PC candidate draws fire after holding hat associated with controversial right-wing website

A Hamilton-area Ontario PC candidate is drawing fire after a photo has surfaced of her holding a hat advertising a right-wing website that gives a voice to white nationalists.

'I stopped in to this event for 20 minutes and I was gone,' says Donna Skelly

This photo, posted to Facebook by Cosmin Dzsurdzsa, shows Donna Skelly holding a Free Bird Media hat. Skelly says she was unaware of the site and was handed the hat before her remarks. (Cosmin Dzsurdzsa/Facebook)

A Hamilton-area Ontario PC candidate is drawing fire after a photo has surfaced of her holding a red hat advertising a right-wing website that gives a platform to white nationalists.

Donna Skelly, who is also a Hamilton city councillor, was photographed at a Hamilton conservative Christmas formal that included Mohawk and McMaster University Conservatives. In the photo, she's holding a red and white hat that says Free Bird Media.

The Facebook post, made by a Free Bird Media correspondent, thanks Skelly "for the shout out." Founder Alex Van Hamme was a guest speaker at the event.

Skelly said Tuesday that she'd never heard of Free Bird Media, and was merely handed the hat before her short remarks.

"Until this morning, I had no idea what Free Bird Media was, and that's the honest truth," said Skelly, who's running in Flamborough-Glanbrook.

"I don't know much about it. I saw a tiny bit online. Would I condone or endorse people like this? No. I'm still old school. I like traditional media and balanced reporting."

(Cosmin Dzsurdzsa/Facebook)

Skelly says she does support free speech, as long as it's not "hurtful, harmful or illegal." She doesn't know if Free Bird Media falls into that category. "I honestly know nothing about this website. I stopped in to this event for 20 minutes and I was gone."

As for giving white supremacists a platform, "absolutely, I would not condone that."

"I've been in this town for 30 years. I get handed a hat and I leave. That's the extent of it. There's no endorsement. I don't know what they stand for or who they are."

PressProgress first drew attention to the photo Monday.

According to Free Bird Media's Facebook page, the site publishes "news and opinions from diverse points of view on controversial subjects."

It "seeks to bring public attention to the politically incorrect issues that some claim are too dangerous or offensive to be worthy of discussion."

Free Bird Media's YouTube channel includes remarks from Paul Fromm, a notorious white nationalist. It also includes an extensive interview with James Sears, who has published material that glorified Hitler, portrayed Jews as dogs and used the n-word. Sears was charged in November with promoting wilful hatred toward women and Jews.

Free Bird Media founder Alex Van Hamme, who spoke at the Christmas event, posted to Facebook saying Skelly knows "exactly who I am and what I'm about.

"(Skelly) stood on stage and declared 'we need more media like this!' while holding my hat."

In a statement, Free Bird Media said their interaction with Skelly was brief, and she "only praised our efforts as an independent media organization."

"We do believe that Donna was only doing this out of kindness and our interaction did not continue further than what was just described." 

Matthew Green, a Ward 3 councillor and anti-racism advocate, took to Twitter to denounce the photo of Skelly.

"I have always had a strong distaste for Skelly's malicious style of politics but this is abhorrent," he tweeted.

Green said every city councillor and the mayor should denounce Skelly's actions.

"It's an embarrassment to the city," he said, "and it's contrary to the values we hold as a city council."

"In the strongest terms, I condemn it."

Judi Partridge, Liberal candidate for Flamborough-Glanbrook, released a statement saying she's "baffled."

Skelly "willingly participated in an event as a speaker that featured and promoted Free Bird Media, and alt-right website that includes videos from white nationalists promoting hate speech, and interviews with individuals charged with hate crimes," said Partridge, who is also a city councillor.

"I believe this speaks to the judgment of my opponent."

Green candidate Janet Errygers wouldn't comment.

"I am, however, running a positive campaign," she said, "and the Green party does not support racist or non-inclusive views."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca