Around this time last year, when Trump winning the election seemed like an absurd possibility, many people made the brash claim that they were moving to Canada if he did ever win. Of course, when the results came in, most who said they would move had their bluffs called out and stayed put.
Most, but not all. And Canadians have certainly staked their claim as being the friendly Northern safe space, complete with free healthcare and a pretty prime minister. Cape Breton in Nova Scotia even advertised themselves as an option for Americans looking to flee Trump. American applications to my university, University of Toronto, increased by 70%.
Most of us living here are probably aware that Canada isn’t exactly the paradise Americans make it out to be. We have the same legacy of colonialism as the US, had the same restrictive immigration quotas and internment camps and plenty of other examples of discrimination and oppression. And our present doesn’t look too bright either, with any number of examples from missing and murdered Indigenous women to racism right here in Toronto. Still, even with all that, it’s easy to think we’re at least a few steps up from the US. At least we don’t have the same wave of alt-right extremism, right? Wrong. And our own strain is getting harder and harder to ignore.
Enter The Rebel Media. A paradise for white-supremacists and Islamaphobes. Kind of like a maple-flavored Breitbart, with the same violent xenophobia and bigotry and lack of regard for journalistic standards, but their logo is red instead of orange. Also, they have some shady business practices, allegedly.
First, a brief history lesson for those who are unaware. The Rebel was co-founded in 2015 by Ezra Levant and Brian Lilley after working for several years as correspondents for the right-wing Sun News Network, which closed that same year. Since then, the Rebel has hired several well-known right-wing extremists in Canada and abroad.
If you think I’m just some liberal snowflake/cultural Marxist/angry queer feminist/etc and I’m biased against The Rebel, I’d like to point out that Lilley, The Rebel’s own co-founder, said more or less the same thing after he left in August: “What The Rebel suffers from is a lack of editorial and behavioural judgment that left unchecked will destroy it and those around it. For that reason, I am leaving…I am not comfortable being associated with a group that…is being increasingly viewed as associated with the likes of Richard Spencer…I am also not comfortable with the increasingly harsh tone taken on issues like immigration, or Islam. There are ways to disagree on policy without resorting to us versus them rhetoric.”
Lilley frames his criticism of his former company as if this is a new problem. But The Rebel has always been a haven for the bigots, and has never been one to shy away from promoting a story lacking evidence or truth in the name of their own viewpoint. In January, The Rebel feverishly promoted the conspiracy theory that the horrific shooting at a mosque in Quebec City was actually committed by Muslims (the current suspect, who has been charged with six counts of murder, is a white-supremacist) without any real evidence.
To be fair, following former contributer Faith Goldy’s coverage of the white supremacist rally in Charlottseville last month, in which she portrayed the white supremacists in the most sympathetic light possible, The Rebel promptly fired her. Additionally, following this, Levant reportedly issued a memo to staff asking them to distance themselves from the alt-right.
But quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter if The Rebel wants to avoid calling itself alt-right or even agrees to dismiss some of its more overtly racist contributors.
At the time of writing this article, The Rebel’s most recent stories included one about how Canada has a “border crisis” and is detaining Mexican nationals. The Rebel stated that Mexican refugee applicants to Canada has tripled since 2016, after tourist visa requirements for Mexicans entering Canada were lifted. Their posted source for this was one of their own articles from April. This article claimed that “Public servants warned…that a lot of these asylum seekers were fake refugees looking to exploit our system. Processing these fake claims also came at a very high cost to Canadian taxpayers.” Their source for that was yet another one of their own articles, where instead of providing any evidence that there were such fake refugees, this article featured a video of Lilley stating that this was true. The “public servant” in question was a Conservative commentator named Michelle Rempel, who didn’t actually say that, but rather raised the idea of Mexicans pretending to be refugees to gain Canadian benefits as a possibility. Besides, Rempel didn’t provide any sources to suggest that this was an issue, and I couldn’t find any data to suggest it was.
A classic pattern for The Rebel. Take the unproven suggestion of an issue and present it as a reality. Along the way, make sure to mention your support for the border wall down south (which one of the articles did), neglect to provide factual sources, and be sure to portray Mexicans as criminals, members of drug cartels, and bent on sneaking into Canada and pretending to be refugees and drain Canada.
Of course, it doesn’t matter to The Rebel if any of their stories are based in fact, so long as they promote a xenophobic agenda. Nor does it matter to their 848,851 subscribers on YouTube, or the thousands of Canadians who view their website every day. If Canada was free of the alt-right, The Rebel wouldn’t have a viewer base. Their existence is, say, the huge red sore on Canada. It’s a big problem, but without the disease of xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, and bigotry lurking underneath, it wouldn’t exist in the first place.