The Grant Rant

A journalist's view from Niagara

Greetings reader of the Rant!
Just a quick update to point to you The Standard‘s latest podcast, Inside the Newsroom, which I am hosting.
The show takes you inside the newsroom to take a closer look at how we do the news. In our first three-part series, Standard reporters Bill Sawchuk, Karena Walter and I talk about investigative journalism – from anonymous sources to information gathering and navigating legal landmines.
You can listen to the show here:

I know the blog has been rather quiet in the last few months. I have been very busy with some major investigations at The St. Catharines Standard with a few more on the way. Plus, we have an Ontario provincial election in a couple of weeks and a municipal election right after that. So my dance card is a bit full.

Still, if you will excuse some shameless self-promotion, I am proud to say I was nominated for and won, a National Newspaper Award and an Ontario Newspaper Award recently.

The NNA nomination for local journalism was my third nomination for Canada’s top prize in journalism. Third time is lucky, as they say, and I won for my investigative series titled The Wolf in Priest’s Clothing, about sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

The series also won a feature writing category at the ONAs, where I was also nominated for a journalist of the year. I am also proud to say I was nominated alongside my colleague Bill Sawchuk for beat coverage for our ongoing investigative work on Niagara’s regional council.

There was some truly amazing work nominated at both awards events by some extraordinarily talented journalists and it is humbling to counted among their number.

New content will be coming to this blog soon! Stay tuned!

 

The list of #menbehavingbadly continues to grow. The latest is news icon Charlie Rose who, it seems, had a thing about not wearing pants around his female coworkers, and apparently showing his female staff explicitly sexual movie clips. Every few days, there are new stories about men in positions of power and influence treating women in despicable ways, ranging from the creepy to the outright criminal. The reveal of new allegations seems to have become part of our daily routine.

The cases have all been American so far, but I figure it is only a matter of time before a Canadian scandal hits the headlines. If you are doing the math, it is inevitable.

Many men, it seems, are baffled. I’m not talking about the men who are genuinely shocked at the scope of the problem. I am talking about the men who don’t understand why they shouldn’t catcall women, or grab them at the office, or not wear their pants. (Seriously, Charlie? Wearing clothes around your co-workers is not exactly a taxing professional requirement. At what point, exactly, did that seem like it was OK?)

So as a public service, the Grant Rant blog is publishing this handy guide for men (particularly those MRA, “red pill,” insecure types crying “Men can’t even ask women on a date anymore!” You can, dullstone, you just can’t harass them) who, for reasons that frankly baffle me, are unclear on the issue. Feel free to print this and keep it in your wallet should you ever think that now is the time to harass a woman:

THE GRANT RANT HANDY GUIDE TO SEXUALLY HARASSING WOMEN

  1. Don’t. 

  2. Seriously, don’t.

  3. Wear pants and don’t be a seedy creepy creep.

  4. DON’T!! EVER!!! What is the matter with you?

 

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On Nov. 16, 2017, I was invited to speak to the St. Catharines Rotary Club about issues surrounding the news media and fake news in the era of trump. You can listen to my speech in its entirety on Soundcloud here or the link below.

The slideshow that is referenced during my speech is embedded below or can be found here.

In the annals of political advertising, the recent attempt to by the Conservative Party of Canada to brand its new, plucky leader Andrew Scheer won’t be remembered as a high water mark.

You can sympathize with the party’s plight. After nearly a decade in government with a leader in Stephen Harper who, while not exactly popular was trusted by a lot of Canadians to keep the country on track, the Tories lost to a very popular, very photogenetic Justin Trudeau of the Liberals.

Fact is, the Tories can’t win the next election on policy arguments alone, not unless the Liberals implode in a fashion similar to the old sponsorship scandal that sunk Paul Martin’s fledgeling government. He will never be as charming as Trudeau, but he needs to close the gap. On some level, the Tories need Canadians to like Scheer. Or, you know, at least not look at him and go “Who is that guy again and why is he wandering around the park all the time?”

In a way, the Tories are where the Liberals were under Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Those were leaders with all the charisma of a sleepy possum (in the case of Ignatieff, a somewhat arrogant and angry sleepy possum) who just could not connect with Canadians.

Well, this newly released ad is probably not going to help the Tory cause.

It features the Conservative Party leader lumbering around a park in an ill-fitting t-shirt, looking about as comfortable as a seal at a shark party. He looks vaguely panicked, like he really, really doesn’t want you to go look at what might be in the trunk of his car. And what in the name of Odin’s unseeing eye is with the “random” people saying hello? We know they are actors, and they aren’t doing a great job. Right on cue they say:

“Uh hi..Alex? Is it Arthur? Antonio? It’s something with an A, I know that….”

(If they are not actors, then they are people being held hostage and someone needs to help them.)

Then there the populist message. Scheer, in his rumbled shirt wandering aimlessly among strangers in an upper-middle-class suburb, is a “man of the people,” where the Liberals are part of the “cocktail crowd” – as if the Tories, with their extensive war chest, are impoverished monks.

But maybe Scheer has a similar problem as former Ontario Party PC Leader Tim Hudak. Like Hudak, Scheer has been a politician most of his life, with little experience in the outside world. And that often fosters an odd, slightly awkward public presence that is less everyman and more pretending to be an everyman.

Or maybe I am wrong. Maybe Scheer really does wander around playgrounds by himself. Maybe that is his thing. And maybe Canadians respond to that. Maybe.

Look, most politicians tend to produce slightly awkward political advertizing. And, to be fair,  Scheer’s ad is nowhere as horrifying as the weird monstrosity produced by Niagara Falls Liberal candidate Ron Planche during the last federal election.

They are politicians, not actors, after all. But in terms of political messaging, what Scheer is trying to say gets lost in the weird, uncanny valley vibe going on. It doesn’t so much sell a political message as it does appear to be inspired by the faux everyman groove found in that episode of the Simpsons when Homer meets President Ford.

For those who have followed my work in the St. Catharines Standard, I have been writing about the long promised, but never realized, memorial for the 137 men who died building the Welland Canal from 1914 to 1935 for five years now.

I won’t repeat the full story of the workers here. I wrote an entire series on the subject in 2013 which I encourage you to read. But this is the Reader’s Digest version:

137 men died building the canal and in 1932 when the canal opened the federal government promised a memorial in their honour. That memorial never came.

Following the series we wrote at The Standard, the city of St. Catharines struck a task force to build it, and over the last five years local politicians, business, unions, artists and the community writ large worked to finally – more than eight decades after it was promised – get the memorial built.

The memorial was officially opened at a ceremony on Nov. 12 which I was honoured to act as emcee at.

Writing about the lives of the workers who died building the canal, seeing those stories play a part in getting the memorial built and being part of the unveiling of the memorial itself, has been one of the most satisfying moments of my career.

If you are in Niagara, I strongly encourage you to take a moment to visit the memorial near the Lock 3 Museum in St. Catharines. Reading the series we published will give you the background to understand why this memorial means so much to so many people. And it is worth taking the time to watch the video of the ceremony below (skip to the 25-minute mark of the video to the start of the event). There are some fantastic performances from local artists inspired by the stories fo the fallen, some great lessons about Canadian history and a treat to see, nearly a century later, the names of men who died working to make this country stronger finally recognized in public.

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A special shout to historian Arden Phair, who I worked closely with to bring the stories of the workers to life in the newspaper, and to my editors at the time Erica Bajer and Wendy Metcalfe who were instrumental in getting the series done and having the paper actively advocate for the memorial.

Upon reflection, I don’t think I know a woman who couldn’t say “Me too.”

The most important women in my life – my mother, my partner and my best friend – could say that without much of a moment’s thought. So could the publishers, editors and reporters I’ve had the good fortune to work with. And so could most female friends and women I have met over the course of 20 years of being a journalist.

All of them could say “me too,” and that’s a problem. Because no woman, anywhere, should ever have to say “me too.”

But they do. They have to because if they don’t speak up, who will?

If you are uncertain what I am talking about because you live under a stone and the last media you ever consumed was Leave It To Beaver, “me too” has become the short, poignant slogan for women over the internet to point out that they too have been the victim of sexual harassment, abuse and assault.

The #Metoo got rolling after a series of revelations about the creepy behaviour of Hollywood bigshot Harvey Weinstein. Again, if you have been dwelling underground like a mole-person, Weinstein has been accused by a growing chorus of actresses of sexually harassing and assaulting them. It was apparently the worst kept secret in Hollywood for years, though only recently exposed by the New Yorker magazine and the New York Times.

Following those articles and subsequent follow up coverage, women everywhere  – likely at their wits end that these sorts of predators exist unopposed for as long as they do – started sharing “Me too” on social media as a way to show the problem isn’t just about one Hollywood producing asking actresses to watch him shower in exchange for career favours. It exists in every sort of workplace you care to imagine. And no matter how enlightened (that’s “woke” for you young folk) we believe we are as a society, it still happens all the time.

In 2017, women still have to navigate a minefield of harassment and because there are men whose evolutionary progress apparently stopped around the time the species developed bipedal locomotion. That is to say there walk among us far too many Drooly McDroolersons who think women exist solely to boost their porcelain egos either through pleasure and abuse. And there are far, far too many men who say nothing about it when they see it happen.

Don’t believe me? Check out your social media feeds right now. Presuming that you follow even a single woman, you will see #Metoo soon enough.

At this point, there is someone reading this column thinking “Well, why don’t women say something sooner?” You can try to deny it, but I am looking at you, fella. I know what you’re thinking.

Here is the thing about sexual abuse and harassment: It usually has nothing to with sex and everything to with power. Someone like Weinstein could literally make or break an actor’s career. So if he harassed a woman, what was she to do? He could very easily blackball her and cripple her career.

Has your boss every done something really awful to you? Pushed some ethical or moral boundary they shouldn’t have? Did you feel free to just confront them or report them? Or did you pause to think “If I complain, will I get fired?” If you understand that math, you understand why women sometimes don’t say anything. We still live in a world where police out-of-hand dismiss claims made by women of sexual crimes. You think the workplace is, by some miracle, is going to be any different than the rest of society?

There is an entire edifice of male behaviour that, at worse, actively promotes the mistreatment of women and, at best, quietly condones it by saying nothing.

Again, don’t believe me? Consider this hypothetical involving a more benign action on the spectrum of wretched that is sexual harassment:

You are on the street standing beside Drooly McDroolerson (for this thought experiment, we’re giving you questionable choices in friends) and a woman you think is attractive walks by. You, being an evolved primate, think “Oh, she is pretty” and go on about your day. But Drooly, who despite all appearances is only one hair away from being a baboon, decides to shout at this woman. Probably some barely intelligible grunt about her legs or buttocks. If she is really lucky, he might even include some manner of description of what he would like to do her.

Now, do you say something? Do you tell Drooly to stop behaving like a sexual predator in training, or do you stay quiet?

Maybe you say nothing because you don’t think it is your business. (This is frighteningly common. Many people knew about Weinstein but said nothing. Even Jane Fonda recently said she stayed quiet about because she didn’t think it was her place to speak up.) Or maybe you think catcalling isn’t that big a deal. After all, it wasn’t like Drooly grabbed her, right?

Except that by verbally attacking her (catcalling is a form of complement in the same way taking a boot to the crotch is a form of exercise) you’ve made her feel unsafe in her own community. And if you didn’t call McDroolerson out on his behaviour, you’ve given him tacit permission to do it again.

The trouble is that Drooly isn’t alone. He isn’t just nut on a street corner barking at parking metres and anyone in a skirt walking by. Drooly works in schools, leads meeting in boardrooms, holds political office, or carries a badge. Drooly is the product of a culture that has for far too long treated women poorly. And while women have and do stand up and speak up for themselves, this is an issue that men have to tackle head-on.

Yes, yes #notallmen and #alllivesmatter or whatever hollow rebuttal you think you have hit upon, Drooly. Shut up. If your reaction to #metoo is #notallmen or some variant of “but I have never abused a woman” you’ve missed the point by a country a mile.

It is not too far-fetched to assume if other men had taken the stories about Weinstein seriously a whole legion of women would not have been abused. He is not some next-level Lex Luthor-esque genius whose deeds are hard to discover. He is just a guy with a little bit of power and an elephant-sized sense of entitlement to do to women whatever he wants to. Far too many men stayed quiet and, in doing so, allowed it to go on happening.

Every woman who is in important in my life has had to deal with harassment at some level or another. It is unfair. It is unnecessary. It is wrong, and it makes my blood boil.

Nothing I have written here is any different than what I have said publicly or privately in the past. I have tried, where and when I have to, to speak up because it is the right thing to do.

All men should. All men have to. Because the abuse of women at the hands of men is not a women’s issue when you get right down to it. It’s a men’s issue. And men need to carry the weight of the solution on our shoulders.

Because no woman should have to say “me too.”

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