Media

(An earlier version of this opinion piece appeared in the Halifax Examiner “Morning File” of January 15, 2021.)

The “sample copy” of the newspaper landed innocently enough in our house.

On Tuesday, January 12, 2021, Canada Post delivered a “complimentary” issue of  The Epoch Times right to our door in rural northern Nova Scotia.

It came with a “limited-time offer” for a special subscription deal to what looked – if one knew no better – like a normal newspaper.

I was one of those, unaware that in the past year, investigative journalists had revealed The Epoch Times  to be a “shamelessly pro-Trump paper,” and a “global propaganda machine” that offers a “mix of alternative facts and conspiracy theories that has won it far-right acolytes around the world.”

A 2017 study in Germany found that The Epoch Times “disseminates antidemocratic false news and conspiracy theories, incites hatred against migrants and indirectly advertises for the AfD,” the country’s far-right political party.

Yet the masthead of the newspaper makes The Epoch Times sound benign as a newborn babe, a paper that stays “outside of political interests,” and is “dedicated to seeking the truth through insightful and independent journalism.”

Recipients of the free copy are invited to take advantage of a “$1 first month trial offer.” The “best deal” subscription is six months at $3.43 a week, or $89 plus tax. Subscribers get a weekly paper with 40 pages in four sections.

The Epoch Times, says the masthead, has readers in 36 countries and 22 languages, with a  Canadian English version that has been operating for 16 years, with a “loyal readership” in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton.

As for its origins, it says only that it was founded in 2000 by “Chinese expats in North America.”

As I said, benign.

Or so the mysterious people behind The Epoch Times would have us believe.

Dig a little, however, and the paper looks anything but benign.

Continue reading Beware, “The Epoch Times” are here … and there, and everywhere

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The pulp mill in northern Nova Scotia. Photo by Dr. Gerry Farrell

By Joan Baxter

December 12, 2017 (updated November 29, 2022)

When I held the first copy of “The Mill – Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest” in my hands five years ago, in November 2017, all I thought is: “I told the story. That is done. On to other subjects and issues now.”

Ha. Little did I know. The Northern Pulp / Paper Excellence saga had just begun … for me. Others already knew what kind of corporation this was. I had no idea. Not then.

Right to left: Acclaimed ward-winning songwriter and musician Dave Gunning who inspired the book, the incredible person, activist and actor Elliott Page, myself, and Lil MacPherson, climate activist and co-owner of the Wooden Monkey restaurants, who passed “The Mill” on to her friend, Elliot Page, to read.

The book and its birth – a short history

So, a breath here, because I need to go back to the beginning.

In early June 2016 I had just returned home to Nova Scotia after several years of working in Nairobi, Kenya, as a science writer and communications specialist for international agricultural research organizations. My aim once home was to get back into journalism, or to try my hand again at book-writing – I’d already authored a book of short fiction and four books of non-fiction.

But then one morning the stench of the 49-year-old Northern Pulp mill in Pictou wended its way overland 40 kilometres to my house in northern Nova Scotia, giving me a blinding headache and a nosebleed. That led to a few hours of googling, which led to two phone calls. One was with the environmental expert at Northern Pulp, who told me that if I was smelling the mill that day, it merely meant the wind was blowing my way. The second was with Dave Gunning,  award-winning songwriter and musician, and also a “factivist” who was part of a group called “Clean the Pictou County Pulp Mill,” asking that the mill be forced to clean up its act, stop suffocating Pictou County in toxic emissions.

By the end of the day, I had decided there was a book to be written about this pulp mill that had opened in the 1960s.

I started from scratch to look into the history of the mill, and scratching turned into digging. Deep digging. My original plan to do a historical account of the mill’s birth and lifetime in Nova Scotia was foiled by the refusal of the mill owner – Paper Excellence – to grant me an interview or a tour of the facility.

Eight months into the research, and after repeated requests, in January 2017, then-communications director for Paper Excellence, Kathy Cloutier, wrote to inform me that, “Upon discussion within Paper Excellence, Northern Pulp executive team and board members the decision has been made that Northern Pulp will not participate in this project.”

I’d been working for months on the project, and I had no intention of stopping. The material I uncovered was fascinating, and sometimes shocking.

Still, there were times – late at night – that I lay awake questioning the wisdom of spending more than a year researching and writing a book about a pulp mill in a small town in a small province in eastern Canada. It was an intense (and income-less) time.

Not that it wasn’t a fascinating and fulfilling journey of learning. It was that, and more.

It was a great pleasure and privilege to meet and listen to so many interesting, informed and passionate people who had been involved in one way or another with the mill over the years. Some had family members working there or had worked for the mill themselves at one point. Their views on the mill were nuanced. On one hand, it provided jobs and supported a lot of service industries in the area and forestry contractors around the province. If it smelled, so be it – that was just the smell of money.

But others felt the county had paid too high a price for the big smelly mill. Over the five decades that it had been in operation, one group of citizens after another had come together to create waves of protest, to try to get one government after another to do its job and protect them from the harmful effects of a large industry. Continue reading Paper Excellence shuts down a book signing for the book, “The Mill – Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest”

The pulp corporation with links to a multi-billion-dollar Indonesian corporate empire flexes its corporate muscle to bully Canada's largest book retailer into submission

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BY Joan Baxter

“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” This hard truth comes from a 183-page document that makes a plea for our species to come to our senses and hear “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.

It’s a powerful cri de coeur for humankind to stop the plunder of the planet, confront climate change and end unfettered capitalism that is driving the destruction and disparity between rich and poor. It continues: “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change.”

Strong words, revolutionary even. The kind of language one might expect from the environmental or social justice groups often labelled “radical” or “extremist” by the powerful elites these statements condemn.

But they’re not. They come from the Encyclical written by Pope Francis, arguably the single most influential man on the planet as spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. Continue reading It’s way more than the economy: climate change, unfettered capitalism and Canada’s election

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The magnificent ocean vista on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore

BY: Joan Baxter

My dearly beloved, but bruised and much-abused Canada,

09.02.2005-parliament-from-gatineau-300x225I wish I were writing to you under better circumstances, and not when you are at such a low point in your history, so badly abused by the Harper Government. I can’t even say by the “Government of Canada”; that name has been stolen from you, replaced with that of the man who has taken you hostage.

Some would argue that because he was elected as prime minister, Stephen Harper can do what he wants with you. And if his regime wants to rewrite history, suppress science, reject reason, present lies as truth and war as peace, drag you back into the Dark Ages – to change you so much and in so many ways that you are no longer recognizable (as he threatened to do back in 2006) – that reflects the will of the Canadian people that elected the Conservatives.

But, I would argue, dear Canada, that this isn’t so. Continue reading Oh, woe, Canada – a tough-love letter to my country

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photo credit: CBC

photo credit: CBC

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in on the tragic story of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year-old Nova Scotian who was driven to hang herself in April 2013 after months of bullying following an alleged sexual assault, he echoed the national revulsion at the event, saying he was “sickened” by the story. He also said he thought that it was time to stop using the term “bullying” for some of these things because that connoted “kids misbehaving”, when some of these circumstances were “simply criminal activity”. That they may be. But no one can deny that it is the bullying itself that in recent years has been driving so many young Canadians to depression, despair and suicide.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Mr. Harper wants to downplay the term “bullying” by suggesting it’s just the kind of shenanigans that children get up to in a sandbox. If he were to admit that bullying was morally wrong and deeply dangerous, a pervasive social ill that has become common in all walks of modern life and among all ages, he might have to change the way his Party does politics and fights elections. Bullying, which has become such a scourge in our schools, workplaces, social media and arenas, is now also a political tool in this country. Continue reading Conservative attack ads are bullying

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The AP headline read “Thousands of caterpillars seized at UK airport”. Under it was the story that UK Border agents had seized several bags of dried caterpillars that they found in the luggage of a 22-year-old man from Burkina Faso when he landed at Gatwick Airport. Countless media outlets picked up the report and ran with it, from the Washington Post to the Jordan Times, from Fox News to the Winnipeg Free Press. The Independent in the UK produced its own version of the story and gave it a catchy headline that set a jocular tone, “Monkeys in my pants? No, just 94 kg of caterpillars in my luggage.” It cited an insect expert from the Natural History Museum who said that the caterpillars were likely mopane worms, the larvae of emperor moths, species name Gonimbrasia belina.

The British Government deemed the story so important that it ran a version on its official Home Office page and earnestly reported that the discovery of the dried caterpillars at Gatwick was “among the largest of its kind at the airport”. This struck me as curious — were smuggled caterpillars a common occurrence at Gatwick then? Continue reading Saved from those dangerous dried caterpillars

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