The investigative reporter Andrea Bellemare of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a state-funded news network, posed several questions to Matthew Ricchiazzi, the publisher of The Buffalo Chronicle. Here’s that interview in its entirety.
What prompted you to start publishing stories about Canadian federal politics?
We’ve been casually publishing on indigenous issues in Canada for some time and will continue to do so. I see the SNC Lavalin scandal as an extension of our coverage of indigenous affairs.
At the core of this story is an oil and gas infrastructure company that had been bribing the officials of Reserve governments in British Columbia, in much the same way that they had been bribing tribal governments in Libya under Gaddafi.
In British Columbia, the officials of federal Indian Act band councils, which are created and governed by the Indian Act, are not sovereign governments. They are not indigenous governments. To offer those federal officials bribes in exchange for a cession of rights and land that are not theirs to negotiate away defrauds the legitimately sovereign, traditional governments that predate Canada. That bribery constitutes a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the United States.
Kinder Morgan feared it would be prosecuted under that law, and exited the Trans Mountain pipeline because of that legal risk. The Trudeau government purchased their stake in that project, and has been trying to sell it to First Nations governments. Readers have been interested in the backstory of all that.
This situation is demonstrative of a central ‘roadblock’ in the Crown-Indigenous relationship: that the federal government imposes ‘fake’ Indian Act governments (federal works agencies of Canada) on indigenous communities, and then negotiates away the rights and resources of our sovereign traditional governments with these entities – largely through bribery and graft.
Frank Iaccobucci, the former Supreme Court Justice and SLC Lavalin lobbyist, had been tasked by the Trudeau government to manage various indigenous consultations processes across Canada – from right here in Ontario, to British Columbia. Many of our initial source contacts were with folks who participated in those consultations in British Columbia and conveyed to us his posture during those talks, which was beneath the dignity of the Crown.
I reached out to two well-placed professionals in Canada’s body politic, who started digging in from there and sourcing the jaw-dropping series that we’ve been able to publish. Another well placed professional reached out mid-summer to contribute to the project as well, and they’ve been able to uncover utterly jaw-dropping behavior inside the Trudeau ecosystem.
What motivated you specifically to publish the story about the SNC-Lavalin scandal, in March of 2019?
We published several stories about the SNC Lavalin scandal between February and April. They were published as information became available to the two writers responsible for that series.
On a personal level, I was rather offended by the way Justin Trudeau disposed of the former Attorney General, so callously, quickly, and with a willingness to smear. Had he not terminated the first indigenous woman to hold that position, precisely at the time she was attempting to end the Indian Act and right the Crown-Indigenous relationship, perhaps our publication wouldn’t have taken an interest in the current election cycle.
Why were you personally offended by Justin Trudeau?
I don’t like bullies, and the way he treated her was repulsive. In terminating her, he was throwing away all of the progress towards reconciliation and a new governance paradigm — one that would recognize inherent sovereignty — with indigenous communities that we thought was being made.
I think, for many Canadians, it exposed Trudeau’s leadership style. It exposed his willingness to tell a new lie every day.
Who writes the articles about Canadian politics? Why not identify them?
If the writers of those articles were identified, they’d each be fired immediately. I’ve made a commitment to each of them to shield their identities. I want to respect the risks that people take to keep the public informed because democracy and free people depend on it.
Do your writers have other jobs than being reporters? Because if they’re reporting the facts, as you say, they wouldn’t be fired for doing their jobs.
They are not writers. They have substantial professional positions in non-journalistic fields. The writing that they have been doing is unrelated to their fulltime positions.
Why are you publishing stories about Canadian politics that are lacking evidence or are unsourced, or are downright false?
Our stories are not false. We report information in good faith and work hard not to overstate what we know to be fact. Often we report the existence of a rumor when it is in itself newsworthy, but will identify it as such and note our inability to evaluate its veracity. I would argue that our sourcing methods throughout this series on Canadian politics have been rather effective, albeit, perhaps, rough around the edges.
Do you have any Canadian political contacts who give you information or who write for your website?
Yes, many; on a citizen-journalist or freelance basis. We’d love to have more Canadian writers – of all political persuasions. That would be wonderful. Earlier this year I was considering adding a full-time writer to cover Ottawa, but ended up not doing so, which is why the Canadian coverage waned over the summer months. After the election, I’d like to hire a full-time Ottawa-based reporter because the Canadian content has driven a lot of new traffic to the platform and has grown our audience considerably.
How come you ended up not doing so? Who were you considering?
I wasn’t ready to make such a substantial commitment to Canadian politics at that moment, because I don’t have any relationships with the current leadership of any of the parties, and wasn’t sure what civic objectives I could have contributed to achieving with that political involvement.
I don’t think he’d appreciate the name dropping at the moment, and I’m not sure it would be proper to publicly name someone who talked about a job a few times. That doesn’t seem nice.
Do you get paid to place stories about Canadian politics on your website?
No, I do not.
-Do you sell advertising on your website?
On rare occasion, we’ll sell an advertisement, but I give most of the advertising space away for free to small locally owned businesses whenever I see someone doing something worth celebrating or promoting, or come across a locally owned brand that I like. One of the intangibles that we’ve lost in the last few decades due to the media industry’s consolidation is the erosion of brand consciousness for local businesses. If I can help a small firm project their presence to our local readership, I’m most happy to do so.
We don’t have any advertisers from Canada, mostly because we haven’t pursued advertisers. I suppose that we may in the future, but at the moment I don’t see The Chronicle as a profit center; I see it as a pro-bono contribution to making our democracy healthier and more robust. I expect it to burn through a certain amount of cash every so often, and I keep it within limits. I find it to be a liberating posture for a publication to take.
In some ways, I suppose you could consider The Chronicle a ‘loss-leader’ to some of my other business ventures. A number of my clients are Indian Tribes in the United States and Canada, and the platform has been helpful in defending various investment positions in the past.
We called all 22 companies or people that appear as advertisements on your website. 13 of them told us that they did not place advertising on your site, and some said they hadn’t heard of your site. Were any of the ads that appear on your website placed by the companies or people they purport to be from?
As I said, we don’t make an effort to sell advertising space, and most is given away for free. However, some of the advertisements that appear may have been sold through third-party advertising sales agents that worked for The Niagara Falls Reporter or Artvoice. For some time, The Chronicle was pursuing a merger of the three platforms through a content-sharing agreement that was intended to more easily pool resources and better scale our content production. I think there are some advertisements for local music venues and bars that were purchased through Artvoice, and must still be circulating in the ad server. Given that I don’t charge for ads anyways, I wasn’t too concerned with it.
If there are any specific advertisements that you’re interested in, I can elaborate on whether or not there is a substantive business relationship with that entity or not.
In the end, that merger didn’t work out because of editorial and governance disagreements with the publisher of The Niagara Falls Reporter and Artvoice, Frank Parlato. He had been allocating resources monomaniacally in pursuit of the Bronfman sisters and their sex cult, NXIVM, and those audiences suffered.
Does the Buffalo Chronicle make money, and if so, how?
No, it loses money regularly. The Buffalo Chronicle is an accumulation of net operating losses, and I just keep the cash burn within limits.
Making false or misleading statements about a candidate, the leader of a political party or a public figure associated with a political party during an election could be an offense under the Act. The types of statements that may fall within this category include
- a false statement that a candidate, a prospective candidate, the leader of a political party or a public figure associated with a political party has committed, or has been charged with or is under investigation for, an offense under federal or provincial law; or
- a false statement about citizenship, place of birth, education, professional qualifications or membership in a group or association of any of the individuals outlined above.
What’s your reaction to this?
We report in good faith and would never knowingly publish a falsehood. We are confident in all of our reporting to date, and believe it reflects a fair articulation of information obtained from confidential sources.