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Someone is Trying to Silence You

Written by
Arthur Newspaper
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February 25, 2023
Someone is Trying to Silence You

Since 1966 Arthur has been producing local news for students in Peterborough. We employ students and provide space for students to write about campus events, clubs, local news, city politics, and lots of opinion pieces. As Trent’s Peterborough campus does not run a journalism program, Arthur is a training ground for many budding writers. Over the years fellow Trent students have written in Arthur about concerns they have about the University, City Council, student unions, and other institutions. Arthur accepts submissions from paid staff writers and from community contributors alike. It is important to us that students be able to speak freely on issues that matter to them. Student media is a vital part of campus life, not just at Trent but across the country and the world. Student newspapers in Canada have been on the front lines holding institutions to account; advocating for students; and building a community

Despite all this there are currently posters up on campus asking students to sign their petition to make our levy fee refundable.

For those who are not familiar with the levy fee system there are two kinds of ancillary fees: refundable and non-refundable. This means that for certain levy groups at Trent, you are able to appeal and receive a refund on your fee. Some refundable levies include OPIRG Peterborough, Absynthe Magazine, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Society, and The Seasoned Spoon Cafe. Here at Arthur our fee is non-refundable as a recognition of the importance of the work we do on campus. Other examples of non-refundable levies include the Kawartha Sexual Assault Clinic, Sadleir House, Sustainable Trent, and our campus media sibling Trent Radio. 

Levy fees are important as they ensure we can hire students as journalists, copy editors, communication staff and more; we can preserve a presence on campus through printing newspapers; and we can produce journalism covering topics important to students that are often overlooked by bigger news outlets.

We are very concerned that someone is looking to take this away. Rhetorically, this amounts to a stated desire to see us defunded. This is a direct attack on a not-for-profit organization, the students whom it employs, and the free press as a whole. Not only this, the complaints upon which this motion is predicated are dangerously misguided and false. They are also, strictly speaking, defamatory and libellous. Coming only a few years after the Ford Government’s anti-democratic “Student Choice Initiative,'' this poster campaign and related online manifestations sees anonymous members of the Trent student body doing the legwork of Conservative politicians while co-opting the language of social justice. 

In setting out to damage the reputation of Arthur and the staff who have made it what it is over fifty-seven years—a noted Peterborough institution and a reliable place for young writers, artists, and journalists to hone their craft—these as-of-yet unnamed parties are actively seeking to dismantle a delicate pillar of democratic order in Peterborough. 

At Arthur, democracy is important to us. It’s how we elect our editors-in-chief, our Board members, and approve policy changes at our AGMs. But a key facet of democracy is transparency, and even more fundamentally, truth. All of you will be familiar with the problems caused by the spreading of false information, especially surrounding the democratic process. So, to be clear, we are not trying to stop students democratically changing levy fees. However, the posters we have begun to see present a deliberate mischaracterization of our administrative and editorial practices. Seeing as our masthead has been subjected to open slander in the court of public opinion without so much as a chance to defend ourselves, we feel it imperative to address your concerns in the interest of honesty, and to respond to this campaign predicated upon false information.

With this in mind, let’s break that so-called “information” down.

“Arthur has published articles in which the F slur has been included twice” - We do not deny that within the past school year we have published articles that include the word in question. However, we believe it is the right of marginalized students to reclaim the language which has long been used against them. Arthur has a longstanding precedent of publishing language which might prove unpalatable to a cissexual, heterosexual audience in the interests of affording a voice to its Queer and trans staff. This practice dates back decades before the current editorial team and staff, as is well documented within our archive. In many cases, Arthur’s historic publications contain far more inflammatory language than we generally employ today, though—as a radical and student-run press—we remain committed to being a vessel for student expression, whatever form it may take. We believe that censoring or policing the language of students of marginalized identities to be reprehensible, and neither fair nor inclusive.

We believe that the journalistic practices of individual journalists whose names are prominently displayed on their bylines should not be used to justify implicating our masthead as a whole.

“They maliciously exposed a student for their disability” -  Here we would like to highlight the passage to which we believe this complaint refers to. Voting on the next agenda item, having to do with the establishment of a committee for the Student Award for Excellence, elicited further exasperation from the President. After Chair Rob Monico asked for all those in favour of the motion, Litow-Daye audibly sighed, prompting Monico to remind her “I have to ask, it’s in the rules” to which the President replied, “I’m not sighing at you, I’m sighing in general.” 

While it remains unclear to us the alleged connection between the accusation and the passage in question, the complaint on the poster closely resembles one received by the editors of Arthur from TCSA President Zoe Litow-Daye shortly after the publication of Evan Robins’ January 25th article covering the TCSA Board meeting the prior Sunday. After President Litow-Daye accused Robins’ coverage of being “ableist” Arthur reached out to the Human Resources department at Trent University to be certain that no impropriety had been committed. Upon further discussion, we found ourselves in agreement that the passage does not expose anything regarding the subjects. We find it curious then, that this complaint is included in a poster of unknown provenance when the accusations it bears had only previously been levelled against Arthur in private correspondence with members of the TCSA Executive.

It has also recently been brought to the attention of the Editors that there is a misunderstanding regarding whether we retracted Robins’ article linked above. Clearly we did not, as it is not in our interests to obstruct students’ access to information about what transpires at meetings of their elected student union. We did, however, upon learning of a complaint from members of the TCSA, remove a single sentence regarding the Students with Disabilities Commissioner's resignation from the Board. We did not report on specific reasons because, to date, we are uncertain of them and know only that the Commissioner resigned.

We did not remove the passage because we deemed it not to be newsworthy that a member of the student government was resigning, nor did we believe it to not be in the student body’s interest to be made aware. Rather, in the context of the piece it was determined that this particular passage was secondary to the larger narrative. We made this clear to the concerned members of the TCSA as to not set a precedence of them dictating our editorial direction. 

It is upsetting to see this be spun into a claim that there was a retraction by parties unfamiliar with the specifics of what transpired. Further, we find it deplorable that unknown parties use the work of a single author whose name is prominently displayed on the byline as cause to disparage the work of our entire staff. This again, stems from an undercurrent of media illiteracy and willful spread of disinformation. We fail to see how either of the aforementioned examples constitute “exposing” a student for their disability. Many writers at Arthur are themselves disabled, and we strive to always conduct critical journalism in an anti-oppressive and cordial fashion. 

“Arthur does not meet the accessibility needs of their staff members” - We are astonished to see reference to a private and internal conversation between staff and Board members being alluded to wholly divorced from context. At Arthur we strive to be an inclusive and welcoming space for all our staff members; we have numerous staff members who identify as disabled and work with them closely to ensure their needs are met. Of course this requires communication from all parties.

“Causing these staff members to quit” - We were very sad to lose some staff members this year, but we respect the decision of all staff members to remain at Arthur only as long as they wish. Should any decision, be it administrative or editorial, impact an employee’s safety, dignity, or quality of life, or otherwise impede their ability to do work, we encourage them to bring this to our attention so that we can come to a favourable and collaborative resolution. We encourage all our staff to bring complaints about the working conditions to either our Board or the Editors depending on the nature of the complaints, as outlined in Section 6 of our Policies and Procedures. We are regrettably unable to address problems we are unaware exist. 

“The majority of Arthur’s student staff are covered by TWSP” - This year we have ten staff members who are funded through TWSP, one funded in part by TI, and six who are paid from Arthur’s own funds. Furthermore, TWSP funding has a maximum cap of $2000 per student. We appreciate the opportunity to receive TWSP funding which helps contribute towards the cost of student staff, however, most of our wages are paid out of pocket from our levy income.

“Nonetheless, the [sic] Arthur has not given employees who quit their severance pay” - In Ontario, severance is paid out to people when they are dismissed from their job. The circumstances under which employees qualify for severance are clearly laid out in the Employment Standards Act of Ontario. Arthur has not terminated the contracts of any staff members and has not dismissed anyone, nor has any staff member left Arthur under such circumstances as would warrant severance pay. Although two members of staff have resigned, they did so voluntarily, and we did not at any point suggest we would terminate their contract. One employee did ask about severance as they informed us of their resignation and after a fulsome discussion and subsequent vote by the Board, it was determined that no severance would be paid as it is not standard practice in Ontario and the Board could see no reason an exception should be made in this instance.

“Arthur increased their levy fee because they were in debt” - Being a provincially-incorporated not-for-profit organization can be financially unstable, however, Arthur is currently in a great financial position due to the hard work of previous editorships and Board members, as well as the generosity of donors and students. While it is true that Arthur ran a levy increase campaign last year, which successfully passed with majority approval from students who voted in the TCSA’s 2022 Spring Elections, the levy increase was not sought out of need to pay off any debt (Arthur was not in debt at the time). The motivations for seeking a levy increase were clearly detailed in the informational material for the “Vote Yes to Arthur” campaign, the prime impetus being a desire to hire more student staff to be paid above the provincial minimum wage. Furthermore, the total increase per student amounted only to $1.52. This was done out of consideration for undergraduate students, and to proportionately supplement Arthur’s existing levy fee rather than arbitrarily increase it to an unreasonable amount.

“They found a company bank account in negative funds” - In 2017 Arthur editors did find we had significant debt due to a bank account they had not previously been aware of. At that time, the Board and editors decided to reduce the amount of papers being printed, and moved to a bi-weekly print routine instead of weekly. Furthermore, they stopped printing in colour to help cut costs, and the editors even took a cut to their own hours to ensure money could be saved to rectify the debt. It took a little time, but due to their hard work and sacrifices Arthur was able to get into the black and find our footing again. 

In the 2021-22 financial year Arthur editors and our bookkeeper found some discrepancies with our CRA accounts, where money was being assigned to the wrong account. Once again our staff worked to rectify the situation and put us back on track. We are currently (and will continue to be) fully up to date with all of our business taxes.

“Your $12.89 is not being used to increasing [sic] student staff wages. Your money is being used to cover their debts” - As previously mentioned, Arthur is not in debt. The second half of this statement is thus flatly untrue on its face. We have instead been using the increased levy fee to increase staff wages. In 2021-22 all student staff were being paid $15 per hour, the provincial minimum wage at that time. This publishing year, our wages start at $16.50 (for our junior journalists, copy editor, and communications coordinators) with our senior journalists earning $17.50 and our head journalist earning $18. All these are matters of public record as outlined in Section 3 of our Policies and Procedures. The only staff member to have not received a wage increase is our web designer Danny Taro, a local community member and longtime Arthur staff member. His wage remains at $18.50 per hour. In addition, we used the levy increase, and some surplus from the previous year (due in part to lower levels of printing and increased enrollment) to hire additional staff. This year we have a total of eleven journalists on payroll, a significant increase from our six journalists last year, which helps fill the demand of our print schedule and ensure a regular flow of content for our website. 

“You are helping set a precedent for levy groups to be accountable for their outputs, and encouraging them to be ethical in their usage of student funding” - At Arthur, our mandate is, and always has been, to serve our membership. We believe that students should be in charge of where their money goes and receive full transparency from all groups they are funding, including Trent University itself. At Arthur we encourage accountability and transparency through posting all of our financial documents onto our website and by giving full financial reports at our AGMs. Both of these are open to all students to access and we encourage you to access them to understand how and where your money is being used. All levy groups are required to submit financial reports before collecting their Winter levy cheque and you can find our financial statements on the TCSA’s website, or on Arthur’s website, dating back to 2019

We hope this information will help to provide context to the sensationalized, defamatory, and misleading posters you may have seen. Equally, we hope to bring to your attention the importance of fact-checking and understanding the information you are taking in. Despite certain parties’ demands that you “forget what you’ve read,” it is the belief of us at Arthur that all news must be engaged with on a critical basis. Assertions to the contrary represent at best a gross oversimplification of the complexities of absorbing information, and at worst a deliberate encouragement of media illiteracy.

This campaign feels, to us and our regular contributors, like the attempted first step in removing us from campus entirely. The long-term impacts of making Arthur’s levy refundable extend far beyond the immediate future, and whatever petty ends those behind this campaign might envision. Arthur serves an important role in holding Trent University, the TCSA, the City of Peterborough, and all other groups whose actions directly affect students to account. If passed, this motion would unquestionably impact generations of future students, their livelihood, and their right to have a journalistic body independent of any and all other organizations on campus.

We think it is irresponsible for these posters to be allowed on campus as they are intentionally spreading false information with the intent of removing our funding and denying students their voice on campus.  Help us to fight disinformation on campus by not signing this petition.

Section 298 of the Criminal Code of Canada defines “libel” as follows:

  1. A defamatory libel is matter published, without lawful justification or excuse, that is likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or that is designed to insult the person of or concerning whom it is published.

Marginal note: Mode of expression

  1. A defamatory libel may be expressed directly or by insinuation or irony

        (a.) in words legibly marked on any substance; or

        (b.) by any object signifying a defamatory libel otherwise than by words.

        R.S., c. C-34, s. 262

The claims made in the distributed pamphlets constitute outright libel, a charge to which truth is an absolute defence in all common law provinces in Canada. At this point these claims have been well documented and thoroughly disproven. We urge the parties involved to consider the gravity of their actions, and ask whether they feel comfortable with the possible consequences.

If the TCSA allows a petition based on disinformation and libel to be moved to the referendum ballot they are failing the student body. Democracy is not democracy if it is based on lies.

We bring you this article in the interests of honesty, and accountability to our membership. We recognize we are hardly impartial in this matter, but we have, to this point, represented ourselves in as objective terms as possible. Truth is important. Long have we held this belief, as do so many papers in our industry. What we have brought you is the truth. Nothing from the events as described has been withheld. We ask you, our membership, as the students who we represent to be steadfast in your faith in critically-engaged, anti-oppressive, and solutions-based journalism. In many cases, Arthur is the last line of defence when student voices are being silenced. Now, we find ourselves on the receiving end of a similar attempt to silence us. 

We, as journalists, implore you not to support a campaign which unequivocally takes aim at the freedom of the press; which promises to disempower and silence students whilst claiming to address their supposed concerns. We hope that each print issue, each podcast, and every article published under our masthead serve as testimony to our dedication to our craft and to our community. That is, at this point, the only thing we can do.

Regarding our future, and the standards which we pride ourselves on maintaining, we have made our defence. The rest, we leave in your decisive and capable hands.

Signed,

The Editors and Board of Arthur

Arthur Spring Elections 2024
Miracle Territory April 20th
Severn Court (October-August)
Theatre Trent 2023/24
Arthur News School of Fish
Written By
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Arthur Spring Elections 2024
Miracle Territory April 20th
Severn Court (October-August)
Theatre Trent 2023/24
Arthur News School of Fish

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What’s a Rich Text element?

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How to customize formatting for each rich text

"Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system."
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