Anna De Luca, former editor-in-chief of the University of New Brunswick-Saint John student newspaper The Baron, was fired after deciding to publish two articles featuring Michael Thurlow, the founder of the National Socialist Canadian Labour Revival Party (NSCLRP).
The publishing of the articles—one an unedited letter to the editor, the other an interview—came on the heels of another controversy in which racist posters were placed around the UNB-Fredericton campus by the NSCLRP. Both controversies rightly sparked outrage at the Maritime university.
De Luca, however, remained steadfast that the student newspaper is about “unfettered freedom of speech and expression,” according to an article by The Globe and Mail.
As a reporter with a student newspaper, I initially empathized De Luca’s dilemma. The editor could publish the articles but come across as insensitive and condoning racism, or they could choose not to publish them and be accused of censorship and media bias.
Ultimately, though, by allowing a person who espouses bigoted ideas to share those ideas in the pages of her publication, the editor of The Baron gave Thurlow a public platform from which to spew his hate. As an editor, De Luca says that she promised to never “censor, never correct or challenge,” and while I applaud her dedication to unbiased journalism, in this case, her own sense of honour failed her.
Not all voices deserve to be heard through the news media. Thurlow’s articles were not journalism; they were an affront to common decency and basic humanity. The Baron was not journalistically or ethically bound to publish such hatred and pass it off as unbiased journalism. They could have simply said no.
In Canada, we have the constitutional right to free speech. But once free speech slips towards hate speech, as a society, we must refuse to accept it.
The Globe and Mail reported that the posters which Thurlow’s group posted around campus made “comments about Jews and what [Thurlow] calls historical exaggerations and lies involving the residential school system.” One poster said, “Overwhelmingly, Native Americans are beneficiaries, and not victims, of the society built by Europeans.”
Now, imagine being a Jewish or Indigenous student walking across the UNB campus and seeing that poster hanging on a building wall, telling you that the discrimination you feel is all in your head and that you should be grateful to your oppressors.
No one should be subjected to that level of abuse.
The Baron’s board of directors made the right decision in firing De Luca, and afterwards issued a statement saying that Michael Thurlow’s viewpoints were both harmful and often untruthful. It must have been a difficult decision to make, but it needed to be made to send a message that we are not shielded from the consequences of our words or actions.
As student journalists, we have a duty to uphold the truth, report facts in an unbiased manner, and let readers make their own judgements. In the wake of this controversy, The Baron and its former editor-in-chief failed to adhere to the standards of ethical journalism.