Blackberry co-founder raises concerns with Nunavut MP Aglukkaq about facts behind Franklin expedition documentary

Kent Driscoll
APTN National News
IQALUIT – Former co-founder of Blackberry and head of the Arctic Research Foundation, the organization that helped fund the search for Franklin’s two lost ships, is questioning the Minister of Environment on whether a CBC documentary correctly told the story about who and how HMS Erebus was found.

In a letter obtained by APTN dated April 30, 2015, Jim Balsillie wrote to Leona Aglukkaq and told her the (CBC) documentary ran “contrary to the planning meeting we held in your office on June 9th, 2014 and filmed for the Prime Minister’s on-line news channel.”

“I think it’s important that the contribution to the search is recognized accurately, that the history of the project is documented correctly and that it reflects the partnership agreements of each organization involved … the narrative, as currently presented, attempts to minimize the role of the Government and its respective agencies and private partners, ” Balsillie wrote.

Jim Balsillie in an undated photo

There are also concerns in the letter about whether the people featured in the documentary are the ones who actually carried out a lion’s share of the work.

Balsillie was particularly concerned that the role of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society (RCGS) was being greatly exaggerated, although he doesn’t fully explain why the organization was being given undue credit.

“It also creates new and exaggerated narratives for the exclusive benefit of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and its own partners. The Government of Nunavut, the Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Canadian Coast Guard are shown as supporting players to the RCGS.”

The CEO of the RCGS is an American-born author named John Geiger.

RCGS President John G Geiser. Photo: RCGS

Balsillie’s letter goes on.

“The CEO of RCGS makes a claim that his organization has been doing the search “for years, catching a break this year” when in fact they joined the Victoria Strait partnership in April of 2014 as a support partner to help with communication and outreach activities. This narrative put forward by the RCGS undermines the leadership shown by you and the Prime Minister and the careful logistical planning that the Government supported well before the communications support role was taken by the RCGS.”

What is not clear is why Balsillie is writing to the minister about a documentary that aired on CBC’s Nature of Things on April 9, 2015.

When contacted by APTN, a spokesperson in Balsillie’s office said that “Mr. Balsillie has no comment at this time. He has communicated his concerns about the Franklin project (as well as ideas for Northern communities to benefit from the project) to relevant partners directly.”

A producer for the Nature of Things, said no one in government was allowed to pre-screen the show as per CBC guidelines.

But Balsillie isn’t the only one questioning the historical facts contained in the documentary or the role of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and it’s CEO John Geiger in it.

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Paul Watson recently made a splash when he announced that he quit his job at the Toronto Star over concerns he was being muzzled.

Watson told APTN National News that he quit after the Toronto Star wouldn’t let him investigate the story of the scientists who discovered the HMS Erebus last summer.

“I had traction on a story, and began reporting, to try to finish it, and I was ordered to stop,” Watson told APTN in an interview Wednesday. “It is the first time I’ve been asked to stop working on a story before I’ve even written it. At a meeting with management in Vancouver, I explicitly asked, ‘Yes or no, will you let me finish this story?’ I was told by the Star’s editor Michael Cooke, ‘We’re not interested in that story.’ That was a kill order, and I quit.”

The Toronto Star denied the allegations in an article published in its paper.

Paul Watson, Toronto Star
Paul Watson, Author Photo: Toronto Star

Watson also said that he had to speak out for the scientists who worked on the project.

“They’re frightened of losing their jobs. I was shocked at how far widespread that fear is,” he said. “Hard working people, experts in their field, who are afraid to speak the truth, because they fear that they will be slapped down and perhaps lose their jobs over it,” said Watson.

In an interview with APTN and others, Watson singles out Geiger and the RCGS as having an embellished role in discovering HMS Erebus and questioned whether Geiger deserved receiving the Polar medal Monday in Whitehorse.

“Four people as I understand it received that (Polar) medal. I think, clearly, that three of them are important to the discovery of HMS Erebus. They deserve that medal … I challenge anyone, as my sources have, to find evidence that John Geiger had any direct role in the discovery of that ship. Or did anything else that would warrant a medal from the Governor-General, awarded on behalf of the Queen,”

APTN National News contacted Geiger and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society for comment but calls were not returned.

Balsillie mentioned the RCGS a number of times in his letter.

I am concerned that official communication outputs, such as this documentary, contain versions of the search that are misleading the to the Canadian public. Because this documentary is currently being adopted for US and international audiences I have requested meetings with the film director and the producing company to discuss how best to fix these factual errors. This project offers an unprecedented opportunity to engage our fellow Canadians in our history, Inuit culture, and the North which together raises awareness of the importance of the Arctic to our security, sovereignty and prosperity.

Leona Aglukkaq did not respond to APTN’s request to comment Wednesday when contacted.

But a spokesperson in her office did respond after APTN published its first story on the Franklin issue.

In an email, spokesperson Ted Laking wrote that the government of Canada “did not have editorial control of the documentary,” CBC aired.

And that Aglukkaq would be responding to Balsillie’s letter “shortly.”

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Video Journalist / Iqaluit

Kent has been APTN’s Nunavut correspondent since 2007. In that time he has closely covered Inuit issues, including devolution and the controversial Nutrition North food subsidy. He has also worked for CKIQ-FM in Iqaluit and as a reporter for Nunavut News North.

1 thought on “Blackberry co-founder raises concerns with Nunavut MP Aglukkaq about facts behind Franklin expedition documentary

  1. LMAO wow talk about the mootest of moot points

    The Inuit told people EXACTLY where the ship was..and where the other one is..for YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS ..and were soundly ignored… now its been found EXACTLY where they said .. and theres a fight about who FOUND it?

    no one found it.. it was never lost in the first place.. it’s right where they said it was.. a thousand bloody times lol

    steven harper jumping on the bandwagon tho.. thats just sad… but to be expected from Prime Minister Photo-Op

    pathetic loser

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