As adults, in a democratic society, we have rights and freedoms.  Something that we are beginning to hear more about is responsibility.  Last week, a number of people took to twitter to give some specialized attention Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel’s tweet thread defending her right to cater to an audience.   What she apparently found upsetting was an article regarding the introduction of independent “fact checkers” to verify information being shared on Facebook Canada.

“Freedom of speech” has been a topic that is receiving increasing speculation.  In Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms it states: 

“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including the freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association.”

The caveat is detailed within the first paragraph; “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”.   Rempel’s argument is based on the assumption that the media is biased against conservative thought/speech/beliefs.  “Bias” though, suggests a reluctance to take into account another’s point of view rather than refusing to regurgitate actual lies.

Take, for instance, the federal Conservative Party’s claim that “Justin Trudeau is charging Canadians over $90,000 to upgrade his summer home”.  That sounds a lot different than “$90,000 worth of upgrades to be completed on 60 year-old parliamentary residence“.   The latter is true.  The former is sort of true, it’s just missing valuable information such as; the alternate residence, or “summer home” is an official residence, and is currently the main residence used to host official business as 24 Sussex, also an official residence, is under renovation.  The latter, however, wouldn’t make people as angry.

A recent Pew Research project asked over 5,000 Americans to classify 10 statements as either fact or opinion.  The results revealed that Americans who self-identified as having “high political awareness” correctly identified factual statements 36% of the time.  The same group was able to identify opinion statements 44% of the time.  People who self-identified as having “low political awareness” were able to correctly identify factual statements 17% of the time and opinion statements 29%.  If you think back to exams, what does it mean to receive “44%” (or less)?  Fail.

There is something very wrong if the class average is a fail.  The problem is that if people cannot distinguish between personal opinion and fact, there needs to be more accountability upon those who are sending out the information.    For those who want an everyday example, look to the Calgary and Edmonton SUN; directly under the names of columnists Rick Bell and Lorne Gunter you can see, written in bold, the word OPINION.  This is accountability.   Readers who have followed this blog will note that I began to include a similar disclaimer in recent posts.

Research is a skill.  When my son was ignoring assignments in grade 7, the teacher and I had a conversation.  As it turned out, the only assignments he was behind on were those that required internet research.  I asked if they had taught the kids how to perform research on the internet.  If the average inquiry in Google provides 649,000 results, how is he supposed to determine what information he should be using and including?  I received this education in university because I graduated in 2013 when internet research was expected.  Had I completed my degree the first time, in 2002, I might not have learned that.

People have been sounding the alarm since Trump showed up in American politics.  A man who has zero regard for the truth, and even bragged about lying to Trudeau in their first meeting about trade, has one of the largest platforms in the world.  Some journalists, and others, have taken to blaming Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric for the recent mass shooting in a newspaper office.   Alexandre Bissonette, the young man who killed six people in a Quebec Mosque, said he had to do something after Trudeau tweeted a welcoming message to potential immigrants and refugees because he didn’t want immigrants to “kill (his) parents”.  Why would he think newcomers to Canada would do that?  Because opinion media like infowars and rebel media push a particular narrative to make money.

While people have the right to believe whatever they want and express opinions regarding those beliefs, certain individuals, groups and businesses, especially those who are purported to be “trustworthy” based on their position of authority or platform need to have accountability.  And we, as consumers of information, should be able to demand the truth.  We deserve it.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean

Content Director/Writer

NOTICE: This article contains both fact and opinion.  Links to supporting documentation within article.

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2 thoughts on “We Shouldn’t Have to Fact-Check Everything Elected Representatives Say; Yet We Do”

  1. This is the scariest thing that has happened in my lifetime, the disregard for facts and critical thinking to determine the validity of what you read and hear. It has taken over the national discourse in both countries. It is the barrier to reasonable and productive political discourse, reasoned dialogue, a rational ability to cast an informed vote or care if you do.
    It is based in a bizarre sense of tribalism that prevents you from scrutinizing what was said, even the desire to do so, as long as the right person said it and you already agreed with it in advance. It has so encamped people that they are unable to detach long enough to scrutinize it in any meaningful way. So if The Rebel, essentially someone’s well organized blog, says it, it’s just the truth, it’s absolute fact, no time to check and verify or care about doing so. If the multi-billion dollar, global information gathering service that spent the last decade under control of the Conservative govt called the CBC says it, it’s Liberal propaganda and a purposeful, deceptive lie fraught with conspiracy. I have pointed out to a number of people calling the CBC a fraudulent Liberal shill that for the last decade until just this April (2018), it was run by political appointees to the Board of Governors by the Harper govt. Silence is usually the response but never a capitulation or a retraction.
    The point being that it doesn’t matter what the The Rebel says or what you believe or your politics. By the very nature of their organization, their makeup, the history of those involved – legal or otherwise, it should garner automatic scrutiny just based on it as an organization. In the same vein, the CBC should never get carte blanche but on the other hand there is no rational basis to just automatically dismiss it as a credible source based nothing more on the very organization itself. The CBC will retract if need by, follow journalistic standards that they are held to account, can The Rebel say the same.

    How did we get here? How did we arrive in the place that countering people’s words, opinons with facts promotes the automatic impugning of the source serving to dismiss those facts on that basis only. I used Statscan recently as a source of information about the economics of Canada. I was told in reply that Statscan could no longer be trusted because the Liberals were in charge now. That in fact the information held there was variable depending on which govt was in charge. I received the statement, in reply, “I use actual sources for my facts”.
    Statscan! <- and not a typo, actually says Statscan.

    There has to be way back from this but I don't see it clearly. The entrenchment is overwhelming. I live in Alberta. I thought the blind allegiance to anything negative about Ottawa, the Liberals or anyone named Trudeau regardless of actual facts was rigid and incontrovertible no matter what.
    But we're into a whole other world now.

    In the end, the foundation to change is simple. It's isn't a fact simply because you like it and not a fact because you don't like it. Someone who disagrees with you by pointing out facts or factual inconsistencies is not automatically on the other political team and now your sworn enemy. They're just someone pointing out that you based a belief, a theory, an ideology on an error. "Don't shoot the messenger" You are also allowed to question those political figures you support and like without being disloyal. That one may not be particularly Canadian just yet but certainly is across the border and therefore can't be far away.

    It's time to get off of the teams. Perhaps something to consider could be that if you have voted for the exact same party all your life, there may be something there for you to reflect on. In the end, not everyone on your team can be good and not everyone on the other team can be bad. Do I just believe it because the right guy said it. Do I just believe because I was predisposed to believe it. If you can start to believe that then the road to accepting that a fact is a fact without blind allegiance to the presenter, the team or the ideology will be much easier, and likewise, dismissing facts, again, because of the presenter.

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