Nunavut MP Aglukkaq silent as Franklin fracas claims Pulitizer prize winning journalist from Toronto Star

(From L to R: Ryan Harris, Parks Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq at the Franklin Expedition announcement. Photo: PMO)

Kent Driscoll
APTN National News
IQALUIT — Canada’s MP for Nunavut and Minister of Environment is remaining silent after accusations surfaced that the federal government meddled in the story around how two lost ships in the Franklin expedition were discovered.

On Monday, Toronto Star photojournalist, and Pulitzer prize winning reporter Paul Watson quit, stating that it was because the paper 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 denies the allegations.

In an article published in the paper Wednesday, publisher Jim Cruikshank wrote to staff stating the accusations are false.

“Let me publicly deny this extremely odd idea. There is no truth whatever to the suggestion.” He went on to describe the conflict as “fundamentally a personal matter.”

Watson received the Pulitzer prize in 1994 for spot news photography for photos he took for The Star of the 1994 war in Somalia.

Most recently, he has been covering Arctic issues for The Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper.

Watson said he had to go public, because the scientists were frightened.

“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.

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

According to Watson, John Geiger, CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, who just received the new Polar Medal in Whitehorse Wednesday, is one of the reasons scientists are upset.

He said according to scientists, Geiger only joined the team a year before the discovery of the Franklin ships, and doesn’t deserve the award.

“I don’t know anything about motive, and I won’t allege anything about motive. But I do know that it doesn’t smell right. It was stated to me as a fact, on more than one occasion, that John Geiger, who’s the former head of the Globe and Mail editorial board was a former colleague of a few of us here (at the Toronto Star) an editor told me. I had a reasonable suspicion that he might have access to my reporting,” said Watson.

“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.

Watson told APTN he also tried to contact Geiger.

“My first attempt to contact Geiger was seven weeks ago yesterday,” said Watson. “I’ve contacted members of his staff, including communications director. I’ve spoken to her on the phone. I’ve also sent more than one email. I’ve contacted his wife, who was hired as Special Sections editor at The Star not long ago. She won’t reply either,” said Watson.

Watson isn’t the only person who thinks something doesn’t “smell right” about the decision to give so much credit to Geiger and his team.

Canadian businessman Jim Basillie, chair of Arctic Research Foundation, funded much of the research to find the lost ships.

Basille wrote Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq in April of this year, dismayed at the way media coverage had turned out.

In the letter, Basillie wrote: “I am concerned that the documentary contains information that runs 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. The narrative, as currently presented, attempts to minimize the role of the Government and its respective agencies and private partners. It also creates new and exaggerated narratives for the exclusive benefit of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and its own partners. I am raising my concerns with you now because I understand that the Government of Canada has final approval of the content of this documentary and subsequent communications outputs”

Arctic Research Foundation letter

Download (PDF, 153KB)

The documentary Basillie is referring to is the CBC Nature of Things episode “Franklin’s Lost Ships”.

APTN contacted Basillie to find out which officials told him the federal government had final edit of the documentary.

According to Basillie’s assistant, Karen Paquette, “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.”

The producer of the Nature of Things episode denies the allegation.

APTN contacted producer Andrew Gregg about the accusations and whether the federal government had final edit on his work.

“Not at all. Parks Canada wanted to see the doc before it went to air, but we were doing this in conjunction with CBC and there is a very definite policy at CBC, that you do not allow pre-screens of the doc,” said Andrew Gregg.

APTN also contacted Nunavut MP and Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq, to ask who nominated Geiger for the award, whether government scientists were being muzzled, and if Basillie had been given assurances that the documentary was subject to government approval prior to airing.

Aglukkaq did not respond.

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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.

9 thoughts on “Nunavut MP Aglukkaq silent as Franklin fracas claims Pulitizer prize winning journalist from Toronto Star

  1. Paul Watson is making all this noise so his new book coming out seen will attract readers. It’s all self-promotion.

  2. Watson’s claims are nothing but innuendos…nothing concrete…why should the Minister respond

  3. Don’t count on the minister to do anything but repeat what she is told by the PMO. She was told to remain silent. And how can a minister, who should know the impact of climate change on her community, be part of a government that is basically denying that climate change exists? A minister that is, like many other ministers in cabinet, controlled by the PMO. A puppet, really. I hope the good people of Nunavut elect someone else.

  4. What a scam this is on the taxpayers. All they had to do was ask the local natives, who used to see the masts of the ships at low tide, instead of spending millions on such nonsense..

  5. Is Ms. Aglukkaq worth the $250,000 a year salary and a life time pension for ignoring the people who are eating garbage in HER constituency? She won only by 2000 or so votes.

    Surely there is a smart aboriginal college grad with a law degree out there who will WIN that job and actually work towards improving the living conditions of those suffering families. ..I’d donate to that…where is she?

    APTN also contacted Nunavut MP and Minister of Environment Leona
    Aglukkaq, to ask who nominated Geiger for the award, whether government
    scientists were being muzzled, and if Basillie had been given assurances
    that the documentary was subject to government approval prior to

    Aglukkaq did not respond.

  6. Typical : Beginning of the end of Democracy as we have always hoped and prayed for. When we have politicians interfering with facts then their life of deceit is limited by their ability to deceive the public when their Charade does not match their Fascade they become transparent as to their intentions and then all hellbreaks loose !

  7. It seems nothing is done by this government without distorting the truth to suit an alternative political agenda. Perhaps, with cuts being made to the Coast Guard, amongst other agencies, the PMO determined it was not the best idea to highlight the skills and resources of a government department under the chopping block.

  8. Maybe Paul Watson’s resignation will cause all of backroom dealings he had been looking into to come out….even the the Toronto Star has a problem with it. Let’s hope the other media organizations are nor scared off. Keep up the good work APTN.

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