Category Archives: Opinion

Canada’s emergency alerting system needs some improvement

UPDATED with results of the test below (spoiler alert: a massive failure).

On Monday at 9:55am, people in Quebec will get their first taste of wireless public alerting as their phones blurt out the most annoying sound bureaucrats could conceive and display a test message. (Ontario’s test is at 1:55pm and the rest of the country will get the alert on May 9 at 1:55pm local time.)

At the same time, television and radio stations will interrupt their regular programming to send out similar alerts, and TV set-top boxes will display them or automatically tune to a special channel.

It’s a good step toward building a system that can save lives in the event of an emergency. And though people might complain that it’s taken too long to get to this point, that the CRTC or the government or broadcasters are dragging their feet, the truth is that this is the kind of thing you really want to make sure to get right. The last thing you want is people trying to figure out how they can disable these alarms because there are too many false ones.

Unfortunately, even before the alert goes out, I’ve noticed some problems with the system that authorities should really look into fixing.

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The bus and the cyclist

Wednesday, April 11, Sherbrooke St., heading east from Atwater Ave. A cyclist, riding in the right lane, is minding his business when suddenly an STM bus passes within inches of him in a dangerous pass. The cyclist catches up to the driver twice to argue with him, all caught on video. He posts it to YouTube and a day later some prominent local personalities (Dominic Arpin, Patrick Lagacé) share the video on social media.

The response from their followers is overwhelming: the cyclist is at fault. He should have been further to the side. He shouldn’t have been zigzagging around cars. He should have used the bicycle path on nearby de Maisonneuve Blvd. He shouldn’t have engaged the driver.

It’s disappointing that anti-cyclist mentality has reached this point. As an occasional cyclist myself, I’m well aware that there are some really dangerous cyclists out there. But nothing this cyclist did was dangerous, and yet he gains little sympathy from people.

Let’s analyze their arguments.

He shouldn’t have been in the middle of the lane

The bus makes its dangerous pass, inches from the parking lane.

The wide angle of the camera distorts it a bit, but I estimate about a metre, maybe a metre and a half, between the bus and the lane of parked cars as it passes the cyclist. That’s far less than there should be for any semblance of safety.

According to Quebec’s Highway Safety Code, Article 487: “Every person on a bicycle must ride on the extreme right-hand side of the roadway in the same direction as traffic, except when about to make a left turn, when travel against the traffic is authorized or in cases of necessity.” What “extreme right-hand side” means isn’t clarified here, and this article has been criticized as being written assuming country roads with wide lanes, not city streets with street parking. In my mind there’s little doubt that the cyclist is as far right as he can be safely. Remember as he passes those cars he has to worry about being doored.

In any case, Article 341 is quite clear: “No driver of a road vehicle may pass a bicycle within the same traffic lane unless the driver may do so safely, after reducing the vehicle’s speed and ensuring that a reasonable distance can be kept between the vehicle and the bicycle during the manoeuvre. A reasonable distance is 1.5 m on a road where the maximum authorized speed limit is more than 50 km/h or 1 m on a road where the maximum authorized speed limit is 50 km/h or less.”

The driver of the bus clearly did not respect the code.

But let’s put that aside and assume the cyclist *was* in the middle of the lane. Is that legal? It’s hard to say. Is it safer? Absolutely. Because drivers do this kind of stuff all the time. They don’t care about what’s a safe distance. They don’t even care if they hit the cyclist, because they’re protected by their car. So if they can squeeze by in the same lane, they’ll give it a shot, no matter how dangerous it is for the cyclist. The only way a cyclist can protect himself is to stay in the centre of the lane.

I’ve been there many times. And believe me, if the lane was wide enough for both, I’d be more than happy to move over to the side. The last thing a cyclist wants is an angry and unpredictable driver right behind them.

The cyclist should have used the bicycle path

From where the video starts at the corner of Atwater Ave., de Maisonneuve Blvd. is about 200 metres away. That’s not far. But past Fort St., that distance starts to increase. By Berri St. it’s 500 metres. But more importantly, there’s a much larger difference in altitude between the two. So much so that at Hôtel-de-Ville Ave., the sidewalk is actually stairs.

Without knowing the cyclist’s origin or destination, it’s hard to say for sure whether it would have made more sense to use the path. But as someone who has cycled on Sherbrooke a lot, the height difference is the main reason why. I’d prefer to take side streets, but there aren’t many options for that downtown above Sherbrooke.

In any case, there’s no law that prevents a cyclist from using a street if another street nearby has a bicycle path.

Why was the cyclist filming this?

Because this kind of stuff happens all the time. Just like Russians have gotten into the habit of installing dashboard cameras in their cars, some cyclists have put cameras on their helmets and set them to record automatically, knowing it won’t be long before they catch some driver doing something dangerous.

Cyclists are all awful

There are a lot of dangerous cyclists out there. Those who run red lights, zig-zag dangerously through stopped (and sometimes not-so-stopped) traffic, go the wrong way on one-way streets, ride on sidewalks, and talk on their phones. We should definitely have more enforcement of safety laws. But that doesn’t mean we should endanger the life of a cyclist who has broken none of these laws.

Anyway, the STM says the driver is going to be spoken to, and the actions were unacceptable. (They should also talk to him about driving with headphones on, which is also against the safety code.) Hopefully he learns his lesson before a decision to risk someone else’s life leads to a mistake with more lasting consequences.

UPDATE (April 24): La Presse reports the bus driver has been suspended five days.

Humboldt the untouchable: L’affaire Nora Loreto and the uselessness of hate

It is, unquestionably, a catastrophe, and the worst nightmare for dozens of families. A bus carrying a men’s junior hockey team, travelling to a game in small-town Saskatchewan, collides with a large truck carrying cargo, and the resulting crash leads to 14 people suddenly dying. Of the 15 survivors, two will later die from their injuries, and most of the others are still in serious condition — some have permanent paralysis, some are so injured as to be unrecognizable, to the point where one survivor and one deceased were mistaken for one another.

The response to the Humboldt Broncos bus crash has been overwhelming and heartwarming: coast to coast media coverage, statements of support from public figures in Canada and abroad, even a campaign by regular people to leave hockey sticks on their porches overnight as a show of moral and spiritual support. And a fundraising campaign that has raised more than $9 million to help the victims and families affected.

It’s a nice reminder, in the face of such horror, that we are one big family.

But $9 million is a lot of money. It works out to more than $300,000 for each person on that bus. When the campaign passed the $7 million mark, it prompted a question in me: is that enough?

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Yet another “Ways to fix the Canadian Screen Awards” post

I watched Sunday’s Canadian Screen Awards. Not because I was really excited by it, but because I felt some sort of civic (and professional) duty to do so.

I’ve seen several of these, so I know what to expect. Hosts trying their best with not very good comedic material. Nominees and winners that most of the audience is unfamiliar with. Quebec movie stars feeling like fish out of water in this very English Canada environment. And overall a gala and broadcast that tries to be like the Oscars or the Emmys or even the Screen Actors Guild Awards but with much fewer resources.

The budget issue won’t change unless the CSAs become as big a spectacle as the American awards shows, and we’re pretty far from that.

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CIBL has saviours, but it needs a business plan

Montreal community radio station CIBL-FM 101.5 is in a financial crisis. On Jan. 5, it laid off all 13 of its employees and cancelled all programming, replacing all its shows with an automated music playlist.

Its board of directors has launched a committee to try to figure out how to get the station back on track. Its now-former employees, meanwhile, are mobilizing to save the station. Their efforts can be seen on the Facebook page they’ve started. More than 200 people have signed up for memberships, and other groups have raised money or attention for their cause.

But while there’s plenty of nostalgia and compiling lists of famous people who got their start there (RBO, Marie-France Bazzo, Jean-René Dufort), and lots of talk about the importance of the station and community radio in general, there aren’t a lot of concrete proposals for how to get CIBL out of its financial mess, one that is in large part its own making.

Fortunately, CIBL still has a lot of good will, and people with the power to do something are stepping up and offering to help, like entrepreneur Alexandre Taillefer (who is on the board of directors of the Société de developpement Angus, which owns the building housing CIBL) and Cogeco Media president Richard Lachance.

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Review: CTV’s The Launch is an interesting concept with some implementation issues

Contestant Logan Staats with mentor Shania Twain (photo: Bell Media)

If you haven’t heard about this new music competition series on CTV called The Launch, then there are some heartbroken people at Bell Media, because they’ve been pulling out all the stops promoting it.

The six-episode series (with a special seventh episode added to revisit the artists) tries something new with the singing competition format that has been tried and toyed with a dozen times. Rather than just having singers compete against each other for a record contract at the end of the series, each episode ends with a contestant’s career being launched with a new single (that’s available for download or streaming, and gets generous airtime on Bell-owned radio stations).

Based on the first episode, which aired on Wednesday, the show is divided into three roughly equal parts: the auditions, in which five artists compete to be among the two selected to record a song; the recording, in which the two finalists record a sure-to-be-a-hit pop song provided to them by a guest writer/producer; and the performance, in which both finalists perform the song live in front of an audience, and one is selected to launch with that song.

Julia Tomlinson’s audition was cut from the first episode of The Launch. (photo: Bell Media)

Those who paid attention during the first episode might be asking themselves why I said “five” above, since they only saw three auditions. Two artists, Julia Tomlinson and Alex Zaichkowski (aka Havelin), had their entire auditions cut from the episode (presumably for time), which really really sucks for them. They’re on the website, listed among the artists, and the post-episode press release even says they were in the episode, but all you saw of them was a 10-second voiceover during which it’s explained that they didn’t make it through. Their auditions are posted online at the links above if you want to see them.

In these kinds of shows, at least you can say the artists that don’t make it got some national television exposure. These two didn’t even get that.

UPDATE: I asked Bell Media about the cuts, and whether we should expect the same for future episodes. The answer, unfortunately, is yes:

THE LAUNCH is an entirely new format that has been evolving since it was greenlit. During the editing process which began after the show was shot in August, September, and October, it became obvious to our original production team that there was so much amazing footage we knew it would not fit into a conventional hour-long TV show. But we still wanted to showcase and promote all of the talent who were chosen for the series. So we made the decision to make the show a full 360 experience with audition footage of each episode’s five artists featured on ctv.ca and on YouTube and in the extended cut on CraveTV.

Alex Zaichkowski, who performs under the name Havelin (Photo: Bell Media)

Laura Heath Potter, Director of Communications for CTV, said the affected artists were advised prior to broadcast. She also noted that all the artists got to promote themselves as they promoted the series:

Bell Media has supported all 30 artists that participated in the series through interviews on national, local and radio outlets, as well as in our on air promotion campaign and digital extras on ctv.ca and paid digital promo over the past few months. We are building a new format and are grateful to have 30 Canadian artists act as ambassadors to the series and what it is attempting to accomplish — creating new original singles by Canadian artists that resonate with music fans and viewers.

Episodes are still being edited and finalized, but for all the upcoming episodes that have been through a final cut, each of the artists that have auditions being offered exclusively as part of the extended directors’ cut and separately on ctv.ca and YouTube have been informed already.

The song

One of the strengths of this series is that you see how the sausage is made. Not all pop stars write and compose their own songs. Many of them have the music and lyrics handed to them and just add their voice for a producer to mix together. That’s the case here — the song is written and ready before the panel even meets the contestant at the audition. The discussion afterward is about whether the producer can make the song work with that artist. And they have 48 hours to do so.

The song for the first episode is called The Lucky Ones, and you hear it throughout the episode so it gets stuck in your head by the end. It’s a pop song, with uninspiring lyrics like “close your eyes and hold me close tonight” (to say nothing about the misogynistic objectifying parts like “I never want to see your heart happy with another”), and a melody that doesn’t really set it apart from anything else you’ll hear on Virgin Radio. It has six writers and four producers listed for it, and … well, it sounds like a song created by committee.

As much as I’m critical of the song, it might have been good if the episode spent some more time actually introducing us to it. All we got was 15 seconds of producer busbee saying it’s about how much he loves his wife as we listened to a production demo performed by an unnamed artist.

The experts

The series has lined up a long list of music industry professionals to help the artists through the process, and each episode has its own mentor (Fergie, Alessia Cara and Boy George are among the others) and producer (most of which are Grammy … nominated). The constant presence is Scott Borchetta, one of the executive producers of the show, whose claim to fame is having discovered Taylor Swift. Having real experts gives the series some authenticity. Unfortunately Borchetta is a bit stiff on camera.

Though there’s no Simon-Cowell-type bad guy, the feedback from the panel is interesting and productive. Particularly in the middle segment in the studio, you get to see a real producer working with real artists, making sure they have the tempo right, that they’re on the right note, that they make sure to pronounce the lyrics well. It’s played up a bit for drama, but it’s interesting to watch.

The narration

Hopefully it’s just a first-episode-introduction thing, but the hour was overly narrated by a voice we’re not introduced to. (If she sounds familiar, that’s because it’s former Virgin Radio 96 announcer Andrea Collins.) There’s a lot of stating-the-obvious and repetition here that could be considerably cut down, and the narration is done in an announcer’s tone that works for a 10-second TV promo but less so for a full hour.

The format

The Launch doesn’t have gimmicks. There are no swivelling chairs, no coloured lights to indicate success or failure, there isn’t even an audience vote component. The experts choose who gets to record the song, and they choose which artist to launch at the end of the episode. (The live performance is in front of an audience, which looks odd because not one of them is holding a cellphone.) This is good for people who want to see a show about music and artists, and works to The Launch’s advantage. It’s not as glitzy and expensive as The Voice, America’s Got Talent or American Idol, but it owns that.

The editing (less oh-gosh-who-do-we-pick and more studio time and performance) and narration could use a bit of work, and the songs could be a bit more original, though these things don’t prevent us from enjoying the show.

But for goodness sake, if you’re a show about respecting artists, don’t cut entire artists out of it and make them feel stupid for promoting the episode that has so unceremoniously cut them out of it.

The Launch is an original format, and one of the big ways Bell Media head Randy Lennox has made his musical mark on CTV. I think it has some potential as a format that could be exportable elsewhere, despite its flaws. And I’ll be tuning in for the rest of the season.

The Launch airs Wednesdays at 9pm on CTV and can be watched on demand at ctv.ca.

Give the gift of not being a dick

It’s called the Wheaton Rule, or Wheaton’s Law (after the Star Trek The Next Generation actor and gamer), but it’s just common sense: Don’t be a dick. Don’t intentionally be mean to other people. Don’t bring other people down to make yourself feel better. Don’t make other people the butt of your jokes if they don’t like it. Don’t talk crap about people behind their backs to make yourself seem cool.

This year, as a lot of powerful people (i.e. men) learn the hard way the karmic consequences of being a dick, I feel we could use a reminder of the dickish things we do, even when we don’t realize it. Because it’s not just exposing our genitals to subordinates at work, or obscenely taunting an opponent during an online game, or whatever it is your neighbour Jean did 10 years ago that made her an enemy for life. Being a dick is something we all do a little bit on a regular basis, sometimes out of emotional insecurity, or jealousy, or frustration, or insensitivity, or laziness, and often without even knowing it.

The Internet makes the problem worse, and not just because of online anonymity. Public forums like Twitter encourage us to put on a show, to measure our worth based on how many people click that “like” button. And unfortunately one of the simplest ways to rack up those likes can be declaring an enemy and rallying people to the moral high ground, no matter how high that ground actually is.

It’s one thing when a serial abuser like Harvey Weinstein won’t stop until he’s publicly humiliated. It’s another when someone on Twitter says something well-meaning but insufficiently woke and you decide to make a public spectacle of how they should feel bad about it.

It’s one thing when you don’t like a movie or television show or piece of music or visual art. It’s another when you decide to lob public insults at artists, piling on to a bandwagon that mocks people for their perceived failures.

It’s one thing when the leader of a country is an insecure, inexperienced man whose immature outbursts can cause real damage to many people. It’s another when we teach our children that mocking people for their hair, their skin, their weight and their poor vocabulary is okay as long as you disagree with them about politics.

It’s one thing when a white supremacist shows up at a rally and says something anti-Semitic. It’s another when you dismiss an entire human being as disposable because she happened to naively vote for someone whose party she supports, and who promised her a better life with well-paying jobs.

It’s one thing when you’re gently teasing a friend to help him get over a silly insecurity. It’s another when you keep going long after he’s shown himself to be clearly uncomfortable with how you’re treating him.

It’s one thing when you’re having an animated discussion with someone in the hopes of teaching each other something. It’s another when you’re involved in such a discussion with no desire to learn, when your only motivation is to shoot down every point the other person is making and get in as many opportunities as possible to call that person stupid.

It’s one thing to calmly assert your rights when you’re speaking with a customer service agent, or to ask for a second opinion when speaking with a physician, or to ask for a decision to be reconsidered. It’s another to scream at someone because you don’t like how they’re applying a company policy, or failing to solve your problem, or upholding the law.

It’s one thing when you’re dealing with one of the few people in the world who is truly, irredeemably evil. It’s another when you have the choice to make an enemy or a friend, and you pick the former because it’s easier and makes you feel better faster.

There’s a lot of awful in this world without good people intentionally adding to it.

Nobody’s perfect. I’m certainly not. I could be better, nicer, kinder, more forgiving, more supportive. I’m not sure if there even is such an attainable ideal of good for us mere humans, or if attaining it would even be good for our personal health. There is such a thing as being too generous.

But let’s start small. Let’s support each other when we’re on the same team, even if we may not see eye to eye on everything. Let’s be open to learning from each other rather than just calling each other out. Let’s recognize that, for most people, a private friendly conversation based on curiosity and understanding can do so much more to change people’s behaviour than a holier-than-thou public shaming filled with hyperbole.

And let’s be more proactive. Go out of our way to make people feel included, make them feel important, make them feel cool. Take a moment out of our day (this one would be a great one) to send a friend a note or give them a call to tell them how much we appreciate them. Use “we” more often than “you.”

If given the choice between making people happy and making them miserable, all things being equal, choose the former.

In short, don’t be a dick.

Merry Christmas everyone. Wishing you a new year with fewer dicks and more … opposite-of-dicks.

Review: Municipal election night on English-language TV

I was busy last Sunday night, helping the Montreal Gazette put together its coverage of the Montreal municipal election. But my PVR recorded the broadcasts of three English-language television stations in the city to see how they covered the evening. Below, I offer some thoughts on how well they did, based primarily on the actual information they provided.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m watching an election results show, I’m looking for election results. Analysts are great for filling time, but the more data you can show me, the more races you can announce, the better.

So below, you’ll see me focus less on the in-studio analysts, who were all fine, and more on what someone would have actually learned watching the broadcast.

CBC Montreal

11:00-11:30pm (9:45-11:30pm on Facebook)

Anchor: Debra Arbec

In-studio analysts:

  • Reporter Jonathan Montpetit
  • Social media editor Molly Kohli
  • Reporter Sean Henry with results

Reporters:

  • Simon Nakonechny at Plante HQ
  • Ainslie MacLellan at Coderre HQ
  • Sabrina Marandola in Westmount
  • Kate McKenna in Pointe-Claire (Facebook broadcast only)
  • Marika Wheeler in Quebec City (Facebook broadcast only)

Reported results — ticker (top three candidates, party, vote count, polls reporting):

  • Montreal mayor
  • All Montreal borough mayors
  • All Montreal city councillors

Reported results — graphic (top 2-4 candidates, party, vote count, lead):

  • Dollard-des-Ormeaux mayor
  • Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor
  • Ahuntsic-Cartierville mayor
  • Lachine mayor
  • Sud-Ouest mayor
  • Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension mayor
  • Plateau-Mont-Royal mayor
  • Montreal city council standings (leading, elected, total)
  • Dorval mayor
  • Côte-Saint-Luc mayor
  • Pointe-Claire mayor
  • Westmount mayor

The public broadcaster clearly won in the graphics department, and was the only English-language network with a lower-third ticker with live results. The ticker showed only results from the city of Montreal, but it did not only the city mayor but also borough mayors and all borough councillor races. It took about nine minutes for the top of the ticker to do the rounds of all 64 elected city council seats, so viewers got to see each race about three times.

While CBC was the only station to include Montreal city council results, it failed to include anything off the island of Montreal — no mention of Quebec City, Saguenay, or even Longueuil or Laval.

CBC was also the only one to include a live speech in their broadcast, carrying 10 uninterrupted (and untranslated) minutes of Valérie Plante’s acceptance speech to lead off the half-hour show (which had no commercial interruption).

The broadcast actually started on Facebook, where it went for an hour and 45 minutes, but still didn’t start early enough to get the Plante victory call on live. It did mention the Laval, Longueuil, Quebec City and Sherbrooke races, which didn’t get into the TV broadcast, and had live hits from Kate McKenna in Pointe-Claire and Marika Wheeler in Quebec City. And it carried Denis Coderre’s speech in full. My review here is based mainly on the television broadcast, but I’m adding this for the record.

For an election night broadcast with so many races to deal with, there was a lot of time devoted to analysis. And as much as I like listening to the soothing voice of Jonathan Montpetit, I didn’t learn much from him and Arbec repeating stuff that happened during the campaign, promises that were made and stuff that the candidates said in their speeches. Fortunately, they still managed to get a bunch of results into the broadcast, both on Facebook and TV.

Overall score: B+

CTV Montreal

11:30pm-12:04am

Anchor: Tarah Schwartz

In-studio analyst:

  • Former Westmount mayor Peter Trent

Reporters:

  • Cindy Sherwin at Plante HQ
  • Rob Lurie at Coderre HQ
  • Kelly Greig in Westmount (also reporting on Côte-St-Luc race)

Reported results (winner only unless otherwise noted):

  • Montreal mayor (with popular vote of top two)
  • Laval mayor
  • Westmount mayor
  • Côte-St-Luc mayor
  • Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor
  • Pointe-Claire mayor
  • Montreal city council makeup by party
  • Beaconsfield mayor
  • Brossard mayor
  • Dollard-des-Ormeaux mayor
  • Quebec City mayor
  • Dorval mayor
  • Longueuil mayor

CTV Montreal is the market leader. It has the most journalists, the largest audience, the most history. So it should be expected that they would slay election night coverage.

Which makes it all the more disappointing how little actual data was provided to viewers. Not only was there no ticker, but the individual race graphics didn’t even provide vote totals or party names. Instead, they just had names and photos and a checkmark next to the winner.

Only for the Montreal mayor’s race was any vote total given in an on-screen graphic. For the rest, well you’ll just have to guess.

This is the reason people tune in to election night broadcasts, and CTV’s viewers were left horribly underserved when it came to actual data.

It was the shortest of the three broadcasts, since it had four commercial breaks, and the last to start at 11:30pm. And CTV didn’t even think it was worth bringing in one of the two main anchors on a weekend shift, leaving the duties to regular weekend anchor Tarah Schwartz.

It had the fewest live reporters, which is surprising, and just about everything about this seemed like it was phoned in.

Still, CTV’s prestige meant it got the first live interview with the mayor-elect, right at the beginning at 11:30. And its reporters were more experienced and seemed to provide more useful information.

But overall, it should be embarrassing for CTV how poorly it did compared to its competitors.

Overall score: C-

Global Montreal

11:00pm-11:57pm

Anchor: Jamie Orchard

In-studio analysts:

  • Montreal Gazette columnist Celine Cooper
  • Former city councillor Karim Boulos

Reporters:

  • Amanda Jelowicki at Plante HQ
  • Tim Sargeant at Coderre HQ (also reporting on Pointe-Claire and Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue mayor’s races)
  • Elysia Bryan-Baynes in Westmount
  • Felicia Parillo in Côte-St-Luc

Reported results (vote totals for top 2-4 candidates, percentage of vote for each, percentage of polls reporting, and indication of incumbent):

  • Montreal mayor (x4)
  • Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor (x2)
  • Pierrefonds-Roxboro mayor (x2)
  • Westmount mayor (x5)
  • Beaconsfield mayor (x2)
  • Dollard-des-Ormeaux mayor (x2)
  • Côte-St-Luc mayor (x4)
  • Dorval mayor (x2)
  • Pointe-Claire mayor (x2)
  • Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue mayor
  • Senneville mayor (x2)
  • Vaudreuil-Dorion mayor (x2)
  • Montreal-West mayor (x2)
  • Brossard mayor (x2)
  • Longueuil mayor (x2)
  • Saint-Lambert mayor (x2)
  • Saint-Lazare mayor
  • Laval mayor
  • Anjou mayor

There are always two ways to judge Global Montreal when compared to its competitors: judge the quality alone, as a viewer probably would, or judge how well Global did with its limited resources.

By either measure, the station did well on this night. It extended its TV broadcast to a full hour, had informative graphics, and updated results through the night, though like its competitors it focused a lot on the island of Montreal and areas immediately adjacent.

The graphics weren’t as flashy as CBC, and there was no ticker, but you got vote totals, percentages, and an indication of who the incumbent was and the amount of polls reporting. Just missing the party affiliations.

Global also conducted an interview with Plante (just after CTV’s), and made good use of analysts and reporters.

They get extra points for being the longest broadcast, having a special “Decision 2017” opening theme, and putting in the extra effort. But it would have been nice for the only station that still has transmitters in Quebec City and Sherbrooke to actually mention the mayor’s races in those cities. I know it’s not Global Quebec anymore, but I’m sure viewers there would have appreciated it.

Overall score: B+

City Montreal

No election night special. We’ll see if that changes when they start having local newscast next year. They have four years to prepare for the next municipal election (and one year to prepare for the next provincial one).

Overall score: F

Some thoughts about the municipal election

Coderre’s party switchers all lost

The day before voting day I said I’d be watching races involving people who switched parties since the last election. Of the 11 who switched to Coderre’s party (most from Projet but others from borough parties), all 11 lost their bid for re-election, either as a councillor or trying to upgrade to borough mayor:

  • Richard Bergeron (Ville-Marie councillor) from Projet to Coderre
  • Michelle Di Genova Zammit (Anjou borough councillor) from Équipe Anjou to Coderre
  • Éric Dugas (Ste-Geneviève borough councillor) from Équipe Richard Bélanger to Coderre
  • Marc-André Gadoury (Rosemont city councillor) from Projet to Coderre
  • Érika Duchesne (Rosemont city councillor) from Projet to Coderre (now running in Villeray)
  • Jean-François Cloutier (Lachine city councillor) from Équipe Dauphin to Coderre
  • Lorraine Pagé (Ahuntsic city councillor) from Vrai changement to Coderre
  • Russell Copeman (CDN-NDG borough mayor) from Coalition to Coderre
  • Réal Ménard (Mercier mayor) from Coalition to Coderre
  • Kymberley Simonyik (Lachine borough councillor) from Équipe Dauphin to Coderre
  • Elsie Lefebvre (Villeray city councillor) from Coalition to Coderre

Those who switched to Projet and were running again were all re-elected.

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How would you schedule Hockey Night in Canada?

Hockey Night in Canada begins its 2017-18 season tonight. And that means another 26 Saturday nights where fans complain about what channel their team’s game is being shown on.

When Rogers acquired national rights to the NHL in 2014, the plan was to give Canadians more choice on Saturday nights, to make use of the multiple Sportsnet channels as well as CBC and City to let a Canadiens fan in Moose Jaw, a Leafs fan in Corner Brook and a Flames fan in Sarnia watch their team’s games. This differed from the previous system, where CBC split its network geographically and decided for each station which NHL team it wanted viewers to see.

The downside to this new system is that not all games are free. With as many as seven Canadian teams playing on a Saturday night (though the HNIC schedule never has more than five games on any night this season), only three broadcasts are on free over-the-air channels: early games on CBC and City, and a late game on CBC. And generally Rogers respects a pecking order: Leafs almost always get priority on CBC, and the Canucks generally get the 10pm game if they’re playing then.

Though it has in the past put Habs games on Sportsnet to try to drive subscriptions, so far this season it looks like the Canadiens are headed to City on Saturdays, except when they’re playing the Leafs. Mind you, Sportsnet is busy with baseball playoffs, so it may not be an entirely altruistic move. But even if it stays that way, that means the Senators and Jets get moved to Sportsnet channels, along with the Oilers and Flames.

Scheduling Saturday nights is so delicate that Rogers doesn’t pick channel assignments before the season except for the first month. Instead, the assignments are chosen a week or two in advance. That way, a team that is getting popular later in the season, or faces a highly anticipated matchup, might get a more prominent channel than one that’s fading.

So, confident in the knowledge that you know better than they do, how would you schedule Hockey Night in Canada? Give it a shot below.

The rules

Create your own procedure for scheduling Hockey Night in Canada games. The rules have to involve all seven Canadian teams, and should be applicable to as many as three early games (7pm) and two late games (10pm).

The rules are subject to the following technical abilities and limitations:

  • The CBC network can be split geographically, but only with 14 stations: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Fredericton, Charlottetown Halifax, St. John’s and Yellowknife. If you split the network, assign a game to each station.
  • The City network can also be split geographically, with stations in each Canadian NHL market except Ottawa, which is a retransmitter of City Toronto and can’t carry a different game.
  • OMNI, which carries Hockey Night in Punjabi, has stations in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. If you ask nicely maybe you can convince Montreal’s ICI to join.
  • Most people don’t get out-of-market CBC, City and OMNI stations, or if they do, it’s not in high definition.
  • Sportsnet can be split up between East (Montreal, Ottawa), Ontario (Toronto), West (Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton) and Pacific (Vancouver). Most people now do get the four channels, but some still only have their local one, or just the local one in HD.
  • Sportsnet can’t always be monopolized for hockey. The baseball playoffs are on right now, and the main Sportsnet channels are showing that tonight, so they’re not usable for HNIC. There are also Toronto Raptors games to consider.
  • Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet One are also available, but can’t be split geographically. They have fewer subscribers than the main Sportsnet channels.
  • The Sportsnet One overflow channels, Sportsnet Vancouver Hockey, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet Oilers are also available, though they’re not distributed outside their teams’ regions and not everyone gets them inside their regions either.
  • FX Canada is available (Rogers’s original plan was to use it for a U.S. team matchup), but it doesn’t have many subscribers and its audience doesn’t overlap with sports lovers very much.
  • Any channel with both an early game and a late game has to have a plan in case the early game goes past 10pm. Do you stick with the early game and join the late in progress? Do you start the late game on a backup channel?

There are also economic considerations to take into account:

  • Like it or not, the Maple Leafs are the biggest draw on English TV. Your biggest ad revenue will come from the Leafs game.
  • As someone who spent $5.2 billion on NHL rights, you want to drive subscriptions to Sportsnet, particularly for teams like Ottawa, Winnipeg and Montreal where you don’t have the regional rights to those teams’ games.

And finally, you need to keep it relatively simple. If you split the CBC, City and Sportsnet networks and what channel a team’s game is on varies by city, you risk making it so complicated for people to watch that they just give up.

So how would you make it work?

My suggestion

Here’s one plan I would offer for consideration:

  • Go back to splitting the CBC network geographically. All seven NHL markets get their local NHL team. The other seven stations could have viewers decide which team they want. (Windsor getting the Red Wings would be great if possible.) Markets where the local team plays at 10pm ET get an early Leafs or Canadiens game but cut to the local team when their game begins.
  • Put the Canadiens on City coast to coast. Just cuz. Consider putting a late game on City, too, if there’s more than one that night.
  • Split Sportsnet: Senators on Sportsnet East, Leafs on Sportsnet Ontario, Flames, Oilers or Jets on Sportsnet West and Canucks on Sportsnet Pacific. Offer local pregame and postgame shows on those channels.
  • Sorry, Jets, you get bumped to Sportsnet One if there aren’t any free channels up the food chain.
  • If you don’t need it to show a full game, turn Sportsnet 360 into an on-the-fly channel checking in on various games at key moments. Maybe even do split-screen. See what works. It can also be used for pregame and postgame shows while the other channels are showing early and late games.
  • Use the Canucks/Flames/Oilers SN1 channels for alternative feeds of some sort when those teams are in action. Star cam, goalie cam, shaky ref cam? Go nuts.
  • Keep HNIC Punjabi going, but don’t limit it to Leafs and Canucks games. Mix it up a bit. Consider translating into other languages (Mandarin, Italian, Arabic) through partnerships with Canadian broadcasters in those languages.

So for tonight, it would work out like this:

  • CBC 7pm: Leafs, Canadiens or Senators, split regionally. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks or Jets/Flames, split regionally.
  • City 7pm: Canadiens. 10pm: Jets/Flames.
  • OMNI 7pm: Leafs. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks.
  • Sportsnet: MLB playoffs.
  • Sportsnet One: Leafs, followed by Oilers/Canucks.
  • Sportsnet 360: Senators, followed by combined Sens/Leafs/Habs postgame show.

If Sportsnet were available, it would be this:

  • CBC 7pm: Leafs, Canadiens or Senators, split regionally. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks or Jets/Flames, split regionally.
  • City 7pm: Canadiens. 10pm: Jets/Flames.
  • Sportsnet East: Senators, followed by Senators postgame
  • Sportsnet Ontario: Leafs, followed by Leafs postgame
  • Sportsnet West: Jets/Flames pregame, game and postgame
  • Sportsnet Pacific: Oilers/Canucks pregame, game and postgame
  • Sportsnet One: Other programming until 9:30pm, followed by Montreal postgame
  • Sportsnet 360: Live look-ins across the league

The big advantage is that every market gets their local team. The big disadvantage is that it’s more complex, and there’s duplication. (Montreal gets the Habs on both CBC and City, for example.) I’m not sure it’s much better than Rogers’s current system for anyone living outside their local team’s market.

But maybe you have a better solution. Go ahead and try. Offer your suggestions in the comments below.

Luc Lavoie and the old boys club

Dec. 18, 2011: North Korean state television announces the death of its dear leader, Kim Jong-Il. On a Sunday evening past 10pm, LCN anchor Melissa François announces the news on air, but (probably in part because of how much a lowercase L looks like an uppercase I) she pronounces his name as “Kim Jong Deux”. A clip of this is posted online and spreads around the French-speaking world, much to LCN’s ridicule.

François was pulled off the air and reassigned to a desk job. Her union defended her and asked TVA to put her back on the job, which in turn caused the president of the union to be suspended. She eventually left and got another job at Radio-Canada.

Oct. 3, 2017: On the LCN politics show La Joute, the three hosts are discussing a less serious story than most: Petitions to the National Assembly about the hunting of squirrels. One petition calls for it to be banned, the other for it to be protected.

Luc Lavoie tries to add a joke about legalizing such hunting (with firearms) in urban areas, because they’re a nuisance. He adds:

In fact, I would have liked to be able to hunt separatists, but it seems it’s not possible.

His cohosts, Paul Laroque and Bernard Drainville, immediately tell him he shouldn’t joke about that, as Lavoie lets out a laugh, apparently amused by his own joke.

It’s too late. A few of the people watching hit rewind on their PVRs, record the exchange and post it to social media, where it goes viral.

Lavoie later posts an apology on Facebook (saying he did so without being asked), and the 11pm rebroadcast of the show is spiked, replaced by a rebroadcast of the 10pm newscast.

The next day, the statement becomes even bigger news. La Presse reports the SQ is investigating. Politicians issue statements condemning the remarks.

Groupe TVA issues a statement that says the comments are unacceptable and Lavoie has apologized. But it mentions no sanction, despite calls from various directions that Lavoie be fired. Three hours later, it issues another statement, saying Lavoie is being removed from the air because of the SQ investigation. The existence of a complaint to the SQ seems like less of a triggering factor than TVA perhaps realizing that people are reacting negatively to their earlier non-firing of him.

Deux poids, deux mesures

So what’s the difference between these two cases? Well, a lot. One was an honest mistake that resulted in mockery. The other was a bad joke that resulted in condemnation. Both were mistakes made by people who should have known better.

But the difference in reaction doesn’t have to do as much with what happened or the amount of reaction to it. Rather, it’s who they are. François was a junior anchor, hired only the previous year, doing a weekend shift. Lavoie is one of the faces of LCN, a former executive vice-president of Quebecor, a deputy chief of staff to Brian Mulroney when he was prime minister, and a friend and sometimes spokesperson for Pierre Karl Péladeau.

One is an expendable employee (who couldn’t be dismissed outright because she was in a union). The other is one of the boys-will-be-boys boys, who gets the benefit of the doubt when he jokingly suggests shooting separatists two days after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

(And, as has been pointed out, this isn’t the first time Lavoie has had to apologize for putting his foot in his mouth on the air. Or the first time he’s said something stupid.)

So it’s entirely understandable in this context to expect that Lavoie’s suspension will be temporary. Maybe he’ll need to find another job, lay low for a while and do something less in the public eye, but his friend PKP won’t abandon him unless he has no other choice.

I generally don’t believe in firing people for single mistakes like this. I find the punishment over-the-top, and ineffective as a deterrent. I’d rather people be required to make some form of restitution and learn from the experience.

So I don’t necessarily want Lavoie to lose his job. But he owes people a more serious explanation than what he posted on his (since-deleted) Facebook page. He needs to explain what he could have been thinking that would lead him to believe that hunting separatists with guns was funny.

And maybe the producers of La Joute can consider that having three well-paid middle-age-or-older white guys hosting a political discussion show comes with an inherent lack of perspective that leads to people being comfortable with speaking before they think.

UPDATE: Lavoie is back on the air.

First look: CTV News Montreal at 5

For the past two weeks, CTV Montreal has had an additional hour of local news on weekdays. First announced in June, the new newscasts precede the usual 6pm news on most CTV stations, including Montreal’s.

Two weeks after they launched on Aug. 28, I’ve watched several of them and can start to piece together a picture of what they generally look like, and the strengths and weaknesses of the format.

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The magic of Just For Laughs and the Goddamn Comedy Jam

It’s the height of the Just For Laughs comedy festival, and I’m having a great time burning two weeks of vacation from work. Not to humblebrag, but I got to sit in an aisle seat in row F for the Colin Jost and Michael Che gala last night, laughing enthusiastically as the audience-reaction camera guy pointed his camera at seemingly everyone just above, below and across from me in the aisle. (Note to self: Next time bring pretty lady to sit next to me.) The best seat I’ve ever had for a JFL gala, and probably ever will until I start making Anne-France Goldwater money.

But the highlight of the night for me didn’t come from the gala seat, which would have cost about $100 had I not gotten them on the JFL pass (insane value, folks). No, it came from an under-attended Off-JFL show that I only went to because there was nothing else available at that hour.

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You have a responsibility to help stop fake news: 12 things you should be doing

Happy April Fool’s Day, everybody.

We’re two months into the administration of President Donald J. Trump, and already it’s clear that the president and his chief spokesperson have no qualms about uttering bald-faced lies on easily verifiable things to satisfy their perverted need for political victory on petty issues.

The so-called mainstream media is waking up to this and calling out the government on its falsehoods. But that hasn’t stopped or even slowed down the proliferation of incorrect information through mainstream, alternative and social media.

And it’s not just Trump supporters pushing fake news. This hyper-partisan mistaken belief that you’re right and it’s the other side that’s trying to manipulate you is the main driver of this phenomenon, and it’s the first thing that needs to stop.

Living in Quebec, my social network skews left. But more importantly my social network also skews toward journalists. And it’s upsetting when people who consider themselves critical thinkers pass along poorly sourced garbage just because it agrees with their world view and sounds like it could probably be true. Often it’s things that don’t really matter — inspirational quotes falsely attributed to famous historical figures, too-good-to-be-true news stories about stupid people or that feature an ironic twist, or wildly exaggerated stories of government incompetence or corporate evil. But often it’s things that, if enough people believed them, could lead to society making poor decisions.

It’s not up to the media to fix this. Journalists have already lost the war of credibility to the hyper-partisans. And much of the way people get news bypasses journalists anyway. You’re the ones shaping the opinions of your friends through social media, which is now how more and more people get their news.

If fake news is going to be brought under control, if facts are going to matter again, it’s up to you to do something about it.

Here are some of those things you can do:

1. Fact check social media and your friends, especially those you agree with

It’s easy to call out fake news and point out inconsistencies when it’s your political opponent making the claims. But people live in ideological bubbles these days, and have taught themselves to dismiss all criticism of those they disagree with. It’s up to each side to call out their friends when false information is being spread, even if they may agree with the conclusion those made-up facts might lead to. You might agree that Donald Trump is not going to advance LGBT rights as much as Hillary Clinton would, but the LGBT page being “deleted” from the White House website doesn’t mean anything more than the State of the Union page being deleted. It’s a new administration, and it gets a new website, which it hasn’t put much on yet. That’s all.

If you’re sharing stories about the White House Photoshopping Donald Trump’s hands, or Trump being remote diagnosed with a mental illness, or any of these stories, you need to understand that you’re part of the problem. Fake news isn’t just an alt-right thing, it’s a problem facing the political left as well.

If you see some viral unsourced story, do a Google search. You’ll probably find a page about it on Snopes.com, or another fact-check somewhere else. If you discover that it’s fake or misleading, reply with a link to it.

2. Share original sources

It’s frustrating to see how often videos are stolen on Facebook, downloaded and reposted with some stupid caption to a “viral” page designed to profit off other people’s work. The original creator gets no revenue and not even credit or recognition for what they created. But because we’re too lazy to find out where the video comes from, we just like and share.

This has implications for fake news. The number of sources out there has exploded, and the rush to compete for clicks has meant many of those sources copying, citing or “aggregating” others’ reporting in order to steal away traffic. It’s not unusual to find a news article online about an interesting story that cites another source, which in turn cites another source, which in turn cites another. It can take several minutes to find out whoever originally reported something, and learn that through this game of broken telephone, facts have been exaggerated, assumed or selectively chosen to make a story more sensational than it is.

Instead of sharing the churned-out sensationalizing of a possibly misinterpreted fact from a news story, share the original news story. Give credit (and ad revenue) to the person who did the actual journalism, and who has a real interest in getting the facts right.

3. Ask questions

Sometimes, the most important question you can ask as a journalist is “how do you know that?” If someone says something that sounds like an outrageous fact, ask for their sources. Often you’ll get a vague answer about reading something online. Often it’ll be “Facebook”. We mock Trump for repeating stuff he heard from partisans on Facebook, but many of us are just as guilty as he is.

If you’re getting your news from your friends, you should be critical of them. If you read something that makes assumptions, ask about those assumptions. If there seems to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for something outrageous, ask if that was considered and why it was dismissed.

4. Learn before speaking

It’s infuriating when your read comments on Facebook posts that make it clear the person has not read the story being linked to. Don’t be that person. Don’t assume you know what a story is because you read the headline. If you don’t have time to read it, don’t comment.

Similarly, don’t pretend to be an expert on something you know nothing about. If you want to opine about something, read up on it first from an objective source, or preferably multiple sources, and cite those sources so people can check your facts.

5. Care when you get stuff wrong

If you share a story and someone responds with a Snopes.com or other link proving it’s false, don’t reply with “I don’t care” or “it doesn’t matter” or “but that’s not the point” or “lol whatever”. Apologize and delete it. It’s not okay just because it sounds like it could probably be true, or because it makes you feel good to believe comforting lies about your political opponent, or because you’re sure similar things have happened that are true, or because it’s an interesting fictional story.

6. Resist the urge to dismiss a big story because of a minor issue

Journalism should be all true. Not mostly true, not truthy, but true. Errors, no matter how minor, should be corrected. But a minor error does not make a story false. Don’t think that nitpicking is a proper way to discredit something you disagree with.

7. Stop listening to hyper-partisans driven by hate

There are those in every political camp who cater to the “red meat” base, those who are loyal beyond question, who care more about winning than they do about advancing society in any way. These people never admit they’re wrong, they never consider the other side of the argument, they always exaggerate arguments in their favour and ignore those that work against them. Stop being an audience for these people.

If someone is sharing news from a partisan source like “The Other 99%” or “Occupy Democrats” or The Rebel, be very skeptical. Check what other news sources not driven by agendas are reporting about it, or even what their political opponents say. Read original source material whenever possible. And consider sharing less biased sources that offer up the facts and let their audience draw their own conclusions.

If you get your information from a source that never corrects its errors, stop using that source.

8. Stop dehumanizing political opponents

Your hate for Donald Trump is driven mainly by his sexism and misogyny? Then why are you making degrading sexist comments about Melania Trump? You don’t like him because he’s vulgar? Then why are you using vulgar terms to describe him? You don’t like him because he’s superficial and rates women by their appearance? Then why are you making fun of his skin and hair?

Donald Trump is a grown man with lots of privilege and is now the most powerful person in the world (insert Vladimir Putin joke here). You don’t have to go easy on him. But if you’re going to criticize him, do it on issues that matter. The same goes for anyone you disagree with.

There are very few people in the world who are pure evil. Most people who do bad things believe they’re doing good. But there are far too many people who have let hate and frustration drive them, who believe the ends justify the means, who ignore that the person they disagree with is a human being with emotions and life experiences and morals.

Forgetting that people are human leads to the belief in a lot of insane stories. Be skeptical of any story that would require someone or a group of people to be pure evil for it to be true.

9. Don’t trust your memory

Remember that woman who won millions of dollars in a lawsuit against McDonald’s because she spilled coffee in her lap while driving? Yeah, that didn’t happen that way. Remember that 90s movie where Sinbad plays a genie? Didn’t exist.

Memory is unreliable, especially about things that happened long ago. Conventional wisdom about past events, or even current ones, is often wrong or exaggerated by people pushing agendas. Facts are often remembered based on what emotional impact they had, and this can skew people’s impressions of what really happened. Check your facts.

10. Don’t get emotional

Someone disagreed with you on Twitter? Block them! Someone dislikes political correctness on Facebook? Unfriend them! Someone questions the factual basis for something you said or wrote? Mercilessly mock and insult them!

Or you could not. Try breaking your bubble instead of reinforcing it. Read stories that make you uncomfortable. Listen to opinions that are different from yours. Open your mind to the idea that you, and the people you generally agree with, might be wrong about something. Don’t feed the trolls with your hate. Don’t make yourself feel better by bringing your opponents down.

Michelle Obama said “When they go low, we go high.” Consider actually following that advice rather than repeating it as a way of belittling your opponents.

11. Be the better person

Changes in the balance of power in politics usually result in dramatic reversals of position in terms of what’s acceptable behaviour. Questioning or disrespecting a sitting president is only unacceptable when it’s your guy in the office. Filibusters are obstructionist when it’s your policies they’re blocking, but a necessary check on abuse of power when it’s the other guy’s. Refusal to accept election results is shameful when they lose, but a moral duty when we do.

Two wrongs don’t make a right. And “they started it” is the argument of a five-year-old. Show by example that you’re better than that.

The ends justify the means is never an acceptable reason for spreading lies.

Even the most partisan hardliner will use facts from mainstream media, even if they don’t agree with their conclusions.

12. Stop treating “mainstream media” as if it’s a monolith with an agenda

There are legitimate criticisms to be made about newspapers, television stations, radio stations and online media, whether they’re corporately owned or independent. There are legitimate criticisms of individual columnists or journalists. There are real biases to point out across the industry (the bias that causes interesting outliers to get much more attention than the boring majority, for example).

But when you start dismissing the “mainstream media” as garbage because of a few stories you didn’t like, or when you call a newspaper “fake news” because you disagreed with a columnist, you’re part of the problem. So-called “mainstream media” is more likely to be professional, more likely to have a reputation to uphold, more likely to be accountable.

And when the president of the United States watches Fox News and his administration gives Breitbart preferential treatment in press briefings, well congratulations you’re mainstream now.

I’m not asking you to bite your tongue and avoid criticism. But rather, be specific. If you think a story is one-sided, call it out. If you think a journalist is biased, call that out (but expect to be asked to produce a lot of supporting material). And stop throwing “fake news” at things unless you’re sure that what their producing is something they know is wrong.

It won’t be easy, but together we can help fight back the wave of misinformation. If we can keep our hypocrisies at bay, and value knowledge over anger, we might begin to make some headway.

The Rebel’s reporting on the Quebec mosque shooting, annotated

The Rebel, the website started by former Sun News personality Ezra Levant after the all-news network was shut down, likes to ask a lot of questions.

It’s good to ask questions. Journalism is about questions. Unfortunately too many of The Rebel’s questions are directed at its audience, rather than the people who would actually know the answers to its questions. The result is that the audience is left to guess at answers, and that doesn’t always lead to the truth.

Within hours of the Quebec City mosque shooting that left six Muslim men dead and more than a dozen injured, The Rebel had registered the domain quebecterror.com (Levant loves to register domain names) and was asking questions. Many of them were directed at the so-called mainstream media.

Since I happen to work for a daily newspaper, the most mainstream of mainstream media, perhaps I can offer some insight. So here is The Rebel’s reporting on the “Quebec terror” attack, annotated with notes from myself.

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