A video tweeted by incumbent Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland, who served as deputy prime minister in Justin Trudeau’s government, was given a warning label Sunday from Twitter, which marked it as “manipulated media.”
Freeland’s tweets, posted in both English and French, contain several edits and show Conservative leader Erin O’Toole answering a question about privatized health care during an online question-and-answer session in July 2020 during the Conservative leadership race.
The tweet shows O’Toole being asked if he would bring private, “for-profit” health care to Canada. He quickly responds: “yes.”
However, in the original recording of O’Toole’s remarks on heath care — which can be seen here at about the 12:30 mark — the Conservative leader also noted that universal access remains paramount.
The shortened clip used in Freeland’s tweet did not include O’Toole’s statement on ensuring universal access.
Trudeau retweeted the video and drew on it during a speech Sunday to attack O’Toole on the campaign trail in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Conservative Party lawyers have sent a letter to the commissioner of Canada Elections calling for an investigation into the matter to determine who was involved in making the video. The party is also requesting the commissioner ask the Liberals to take down the post.
On Sunday, the party accused the Liberals of spreading misinformation.
“It’s disappointing to see the Liberals resort to American-style divisive politics,” said Mathew Clancy, the Conservatives’ manager of media relations.
“While Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are focused on spreading misinformation, Erin O’Toole is focused on Canada’s Recovery Plan and securing the future.”
The Conservatives had their own Twitter misstep roughly a week ago. Twitter removed a video the party posted following a copyright infringement complaint and the Conservatives subsequently deleted the tweet.
The Conservatives had posted a video mocking Trudeau by placing his face on a character from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Some sitting Conservative MPs called the tweet juvenile and a bad idea during a federal election.
Twitter launched warning labels last year
On Sunday, Twitter Canada said it issued the warning labels on both English and French versions of Freeland’s tweet.
“The tweets in question have both been labelled in line with our global synthetic and manipulated policy,” Twitter Canada said in a statement to CBC.
It noted that labelled tweets have limited visibility in search functions, replies and on timelines and are not recommended algorithmically by Twitter.
Twitter launched the warning labels in early 2020, ahead of the U.S. presidential election as social media platforms braced for an onslaught of misinformation.
Twitter’s website says it puts labels on content which it believes are “significantly and deceptively altered or manipulated” including substantially edited in a way that alters the timing, sequencing, framing, adds subtitles, or if a real person is fabricated or simulated.
“We also consider whether the context in which media are shared could result in confusion or misunderstanding or suggests a deliberate intent to deceive people about the nature or origin of the content, for example by falsely claiming that it depicts reality,” according to Twitter’s website.
When asked about the Twitter warning label, the Liberals said the Twitter posts included a highlights video, which runs 35 seconds, and noted that another Freeland tweet contains a link to O’Toole’s full-length answer, which runs 2 minutes and 18 seconds.
Liberals disagree with Twitter warning
The party said it disagrees with Twitter’s decision to label it manipulated media.
“The highlights are an accurate reflection of Mr. O’Toole’s statement in its entirety,” wrote a Liberal party spokesperson in a statement to CBC News. “We disagree with the assessment and are seeking an explanation from Twitter.
“We’ll let Canadians judge for themselves what Mr. O’Toole meant by his comments.”
During Trudeau’s speech Sunday he accused O’Toole of taking the wrong approach during the pandemic and trying to hold back help.
“We just saw today that Erin O’Toole in the pandemic came out clearly in favour of a private, for-profit healthcare system for Canada,” Trudeau said. “Shame on you, in a pandemic, no less.”
The video Freeland posted shows Kate Harrison, vice chair of of Summa Strategies and director at Abacus Data, during a video conference asking Conservative leader Erin O’Toole if he would be “prepared to allow provinces to experiment with real healthcare reform, including the provision of private for-profit and non-profit health care options, inside of universal coverage?”
👋- there’s a video circulating online of Erin O’Toole responding to a question on healthcare. As the person who asked the question, I’m disappointed to see the video was manipulated to exclude important context. Here’s the full video ➡️ <a href=”https://t.co/JRKMpBP6Ip”>https://t.co/JRKMpBP6Ip</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/cdnpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#cdnpoli</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Elxn44?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Elxn44</a>
Harrison also tweeted her disapproval of the video on Sunday saying it was edited out of context.
“There’s a video circulating online of Erin O’Toole responding to a question on healthcare,” wrote Harrison. “As the person who asked the question, I’m disappointed to see the video was manipulated to exclude important context.”
Where trapping is still a way of life, Quebec lithium projects spark fears for future
NEMASKA, QUE. — As Freddy Jolly’s pickup truck travels the dusty roads through the spruce forests outside Nemaska, Que., the one radio station fades in and out, and Jolly fills the gaps between country ballads with conversation.
“There are fewer moose than before due to logging,” Jolly says as he scans the horizon.
This is Eeyou Istchee in northern Quebec, the traditional land of the James Bay Cree, with a surface area equivalent to two-thirds of France. The 65-year-old Cree hunter and trapper knows the land well and has agreed to take a visitor to see sites where lithium mines are under construction.
Inside the pickup truck’s cab lie two rifles, one for small game and one for big game.
If he were to encounter a moose, Jolly would shoot it and share the meat with his community members, in keeping with tradition. He explains that in the fall, in the Eeyou Istchee, every family has moose meat in their freezer. Hunting is a source of food but it also helps maintain the cultural and spiritual values of the Cree Nation.
His parents and grandparents sold furs to the Hudson’s Bay Company, and he sells them to a company in North Bay, Ont., but he fears that this way of life, which many Cree still depend on, will be disrupted by the rush for the new “white gold” — lithium.
Companies planning to develop mines in the region believe it contains some of the world’s largest deposits of spodumene, a lithium-rich mineral.
“There are more and more mining claims. I see more and more people from the south exploring and drilling on traditional hunting areas, and soon, many roads will be built for lithium mines,” Jolly says.
In order to develop mines for lithium and other critical minerals needed for the electrification of transportation, the Grand Council of the Crees and the Quebec government are planning to build hundreds of kilometres of new roads and power lines, a railroad, and a deepwater port in the Eeyou Istchee.
Jolly’s truck stops at kilometre 58 on the EM-1 road on the territory of the Cree community of Eastmain, north of Nemaska.
This is where Critical Elements Corp. plans to empty two lakes after harvesting the fish and donating them to the community. This will allow the development of an open pit lithium and tantalum mine that could produce about 4,500 tonnes of ore per day for 17 years.
The mine will be built directly on the traditional hunting grounds of Ernie Moses, the tallyman or supervisor for the local trapline.
“I’m sad, but there’s not much I can do about this project,” Moses says in an interview near one of the lakes that will be drained.
For several generations, his family has trapped beavers in the lake. The area is home to an abundance of game, fish, and bird species at risk, according to the federal government’s environmental assessment.
Critical Elements Corp., says that in order to extract ore from the ground in this region, which holds “one of the highest purity spodumene deposits in the world,” it will be necessary to destroy wetlands and cut down a significant number of trees.
“What will be left of this land in 20 years?” wonders Moses, adding that when he looks at the lake in front of him, he sees “beavers, but the mine sees dollar signs.”
The trapper made an agreement with the promoter to help him inventory the beavers on the territory so they can be removed before the lake is eliminated, and either relocated or killed for their pelts.
The Eeyou Istchee is divided into 300 family traplines, each large enough to support an extended family. Every one of these traditional traplines is under the responsibility of a tallyman like Moses, who on this day has brought along two of his daughters and his son-in-law to teach them.
“It’s important to pass on this traditional way of life; when I walk on this land, I take the place of my ancestors, they know I’m here,” he said. “Whenever I’m on my trapline, I think about them, I’m filling in for them, and I want this to continue after me.”
Mining exploration projects for various types of metal have more than doubled in the last 15 years in the Eeyou Istchee, going from 174 in 2004 to nearly 400 in 2021. A few dozen kilometres down the road from the soon-to-disappear lakes lies the future site of the Nemaska Lithium mine, in which the Quebec government has invested tens of millions of dollars.
Nemaska Lithium plans to blast the spodumene rocks that contain the precious metal, and to do so, it too will have to eliminate a small lake and a creek, in addition to altering several bodies of water, according to a company progress report.
The mining company estimates there will be between 3,770 and 5,500 square metres of habitat loss for several fish species, but a report from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada concludes the “anticipated negative residual effects on fish and fish habitat” are much greater — 54,600 square metres of fish habitat.
Louis-Martin Leclerc, a spokesman for the mine, said Nemaska Lithium is working on updating a compensation plan for the loss of fish habitat.
According to the company, 10 species of mammals considered threatened, vulnerable or at risk, including the wolverine and the woodland caribou, can be found in the project’s study area. Nemaska Lithium recognizes that a vast number of activities, during both the construction and operation phases of the mine, will impact wildlife.
However, Leclerc adds that there is no compensation plan for the loss of these mammals’ habitat because, according to its inventories, none of them have been observed on the actual site of the mine.
One of Jolly’s biggest concerns is that a chemical spill or mine tailings will contaminate other bodies of water. The mine site is located in the watershed of the Rupert River, one of the largest rivers in Quebec, which has always been an important source of food for the Cree.
“It would be catastrophic,” the trapper says with a sigh, adding that lithium mining is dividing his community.
Benoît Plante, a water quality expert, led a research project on the site of the future Nemaska mine.
“Zero risk does not exist,” said Plante, a professor at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue. “There are risks of dust, physical stability and water contamination, but we have some of the best legislation, which can minimize these risks and make sure they are acceptable.”
Both the Nemaska Lithium and Critical Elements projects have received approval from federal and provincial authorities as well as Cree band councils in the region.
In Eastmain, band Chief Kenneth Cheezo supports the mining development.
“This is new for us, it’s the first time that a mine will open on this territory,” he said in an interview.
“The company has come into the community, into our schools, to talk to young people about the jobs that will be created, and we’re not just talking about low-level employees; there are job opportunities in engineering, human resources, and several management positions.”
The high school graduation rate has increased recently in Eastmain, and he believes this may be due to the eventual opening of the mine and the jobs that will be offered.
“I like to think that the success of our students over the past few years can be explained, perhaps in part, by the fact that they know, at the end of their studies, that something, a reward, may await them,” he said.
The companies have committed to providing job training in the Cree communities. Furthermore, the communities will receive undisclosed amounts of financial compensation for hosting the mines.
Cheezo says he is confident, based on meetings with Critical Elements Corp. representatives, that the extraction will be done in a way that minimizes environmental impacts.
However, he admits that finding the right balance between the traditional way of life, environmental protection and economic development is a perilous exercise.
“It’s very difficult, because the land is so sacred to us, so it’s painful to give a piece of it, even if it’s just a piece of rock.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2023.
Stéphane Blais received the support of the Michener Foundation, which awarded him a Michener–Deacon Investigative Journalism fellowship in 2022 to report on the impact of lithium extraction in northern Quebec.
Stéphane Blais, The Canadian Press
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