Even as law enforcement prepared to move in to tackle the demonstrators in downtown Ottawa on Friday morning, ethnic media platforms across Canada this past week focused on hardships to newcomers, a division within trucker ranks, splits within communities and the absence of people of colour in most of the footage from the “Freedom Convoy”.
Another issue that found resonance mainly among Filipino outlets is the continuing nursing shortage, caused partly by the refusal to recognize the credentials of those educated abroad.
The nuanced coverage stems from the “lived and historical experiences” that ethnic media experts and commentators bring “to bear on the events of here and today,” says Andres Machalski, president of MIREMS Ltd. – Multilingual Research and Ethnic Media Services.
“Reactions to the Emergencies Act, for example, cannot avoid being fed by homeland experiences of despotism and repression that trigger the community’s reaction to current events,” observes Machalski.
For instance, undocumented immigrants, those with temporary status, individuals experiencing homelessness, members of the queer community and sex workers often fear being criminalized and incarcerated if they report an attack.
As such, OMNI Punjabi featured an online tracker introduced by The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change where community members can report incidents of racism and harassment if they feel they cannot approach the police. The organization reported receiving about 200 online racist messages in the first week of the tracker.
OMNI Filipino also gave space to Migrante Ottawa to voice concerns about racism and harassment experienced by protesters, as it reported that even the sight of racist flags in the protest (such the Nazi and KKK flags) communicated to newcomers that they are not wanted in Canada.
Agreeing to disagree
However, while racist elements have certainly been found and deplored by many, not all agree it is enough to demonize the protests as a whole.
For example, while in Edmonton, the Jewish News endorsed a private member’s Bill C-229 to ban the swastika, Ku Klux Klan symbol and Confederate flag, the Ontario-based but nationally-focused Canadian Jewish News featured a podcast with two prominent Jewish voices supporting the convoy due to the hardships the pandemic’s restrictions have caused their professional lives and incomes. While they didn’t like the Nazi flags either, they felt the protesters had addressed that.
For his part, the editor of the Italian daily paper Corriere Canadese and former Federal Liberal Minister Joe Volpe argued that “communications experts working for the governments are attempting to undermine the reputation of organizers of the truck convoys by describing them as ‘illegal,’ ‘racist’ and ‘anti-Semitic.”
And though they may theoretically be all the above, it has not been proven, he continued as he noted that among the convoy’s leadership was a Métis woman, a Jewish-Canadian man, and a college professor of Italian descent.
The Afro-Canadian Flow 98.7 FM took a different approach to the same issue by reflecting on Ottawa chief of police Peter Sloly’s resignation due to criticism over his handling of the protest. Sloly had been appointed to address systemic racism in the Ottawa police force and to rebuild trust with the Black community.
His resignation led Toronto Jamaican community activist Valarie Steele to suggest that “the mere fact that he resigned shows that there are a lot of other underlying issues that the public has not yet heard about.”
Whose freedom is it?
Silke Reichrath, MIREM’s editor in chief, says ethnic media’s strength lies in the specific concerns, perspectives and reference points of the distinct communities given a voice, which often tackle issues in the mainstream with a nuanced lens.
The Punjabi trucker community’s criticism of the convoy is a prime example.
For instance, Vancouver’s Red FM 93.1 Punjabi radio interviewed Punjabi truckers who supported the right to protest but highlighted the waste of time the demonstrations represent for truckers at the border.
One trucker questioned “whose idea of ‘freedom’ these protesters were concerned about” as they disrupted the work of other truckers. He also pointed to “the other truckers’ protest” that was asking for the regular cleaning and maintenance of highways in Canada.
MIREMS has noted over time that concerns around highway safety are of greater priority to many truckers in the Punjabi community, but these concerns have not been picked up by the Convoy or received anywhere near the same attention in the mainstream media.
Brampton’s weekly Khabarnama Punjabi confirmed the Punjabi community wishes the protests would end because they pose an inconvenience for the people. However, commentators also likened Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the educated but foolish 14-century Muslim King Muhammad bin Tughluq of India, who was called “mad” due to the constant failure of his numerous administrative reforms undertaken with poor planning and judgement.
The paper further argued there was a double standard in Trudeau’s and his ministers’ actions given their repeated public show of support for India’s protesting farmers and their democratic rights.
However, in Vancouver, the weekly Indo-Canadian Times suggested ministers were “meeting with some Punjabi truck drivers in Brampton instead of visiting the place of protest in Ottawa, trying to show that most of the drivers agree with them.”
The weekly also questioned why the government is issuing orders now that 90 per cent of truckers are vaccinated and after they operated uninterrupted for most of the pandemic. They also blamed both the domestic government’s “adamant attitude” and foreign governments’ interference for the “racist groups” and “undisciplined groups” that have been widely reported at the protests.
OMNI Italian TV contrasted the permissive response to the convoy with the much more aggressive police response to the Wet’suwet’en ‘land defenders,’ the 2010 G20 summit protests, and the removal of homeless encampments.
Despite the Convoy receiving the lion’s share of coverage, one other unrelated though relevant issue that continues to get traction among ethnic media is the nursing shortage, the poor working conditions and burn-out due to the additional demands of the pandemic.
MIREMS Sources Director Blythe Irwin in Vancouver observed that this is of particular interest to the ethnic media since ethnic minorities have been more heavily affected by the pandemic both as patients and as caregivers and health-care staff.
Ethnic media have been lobbying over the last two years to make it easier for internationally educated nurses to get their credentials recognized in Canada and to be able to work in their profession and relieve short-staffed hospitals and long-term care homes.
A government of Ontario initiative to allow these nurses to work was widely reported and praised by bodies like the Integrated Filipino Canadian Nurses Association (IFNCA). OMNI Filipino TV ran two features about the issue this week.
This article has been produced in collaboration with MIREMS Ltd. – Multilingual Research and Ethnic Media Services. MIREMS Ltd. provides English summaries, translations and analysis from print, web and broadcast platforms in over 30 languages.