Press Gag Purely Canadian

Canada’s consul general in Los Angeles yesterday declined to speak to Canadian media after contacting a U.S. newspaper to complain about a YouTube video. The consulate explained all contact with Canadian journalists must be screened by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“The policy is rather strict,” said Dan Pasquini, spokesperson for the California diplomatic mission. “The marching orders are really strict. I’m not going to get into the reasons why we do it this way.”

Consul General James Villeneuve earlier contacted a Los Angeles Times columnist to complain of unfair treatment of Canada in a pharmaceutical lobbyists’ YouTube video. The ad questioned Canadian regulation of imported medicines.

“Being Canadian, he was too polite to openly criticize the United States,” wrote Times consumer columnist David Lazarus in a May 11 item Canadian Officials Decry Jagged Little Pill Of Attacks By U.S. Drug Industry. “But Villeneuve allowed that the ads from the Partnership for Safe Medicines are ‘very deceptive’ and ‘kind of mean’.”

The Consul General was unavailable for comment when contacted by Blacklock’s. Spokesperson Pasquini explained rules for dealing with Canadian and American media are different.

“This may sound bureaucratic, but that’s us,” said Pasquini. “Any press requests from Canadian media have to go through the media people at the department. Our Consul General can engage with media in their regions.”

“We actually reached out to the Los Angeles Times reporter – that we can do – but Canadian media calls have to be referred to media relations in Ottawa,” said Pasquini. The department did not comment.

“I’m not sure he’d get in trouble,” added Pasquini. “He’s empowered to speak to the press in the consular region.”

Villeneuve’s comments to Canadian media are rare but not unprecedented. He previously granted a 2017 interview to Toronto’s Get Leashed Magazine to discuss his dog Poppy. “If you ask me, Poppy is a great diplo-mutt,” Villeneuve told the periodical.

The foreign ministry in a 2015 Ministerial Mandate letter wrote, “Members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, indeed all journalists in Canada and abroad, are professionals who, by asking necessary questions, contribute in an important way to the democratic process. Your professionalism and engagement with them is essential.” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in a May 3 statement observing World Press Freedom Day said, “We remind ourselves that without a free and independent press, we all lose.”

Villeneuve was appointed to the Los Angeles post in 2014. He was formerly vice-president of corporate affairs for Labatt Brewing Co. and campaign manager for ex-Toronto mayor Mel Lastman. Villeneuve’s budgeting as Consul General earlier prompted a departmental review after a 2015 Inquiry Of Ministry tabled in the Commons indicated he spent $12,460 on two buffets.

By Staff

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