The Sunday Edition

Michael's essay - Why Maclean's has done us all a great service

Every once and a while, the craft of journalism rises above the daily flutterings of the artificial construct we call news, and breaks new and historical ground. It happened this week in what is, in my experience, something unprecedented in magazine journalism in Canada....
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Every once and a while, the craft of journalism rises above the daily flutterings of the artificial construct we call news, and breaks new and historical ground. It happened this week in what is, in my experience, something unprecedented in magazine journalism in Canada.

The cover of the current issue of Maclean's Magazine carries a photo of Rosanna Deerchild, a Manitoba aboriginal writer and broadcaster. The cover line, in large type, reads: "They call me a squaw or tell me to go back to the rez." Inside, in a 10-page report, Maclean's unabashedly declares Winnipeg to be the most racist city in Canada. And it has the evidence - statistical, anecdotal and data-based - to back up the assertion.

The piece was written by the magazine's associate editor Nancy Macdonald. It seems to have been triggered by the horrific death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, who was raped and thrown into the Red River last August. It is heartbreaking to read where it is not infuriating to absorb. What was even more remarkable than the story, was the reaction by the mayor of Winnipeg.

Editorial morgue files are filled with stories of mayors who were outraged by something the press had done. A mayor of Corner Brook lashed out at a newspaper which said his city was badly run. A mayor of St. Catharines angrily asserted that his town did NOT have the highest number of obese people in Canada. The mayor of Sudbury once threatened to sue me for writing about that city's moon-like environs. But the mayor of Winnipeg took an entirely different tack.

His name is Brian Bowman. He is young - he looks about 18 - and progressive. And he happens to be Métis. He called a press conference on Thursday in his office. Instead of a screaming denunciation of the scurvy media in general and Maclean's in particular, Mayor Bowman, in so many words, agreed with the article. In an emotionally choked voice, the young mayor said his city had to do better, that the country had to do better. Crowded into his office were aboriginal and community leaders like Ovide Mercredi, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

About a hundred years ago, I toiled in the vineyards of Maclean's under its legendary editor Peter C. Newman. Our mission in the mid-Seventies was to convert the magazine from a general interest monthly to a weekly newsmagazine along the lines of TIME and Newsweek. I can remember nothing from my five years there to match the impact of this week's issue. If nothing else, the story re-ignites in the minds of its readers, and really all Canadians, how badly the country has failed its aboriginal people. It conveys what it is like to be aboriginal in one province. It holds nothing back.

It should be read by every politician - and every journalist - in the country.


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