News Canada

Calls for Conservative leader Andrew Scheer to condemn The Rebel Media

Stephanie Levitz, THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Thursday he’ll do no further interviews with conservative news outlet the Rebel until it changes its editorial direction, following its coverage of last weekend’s protests in Charlottesville, Va.

Scheer’s declaration he’ll stay away was followed hours later by Brian Jean and Jason Kenney, both running for leadership of the new United Conservative Party in Alberta, distancing themselves as well.

While all three had condemned the violence in Virginia last weekend, they’d also previously stopped short of addressing the Rebel’s coverage, seen by some as sympathetic to the white nationalists who initially organized the event that later collapsed into clashes that killed one counter-protester and injured nearly 20 others.

“I am disgusted by the vile comments made by hate groups this past weekend,” Scheer said in a statement Thursday.

“I believe there is fine line between reporting the facts and giving those groups a platform. I have a positive vision for Canada and I want to share that vision with Canadians and talk about issues that unite us all. Until the editorial directions of the Rebel Media changes, I will not grant interviews to the outlet.”

Scheer is among many Conservative members of Parliament who’ve appeared on the outlet’s various online shows since it started up in 2015 following the demise of the conservative Sun News Network.

It has long courted all manner of controversy, from a boycott of Tim Hortons when it pulled ads about the oil sands from its stores, to rallies that featured chants of “lock her up” about Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley to a piece by contributor Gavin McInnes originally titled “10 things I hate about Jews.”

Former MP and cabinet minister Kenney noted on social media he hadn’t done an interview with the outlet in over a year and had “publicly condemned their alt-right editorial direction of recent months.”

The alt-right is a term adopted by some white supremacists and nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, and the movement was the driving force behind the events in Virginia; they’d organized a rally originally billed as seeking to unite the right.

But the violence that ensued and the hate-laced speech at and around the event has seen the mainstream right under pressure to differentiate their politics from those of that movement — including pressure to break with the Rebel because of its coverage.

While it isn’t the role of the elected officials to dictate who is and isn’t media, the Rebel’s work is raising concerns, Jean suggested in his statement.

“Recent events have me concerned with the commentary and editorial direction coming from Rebel Media,” he said.

“I have not appeared on the Rebel in seven months and unless their direction changes in a significant way, I will not in the future.”

Scheer’s statement Thursday came after days of requests for comment from his office. Jean and Kenney had been facing calls to do the same after another competitor in their leadership race, Doug Schweitzer, pledged to stay away from the Rebel earlier this week.

Their delay in addressing the issue speaks to the delicate dance many conservatives do with the Rebel; with over 870,000 subscribers it has a wide reach among conservatives and is thought to wield considerable influence.

The ruling Liberals, meanwhile, are making hay with the Tories’ discomfort.

A spokesman for Justin Trudeau said the prime minister has never given an interview to the Rebel because “their coverage and behaviour have been wrong and inappropriate.”

“I leave it to other politicians who have chosen to engage with the Rebel to explain what motivated them to do so,” said Cameron Ahmad.

The Liberal party issued an email blast late Thursday, urging Canadians to sign an online petition calling on Scheer to denounce and “end all ties” with the Rebel.

“Tell the Conservative Party what the rest of Canadians already know: Hate has no place in Canadian politics,” says the missive.

Levant did not return a request for comment on Scheer’s decision. But the Rebel did seek earlier this week to clarify its editorial stance.

Levant issued a staff memo saying what he once understood to be the alt-right had changed, morphing from “unashamed right-wingedness with a sense of humour,” to a term now associated with “racism, anti-Semitism and tolerance of neo-Nazism.”

In his memo, Levant said the Rebel will still cover the alt-right, but with the same approach it takes to other groups on the left side of the spectrum.

The Rebel’s coverage of the protests has prompted one of the site’s co-founders and two contributors to quit.

A cruise planned for November that would feature Rebel contributors was also cancelled by Norwegian Cruise Line after apparent pressure from a U.K.-based advocacy group. Advertisers have also continued to pull their ads from the website as part of another ongoing advocacy campaign.

But a near-daily increase in the number of subscribers to the Rebel’s YouTube channel seems to have continued since the controversy began — a sign that Levant has offered as evidence the outlet is not in trouble.