Editor's Blog·Editor's Note

Our journalists are facing more harassment, threats for doing their jobs

We tend not to share these experiences with audiences because we never want to make ourselves the focus of the story. But it’s important for Canadians to understand there is a growing intolerance of journalism in this country.

Erosion of trust in journalism has a real impact on the people who do it, and by extension, those we serve

A convoy of anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate demonstrators drive along a highway in Calgary on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

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As vaccine-mandate protests rolled into Ottawa (and later other cities this past weekend), CBC took extra measures to ensure the safety of our journalists covering these events. 

We reduced our visibility and hired extra security. We identified fallback positions for our reporters and field crews. We conducted risk assessments for each deployment.

These precautions were warranted. We've seen multiple examples over the last several weeks of our teams and other Canadian media being verbally harassed, threatened and intimidated simply for doing the job of journalism:

  • One of our journalists at a protest in Vaughan, Ont., overheard a group planning to "mess up" another journalist and did not feel safe enough to report live for CBC News Network. One of the CBC vehicles had its window smashed.
  • In Winnipeg, a reporter was surrounded and insulted by an angry crowd. The security guard hired to accompany him was tackled against a car.
  • In Ottawa, a Radio-Canada journalist had to be pulled from the field a few minutes before she went on the air because protesters were approaching her screaming.
  • Our colleagues at other news organizations have faced similar abuse and intimidation as protesters tried to hinder their work.   

This is not to paint all protesters with the same brush. Many have demonstrated peacefully, though some have tested the patience of residents and business owners whose lives have been seriously disrupted, partly by the blaring of horns, leading to a temporary injunction to silence them in Ottawa.

A number of protesters spoke to our reporters and camera operators, offering important insight on their motivations. We have endeavoured to report on all of it with accuracy and balance. Indeed, the protests are just one expression of the frustration and more widely shared concerns by some across Canada about the disruptive impact of COVID-containment policies on people's lives and businesses. The onus is on us to reflect, report and challenge all sides of this issue. 

But it is also true that many of the protesters harbour a deep and growing distrust of news organizations like ours, mirroring their distrust of the consensus public health opinion, government policy and other institutions.

And there is a growing segment of Canadians who are actively hostile and menacing when they encounter journalists.

Trucks attempting to drive south on Avenue Road toward the Ontario legislature are blocked by a police cruiser during a demonstration in support of a protest against COVID-19 restrictions in Toronto on Feb. 5, 2022. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

This hostility extends online. Some disturbing abuse has appeared in our inboxes and social media feeds, threatening our staff with arrest, graphic violence and extra-judicial trials. References to Nuremberg and treason are common. The dialogue is rife with allegations of conspiracy and "fake news."

We tend not to share these experiences with audiences because we never want to make ourselves the focus of the story. We work hard to carefully guard our journalism against self-interest.

Growing intolerance 

It's important to understand how the growing intolerance of journalism is playing out in this country and making it more challenging for us to report the news, and to see that Canada is not immune to the same forces that have propelled distrust and disinformation to peak levels in other parts of the world.

We have our own work to do, of course. Every day, we reflect on the things we do that may contribute to distrust in our journalism: careless mistakes or a lack of precision that results in public clarifications, corrections and ombudsman reviews; the missing voices and perspectives that leave some people feeling excluded from our coverage; and the unconscious biases we must understand and work to overcome.

But there are many external factors at play as well.

Chipping away at the trust in journalism in Canada are opinion-makers and personalities who nurture conspiracy theories with phrases such as "What the media don't want you to know" or who make broad generalizations about "legacy media" or "mainstream media" (MSM). Some alternative media websites exploit the "MSM/fake news" narrative to drive their own business and political interests. Disinformation designed to sow anger and distrust of news media is common, such as this recently faked CBC News story. Social media platforms are slow to remove harassment and disinformation aimed at journalists. 

None of it is benign. Bit by bit, the erosion of trust in journalism has a real-world impact on the people who do it, and by extension, you, the people we serve. 

There is no democracy without a strong news media.

While the safety of our teams in the field and online remains a top priority, our commitment to journalism and truth telling has not wavered.

As the public broadcaster, we will not be intimidated or step back from our commitment to independent, fact-based journalism and the public service mandate that drives all of our work. But it's important for you to know what we are encountering on the ground.

At stake are the press and media freedoms guaranteed under Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — the very same section that guarantees protesters the right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully.


Brodie Fenlon

Editor in chief

Brodie Fenlon is editor in chief and executive director of programs and standards for CBC News.