Confrontation between CBC journalist and First Nations activists in Ottawa

Last Thursday, there was an intriguing, if perhaps distressing, confrontation between a CBC reporter and several First Nations activists protesting Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations in Ottawa. The activists were holding a press conference. CBC reporter Julie Van Dusen asked about whether they felt PM Trudeau was doing enough about First Nations issues. One woman commented about youth going missing in Thunder Bay, Ontario. In response, Van Dusen asked:

“But how can he be blamed for that? You don’t think that anything he’s doing is helping the situation? Is he an improvement over Stephen Harper? Talk about his record.”

Her question and/or her tone of voice angered Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail and Sophie McKeown, who accused Van Dusen of disrespect. Another reporter reiterated Van Dusen’s question and things went downhill, resulting in the press conference ending. More information (video, partial transcript) is at

Now, one could argue that the first two queries were overly direct and skeptical-sounding. Which is how reporters often sound at press conferences when they’re questioning public figures. But why did they merit such a strong reaction, with the epithet of “white lady” and then shutting down the conference?

My own view is that there was a big communication/expectation gap between one group and the other. The activists expected that they would be listened to politely. The reporters expected that they’d be able to ask almost anything they wanted. Van Dusen wasn’t satisfied with one activist’s vague response about teenagers going missing and white supremacy, so she tried to probe further, and said probing was interpreted as white privilege.

On one hand, I want to try to understand that some groups have suffered historical trauma that might make them reluctant to follow the system that a dominant group has put in place. On the other, how are they going to get ahead if they don’t at least attempt to follow that system? Van Dusen’s questioning may have upset Wabano-Iahtail and McKeown, but how can activists make a case for their cause if they shut down press conferences?

To answer the last, one reason, as I understand it, is that the First Nations people believe that said system has ignored their suffering and deaths and humanity for decades, so they don’t see any point in following it.

My experience is that activists expect people to basically kiss their butts and indeed, many do (oh, we are so sorry we did that to you). When confronted on uncomfortable topics or challenged they get angry real quick.

As for me I’m not sorry for being born a white male into a little family money and when asked I take no personal responsibility for bad things in the past because my family was never involved.

Very funny stuff. The odd thing to me was the reporter trying to get the lady to say something nice about Justin Trudeau like she was a fan of his.