As It Happens

Journalist Paul Watson on the Franklin Expedition & his Toronto Star resignation

In a blog post, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Watson says he has quit the Toronto Star newspaper. His resignation comes after his claims that the paper refused to publish a story about the Franklin Expedition.
From right, Jim Balsillie, John Geiger, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Captain Paul Smith, onboard the HMCS Kingston, off the coast of Pond Inlet, in August. (Neve Peric/Arctic Research Foundation)

In a blog post, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Watson says he has quit the Toronto Star newspaper. His resignation comes after his claims that the paper refused to publish a story about the Franklin Expedition. 

Watson writes that federal civil servants and others involved in searching for Sir John Franklin's lost ships are accusing an expedition member of spreading "distorted and inaccurate accounts."

He says that person has access to the prime minister's office — and editors at the Star. John Geiger is CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS), a non-profit organization that was heavily involved in the search. Geiger was not available for comment, prior to us going to air. 

Paul Watson's author photo from (Toronto Star)

On Wednesday, Watson spoke with As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner.

"Some of those details are going to be in [my] story. There are a lot of instances where people are unhappy with accounts that are coming from John Geiger."

Watson makes a point of saying RCGS was only brought into the search operation last April. "The broader issue here to me is, people who are experts in their field being silenced by our government." 

He sheds some light on his interactions with his editors, "I was contacted by my immediate editor roughly three hours after I made first contact with Mr. Geiger. This would have been sometime in May...I had been informed that Mr. Geiger knew people among editors at the Star and that he had been in contact with them."

Watson says he was told by the paper's Executive Editor Paul Woods that he must cease reporting on anything related to Mr. Geiger. 

In response to some of his claims, the Toronto Star has said it rejects Watson's accusations, "We don't suppress stories. We haven't done that in the past and we're not doing that now."

A sea floor scan reveals one of the missing ships from the Franklin Expedition in an image released in Ottawa on Tuesday September 9, 2014. (Parks Canada/Canadian Press)

In our interview, Watson mentions a letter from Jim Balsillie. He sent this to Minister of the Environment Leona Aglukkaq. As It Happens has seen the letter (dated April 30th, 2015). The former co-CEO of Research in Motion and member of the Arctic Research Foundation expresses his concerns about the documentary, "Franklin's Lost Ships." 

Balsillie says the film contains errors. In the letter he writes that he's "troubled that Canadian history is not being presented accurately...[the film] creates new and exaggerated narratives for the exclusive benefit of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society."

The documentary aired on CBC's The Nature of Things. Chuck Thompson, head of Public Affairs, gave us this statement:

"We are confident the documentary is factually sound. And it will air again in the normal telecast cycle." Thompson says the film is a Canadian-UK co-production produced for the CBC.

The film's executive producer Gordon Henderson tells As It Happens that Balsillie's claim that the government had final approval on the film is not true, "Nobody in the government saw our film before it went to air." He calls Balsillie's letter "much ado about nothing...people jockeying for position [who] want credit."

After our interview went to air, Andrew E.M. Gregg posted this message to Facebook. Gregg was a producer and writer for the same film. Here's part of what he had to say:

"As for errors and distortions, our narrative centred on the two Parks Canada archaeologists who were responsible for finding the HMS Erebus. Can't see how we could be accused of making a mistake there.

And finally Paul Watson went on CBC Radio last night and said the film makers -- that would be us -- refused to speak to him. Outright lie. And we have the email trail to prove it. We went so far as to set up a time to talk with him and he never called us back.

On the surface this all seems to have the makings of a juicy story. If I was on the outside looking in I'd be all over this. But I can tell you, from the inside looking out, that I have no idea what Paul Watson is talking about. Maybe over the next few days we'll find out. But I doubt it."

With files from the Canadian Press