In Canada, Julian Assange's extradition trial is being totally ignored | Op-Ed

Valentina Capurri
Julian Assange

Sept. 16, 2020

On September 7, 2020, the hearing for the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States entered its final stages in the Old Bailey court, London, UK. Chances are, however, that many Canadian readers have no idea of what I am talking about, since the news was largely ignored in Canadian media, both mainstream and alternative. In this piece, I provide some reasoning for this sad state of affair. The farcical nature of the hearing has already been brilliantly done by others including John Pilger, Pepe Escobar, Caitlin Johnstone, Craig Murray, and Kevin Gosztola, so I will refrain from doing so. Before I begin my analysis, let me give some general context of what I am discussing and why it matters.

Julian Assange is an Australian publisher and activist who is responsible for creating Wikileaks and exposing a number of secrets and war crimes committed by governments all over the world including, but not exclusively, the United States. Problem is that the US is currently bully number one on the world stage and will not tolerate being exposed as anything else but the “exceptional nation” it believes itself to be. So, it has decided to remove anyone who dares challenge its aura of heroism and indispensability. Assange must therefore be literally removed from circulation and made to disappear.

The goal is not only to eliminate a thorn in the flesh of Empire, but also to set an example, so no one else will even contemplate challenging the said Empire.  Julian’s forced removal from the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he had been granted asylum, put him under UK jurisdiction. He has since been kept in maximum-security at the notorious Belmarsh prison. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, whose reports have hardly made it into any media, has indicated that the conditions in which Assange is being kept amount to psychological torture[1]. Last week, the hearing for his extradition to the US entered its final stages and is expected to last four weeks. If extradited to the US, Assange is at risk – a risk that seems highly likely at this point – of spending the rest of his life in jail. His fault? Exposing US war crimes.

As a Canadian citizen, my interest is in how Canada and Canadian media, both mainstream and alternative, have reacted to this ongoing situation. Unsurprisingly, the Trudeau government has remained silent on the issue. Since coming to power, Trudeau’s cabinet has operated in lockstep with the Trump administration, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. Apparently, a government that claims to be concerned with human rights around the world, has failed to notice the hypocrisy of ignoring those same human rights whenever it is convenient to do so. Canada’s opposition parties have also refused to stand up for Assange.

In his publications, Yves Engler has done a wonderful job of exposing such Canadian hypocrisy, from the sale of armaments to Saudi Arabia to leading the charge against the democratically elected Maduro government in Venezuela (just two instances out of an endlessly long list). So, it is not really extraordinary that in a so-called land of rights and freedoms, not a single voice has been raised in parliament to denounce the clear violation of Julian Assange’s rights at the hands of the UK and US governments.

If the attitude of the Trudeau government has been predictable, the silence of Canadian media has been more puzzling. When searching for mainstream media coverage of the hearing at the Old Bailey, very little comes up. I found absolutely nothing in the Huffington Post Canada, one article on CBC News (not discussing the hearing but simply mentioning that it was temporarily postponed because of a false scare that one of the witnesses might have been exposed to COVID-19), three small mentions in the Toronto Star and four in the Globe and Mail, simply reporting that the hearing had started, with a few articles in the National Post that were reprints from Reuters. None of these major Canadian publications had any analysis or opinion pieces concerning this hearing. Apparently, there is no concern about the persecution of a fellow colleague on the part of journalists, or for freedom of the media around the world.

Although this might seem odd, I argue that it is instead perfectly understandable in light of the current nature of mainstream media in Canada. We are at a moment in time when the so-called Fourth Estate has all but abdicated its function of challenging power, and has found a comfortable niche where its only function appears to be transcribing messages from those in power.

Here and there, some minor and inconsequential criticism pops up, but the overall trend is to stay the course and endorse the overall government line. These journalists/government spokespersons do not perceive what is occurring to Assange as threatening to them because they cannot lose the freedom of speech that do not have any longer. They have willingly given it up in exchange for comfort and job security.

What about alternative media? Surely they must be critical of what has been done to one of their colleagues, right? Well, if they are, they are not letting on. With the exception of a few interesting pieces in the Canadian Dimension, I have found almost no reporting on the hearing in Canadian alternative media. Almost nothing on Nothing at all from Ricochet Media. And the list goes on and on. What explains such a concerted omission of an event that could have significant reverberation on freedom of the media in Canada as well? Could it be that, according to many journalists, Assange is not one of them. It’s pretty much the same argument the US is using to walk all over his rights to publish. From this perspective, Assange is a hacker at worst and a computer geek at best, but definitely not a journalist or a publisher.

Professionalization in our society has meant that you are only accepted in a specialized group if you have acquired the proper training and followed the proper path. But it really should not matter what kind of credentials Assange has accumulated on his CV; what he has done by publishing and exposing the truth is at the very core of what journalism should be. As noted by Trevor Trimm, one of the expert witnesses at the hearing, it is irrelevant whether we consider Assange to be a journalist: what counts is that he has engaged in journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment[2] . Another reason behind alternative media’s silence seems to be its unwillingness to admit past mistakes: I found articles posted in previous years in publications such as that were openly against Assange and criticized his supporters as rape apologists[3].

Despite the fact that we know today such accusations are false and constituted plain efforts at character assassination, none of the people who published these pieces have ever apologized for their defamatory and misleading portrayal of Julian Assange. They certainly don’t seem intent on starting now. A third and final reason might be simple envy: Assange went where many self-proclaimed journalists didn’t dare and showed the world that exposing crimes committed by the state, even a giant like the United States, was possible if you had enough courage. It must sting when someone without professional credentials does the job better than any professional journalist. Quite a slap in the face!   

Where does this leave us, the Canadian public? In an unfortunate situation where the only information reaching us is incorrect at best, and often deceptive. If true journalism is at the service of the people rather than power, then we find ourselves at a moment when very few Canadian journalists still exist. Therefore, it is imperative that those of us who care for true and honest information stand behind Assange and behind all the dissenters who challenge the mainstream narrative. Because the truth matters. Because we have a right to know. Because we shouldn’t settle for anything less.