ministry of Labour can intervene and order an investigation be done by an external third party at the employer’s expense. So that is game changing in terms of dealing with the issue. And what I’d like to highlight here is not just the aspect of investigating complaints, that’s fairly traditional. It’s incidents which means that employers are going to have to be increasingly vigilant in terms of responding to information that comes to their attention that may be sub-complaint. It may come in the form that is not a traditional formal complaint. It may come to them in a letter, in an email and you know something anonymous and they are still going to have to respond by way of conducting a meaningful investigation.
AMT: So you don’t have to go to your human resources department or your union or confront, go to a supervisor and say this happened to me. If you’re the boss and you are hearing what ongoing sort of talk about maybe something going on with an individual or something, you have an obligation to act.
JANICE RUBIN: Yeah. So I think the way to understand it is where does the employer’s obligation kick in. And it is now not going to be enough for an employer to say oh, we never got a formal complaint.
AMT: Okay, okay.
JANICE RUBIN: If the employer has the information, if there’s information that is suggestive of that workplace harassment—and I will say under this legislation, an expanded definition of workplace harassment—if that is within the employer’s knowledge, the employer is obliged to react in a meaningful way by way of investigating.
AMT: And well, let’s get to the definition of harassment then. What is it?
JANICE RUBIN: So the definition of harassment. You know I won’t read the entire legal definition from the act, but what’s unique here is that it is blending two ideas of generic workplace harassment: bullying, deeply uncivil behavior with sexual harassment, workplace sexual harassment. So those two definitions come together.
AMT: They fall under the umbrella
JANICE RUBIN: Fall under the umbrella.
AMT: Okay. And that hadn’t been done before. It makes it really clear.
JANICE RUBIN: It makes it very clear what types of behaviour is contrary to the act.
AMT: Now, you did do the investigation into how the CBC handled the Jian Ghomeshi situation. With this new legislation, does it affect the CBC?
JANICE RUBIN: Well, the legislation doesn’t affect the CBC and as much as the CBC is federally regulated, this is a piece of legislation that is for provincially regulated employers in Ontario. But there are a couple of things to say about that. The first is often what happens with these types of ground-breaking pieces of legislation is they influence other jurisdictions. So I think it is absolutely within the realm of our imagination that we would have similar provisions in a federal piece of legislation that would affect federally regulated entities.
AMT: So in other words, like the wording of this will be—other jurisdictions will now be under pressure to sort of change their wording?
JANICE RUBIN: And you know there’s already some discussion in the federal jurisdiction that that might happen. So I think it may be influential from that from that perspective.
AMT: And does it mean that there always has to be an investigation? What has to kick in?
JANICE RUBIN: What has to kick in? It’s a workplace investigation that is appropriate in the circumstances so there’s an idea of proportionality. So it’s not one size fits all in terms of a workplace investigation. You know if you have one incident, you have a minor incident, the type of investigation that an employee may be obliged to do maybe something that is a little less formal, it might involve you know fewer people. On the other hand, if you have information that suggests you know as we’ve seen in the last few years you know whole departments, whole cultures, whole employers that have deeply problematic workplaces, an investigation that is appropriate under those circumstances may be something bigger and much more formal.
AMT: And you make the point that the actual department of labour can step in and order an investigation.
JANICE RUBIN: Right. So the Ministry of Labour, acting through its labour inspectors, can intervene and an inspector will come in and inquire of the employer: did you conduct the investigation? And what did it look like? And going back to that language about appropriate in the circumstances, it’s going to have to be a meaningful investigation. You know it’s going to have to be objective. It’s going to have to be unbiased. It’s going to have to be thorough. There’s going to have to be a record of it.
AMT: I was just going to say there has to be a paper trail that proves that.
JANICE RUBIN: There absolutely needs to be a paper trail. The employer is going to need to show this is what we did, this is what we concluded and this is what steps we took to remediate any problems that we found in the workplace. And if a labour inspector finds that this is not good enough, didn’t happen or happened but not in a particularly robust way, the power is there to order an external third party to come in and do it.
AMT: Now, Howard Levitt is a labour and employment lawyer at Levitt LLP who believes the legal changes have little in them that is substantial. Let’s listen to how he describes it.
There’s essentially nothing new, nothing employers don’t already do and nothing the law or almost nothing the law doesn’t already require. Very few investigations, if any, will have to be done by third parties under this legislation. Maybe if a particular company has a history of really blowing their investigation or if they’ve already had an investigation that was shown to be a bit of a sham, then they might require a third party investigation. But because it’s done by a third party doesn’t guarantee either quality or any more in real independence than if done in house.
AMT: Janice Rubin, what’s your reaction to what Howard Levitt is saying?
JANICE RUBIN: I understand his position. I disagree. I think his perspective on this is wrong. I think to the extent that this legislation is telling employers be vigilant, respond to information that comes across your desk suggested that workplace harassment is going on in your workplace. It will cause first of all, more internal investigations to go on. And that is because this is now mandated by statute. When you tell an employer this is the law, they will respond. Second of all, I don’t see the possibility of very few third party investigations going on because I think I mean judging from my own practice when I work with employers, many, many employers do not know what they’re doing in terms of conducting their own workplace investigations. You know there’s multiple decisions that look at mistakes employers make when conducting their own investigations. And I think the Ministry of Labour, with the mandate they’ve been given, are going to take their new powers and run with it. And frankly, that’s what I hope because it’s there for a reason and they’re needed.
AMT: Okay. Thank you for coming in.
JANICE RUBIN: Thank you.
AMT: That is Janice Rubin. She’s an employment lawyer and partner at Rubin Thomlinson LLP. She joined us in our Toronto studio.
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: Alright. We have time to get your reaction to one more story. This week, a court case got underway in British Columbia Supreme Court which could have major consequences for health care right across our country. The plaintiffs argue they have a constitutional right to pay for medically necessary treatment in private surgery centres and they include Dr. Brian Day. But that leaves healthcare experts like Colleen Flood very concerned.
If they’re successful in overturning this law, this means that potentially every physician that’s paid on a fee for service basis—which is most physicians in BC and in Canada—will be able to charge an extra amount on top of what they receive from the government. The possibility of that is a significant and grave threat to medicare, to access as we know it.
AMT: That’s healthcare expert, Colleen Flood. Here’s a bit of what we heard from you after that segment. @Thinkingmom19 tweeted: “Our healthcare system is not functional but dysfunctional. It’s not working and it needs to be changed. Why not public/private?” @evanpritchard tweeted: “Our medicare system has problems and alternate funding may help. Not the US model, but other countries seem to be doing better.”
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: Others saw it differently. @TJMair tweeted: “Dr. Brian Day is disingenuous. He cares only about making more money at the expense of the health of Canadian citizens.” And Gabriel Avelar tweeted: “Dr. Day doesn’t seem to understand how important equitable healthcare is to Canadians. Health is dignity.”
AMT: We always want to hear from you at The Current. You can tweet us @thecurrentcbc. Find us on Facebook, e-mail us from our website. If you missed anything, you can download the podcast atCBC. And now it’s time to give credit where credit is due. The week on The Current that is and was, was produced by Idella Sturino, Howard Goldenthal, Ines Calabrese, Kristin Nelson, Lara O’Brien, Julian Uzielli, Shannon Higgins, Willow Smith.
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: As well as Josh Bloch, Pacinthe Mattar, Sujata Berry, Liz Hoath, Marc Apollonio, John Chipman, Karin Marley and Peggy Lam. The Current’s writer is Peter Mitton. Our web producer is Lisa Ayuso. Our technician is Gary Francis. And thanks to our network producers Michael O’Halloran, Anne Penman and Susan McKenzie and as well to Olsy Sorokina.
AMT: Olsy was helping us with Facebook Live just yesterday. It’s still up there on the Facebook page if you want to see my obsessive writing all over my papers. Our senior documentary editor is Joan Webber. Our senior producer is our Richard Goddard in Toronto, Cathy Simon in Vancouver. The executive producer of The Currentis Kathleen Goldhar. Piya Chattopadhyay, what are you doing at The Current tomorrow?
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: Tomorrow, I’m going to be speaking with author Anosh Irani. He has this new book. It’s called The Parcel. It’s about sex slavery in India, a red light district that he describes as unique. We’ll be talking about why this is such a vast problem. It’s a novel but it’s rooted in a lot of non-fiction research. We’ll be talking with him tomorrow morning.
AMT: Okay. Interesting. Disturbing. And of course, Piya is the Friday host of The Current, but she is also the host of CBC Radio‘s Out in the Open which you can hear in its new time. It’s this afternoon, right?
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: Yup. One o’clock. We’re talking about periods. Not punctuation, menstruation.
AMT: Oh, okay. One o’clock, half an hour later in Newfoundland and parts of Labrador. And usual time, Saturday at three?
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: Saturday at three as well. And on podcast, of course.
AMT: Oh, of course.
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: Enough plugging.
AMT: Well, gotta know where to find you. Okay. Piya will be in your ear tomorrow and for the rest of the weekend. Okay. That is our program for today. Finally, the Paralympic Games are officially underway in Rio after last night’s opening ceremony. And we’ll leave you with a celebration of the games courtesy of Britain’s Channel 4. The song and music video that you’re going to hear was performed by 140 athletes, musicians and ordinary people with disabilities, from a blind pianist to a drummer who plays by holding drumsticks in his toes. The song is a version of Sammy Davis Jr.’s “Yes I Can.” We’ll post the video on our Twitter feed @thecurrentcbc. It’s definitely worth a watch. I’m Anna Maria Tremonti. Thanks for listening to The Current.
[Music: Cover of “Yes I Can” – Sammy Davis Jr.]