Attawapiskat – There is a war of words happening in the media


Canada FlagTHUNDER BAY – Editorial – There is a war of words happening in the media, and in online comments across the Internet on blogs, news stories and media reports on the situation in Attawapiskat. Part of the problem appears to be one where much of the fight is happening in the media can be reports that sound great, but don’t add all the accuracy that is needed to really tell the full story.

For example Ezra Levant from Sun News was on the network other day berating the Attawapiskat First Nation over how they set their priorities. The political pundit and television host was commenting on how purchasing a new Zamboni® ice resurfacing machine, which was alluded to as federal funds being mis-directed, was a perfect example of that out of touch with reality attitude.

Levant slammed the Member of Parliament, Charlie Angus, saying that the problems in Attawapiskat happened on “his watch”. He then slams the Chief and Council asserting that they are responsible. He then blames the individual families in the community over the choices they have made. The fact that people in the community have a flat screen television seems to bother this Sun Media pundit. So too does the fact that people have electricity in their homes.

Before you leap to think that is taking this television host out of context, go to the 5:30 mark of this video.

As the television personality rips apart the situation in Attawapiskat, all it takes is a little research to find out that it is very likely that the editorial is long on rhetoric, and far shorter on facts.

Take for example Levant’s claim that Charlie Angus has been silent on this issue.

First of all, that tidbit should never have got past any fact-checker.

Starting on one finds several posts on his efforts in the community. Go to the Timmins Daily Press, and Charlie Angus is quoted saying, ““I really want to get up to Attawapiskat… so that it’s a just development”. That was from the first interview the MP gave after being elected. That was in 2004.

Angus has been working hard to raise the issues facing this community for a long time. In 2010, when student leader Shannen Koostachin was killed in a tragic car accident, Angus was there for the community.

Angus has taken the past two Ministers in the Aboriginal (earlier the Indian Affairs) Ministry to task over Attawapiskat and other First Nations issues. In this Youtube video, one that isn’t flattering to John Duncan, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister, it appears that Charlie Angus is “Not shy about talking about Attawapiskat”.

Perhaps what is really getting to the heart of the situation is that Angus, who was selected as one of the top three MPs in Ottawa by CTV News, is that Angus has been a thorn in the side of the Conservatives over a number of issues including the G8 Spending. Finding a way to slam this energetic representative would be a feather in any conservative pundit’s cap.

However the real issue is getting to the truth and moving past the spin.

There is the claim on people choosing a television set over purchasing “insulation” for their home. Perhaps this Sun Media personality is unaware of the fact that it is Aboriginal Affairs, under the legislation which is responsible for housing on the First Nation Reserves. It is unlikely that people who don’t own homes, would be spending their money adding insulation to their home? Or maybe it is different under the Sun?

That a person or family would have a “flat screen tv” is simply the kinds of televisions many people in the north have. One of the reasons is that the cost of shipping is very high. Flat screen televisions weigh less. One might wonder why a television show host would wish people not have television sets, after all that is how their advertisers reach an audience, which pays the salary of the television show personalities? I digress.

The next thing wrong with this video opinion piece is the claim that Attawapiskat purchased a Zamboni® ice resurfacer. The fact is the community purchased an Olympia Ice Resurfacer, not a Zamboni® ice resurfacing machine.

While many people assume that every ice resurfacer is a Zamboni® ice resurfacing machine, they are not. A Zamboni® ice resurfacing machine is the registered trademark of the brand. The company website states, “ZAMBONI is registered in the US, Canada, in the European Community and via the Madrid Protocol member countries, as well as through a number of national registrations. In addition, the configuration of the Zamboni® ice resurfacing machine is a registered trademark.”

Frank Kellner, the regional sales manager from the company’s office in Brantford in Canada stated that the life span of a Zamboni® ice resurfacing machine being used in an average rink in southern Ontario is 8-10 years. He adds that in some of the smaller communities, where the ice is not being resurfaced hourly, that lifespan with proper maintainance would be 15 years or more. That is backed up by an online report on the Riverview Community Centre in Winnipeg. That community centre outlines a bit of information on a donated Zamboni® ice resurfacing machine that they was able to get in their case they were able to get an older machine, and use it to this day. Their machine is far older than the competitive machine that was in use in Attawapiskat and needed replacement.

But the facts are simple, the people in the remote community raised the money for the new Olympia Ice Resurfacer through fundraising efforts, in particular bingos in the community. The machine was purchased in order to replace one that had come to the end of its operational life according to the Attawapiskat First Nation. The facts from Attawapiskat are online Olympia Ice Resurfacer.

Getting the facts right is an important part of getting this story focused on the real issues, the housing crisis and other related issues on First Nations across Canada. When the media fails in that task, with the goal being to assess blame, it is very important to get all the facts right.

In this case, the opinions expressed by the ever ongoing Sun Media host Ezra Levant are ones that perhaps he should be sitting down with his fact-checking team and discussing.

James Murray

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