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Kervin’s Corner: Don’t shoot the messenger for exposing prejudice public comments

Reporters can’t control what is said at a public hearing, but they certainly have to report on it.

People are upset over comments made at a public hearing, one of which was especially inflammatory to local First Nations. And rightly so, but I am surprised that people are upset that I covered the comment. In my opinion, focusing on the article itself I felt was a bit unfair. I was reporting on what was said, “slums,” but they are not the view of the paper nor the reporter who wrote it (myself).

In fact, I’m a First Nation band member from the very community that is making this project happen, Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw. As a reporter I can’t control what is said during a public hearing, I just have to report on what went on during the event.

I’d argue that reporting on what was said – not letting that person get away with such comments by exposing it – was precisely what a reporter should do. The public deserves to hear what was said at the public hearing and that was just one of those things. (For those of you curious enough to read more, I also wrote a previous article on the all the positives of the project. And for the public hearing article, I also included other residents’ comments too.) However, many people think the article in question only focused on that one comment, but I included many others who echoed the same sentiment as that one man, but weren’t willing to be so blatant about it as he was.

Again, I quoted these people; these were not my words. These are people who went out to a public hearing knowing fully well it’s going to be on the public record and in the media, and they still chose to say what they said. I can’t control that, but I most definitely have to report on it.

Don’t you deserve to know what was said at the public hearing? I certainly think so. And if I had decided not to include his comment, just because it was so inflammatory, that would be against my integrity as a journalist. It was said at a public hearing, so I can’t just ignore it because it upsets people.

In fact, reporting that prejudice, dare I say racist, comment was an act of defending Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw by exposing the comment for what it is. But because I quoted the man who said it and put the quote in the headline, it was a racist thing of me to do according to some people. (By the way, how can a minority Indigenous person be racist to another First Nations person anyway? My own community seems to be giving me a hard time for standing up for them.)

It’d be a massive disservice to Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nation if I had let that man get away with what was said – to let it slide. I don’t let things slide if it was something blatantly wrong or if it goes against my moral compass.

At the end of the day, the issue here isn’t about having quoted a prejudice person. There will always be prejudice and racist people regardless of what is being talked about. The real issue here is the idea of “not in my back yard,” where residents are worried about the housing development, regardless of whether it’s being done by First Nations or not. So let’s not shoot the messenger for exposing a racist comment by one person.

While I’m still fairly new to being a journalist and reporter, my boss Tyson Whitney doesn’t censor any of my work. He lets me run any reportable news story, so long as I check my facts and have my quotes in order.

I encourage every local who feels so strongly about the story to write in a letter to the editor. We as an editorial team are more than happy to include any local’s thoughts on any matter we report on and we certainly won’t censor your letter to the editor.

Thomas Kervin is a First Nations person from Gwasa’a-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation. He is also a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy.

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