Address by Minister Monsef at Journalists for Human Rights event on World Press Freedom Day


May 3, 2019 - Toronto, Ontario

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Thank you, Michael. 

I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Wendat, the Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Métis and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

A free and independent press matters because truth matters. World Press Freedom Day is a day to celebrate how vital press freedom is to human dignity. It’s also a day to evaluate the state of press freedom around the world and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives while seeking the stories we all need to hear.

Our government will always stand for human rights, at home and abroad. And we support the work of Journalists for Human Rights: to protect freedom, advance equality and build the capacity of an independent press around the world.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, between January 1 and December 14, 2018, 94 journalists were killed on the job. That’s up from 82 in 2017. 

Intimidation and incarceration of journalists is also on the rise. 

The world needs to protect journalists. 

For 27-year-old Jàn Kuciak, killed in Slovakia in February. 

For those killed in Afghanistan—still the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.

For the five journalists killed in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland.

For Jamal Khashoggi, killed in Istanbul in October.

And for Lyra McKee, killed just days ago in Northern Ireland.

Recently, Minister Freeland and her U.K. counterpart launched a joint initiative called Defend Media Freedom to shine a light on media abuses and address the trend of violence against journalists. On July 10 and 11, 2019, Canada and the United Kingdom will host the Global Conference for Media Freedom to further the aims of this joint campaign.

When journalists and media professionals are under attack, upholding human rights becomes more difficult. 

But when journalists have the tools and the freedom they need to do their work, their stories can make a world of difference.

Take Sally Armstrong: “Many Canadians first became aware of the human rights crisis facing Afghan women and girls thanks to the journalism of Sally Armstrong, in particular, Sally’s groundbreaking 1997 article in Homemakers magazine. Travelling into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Sally shed light on the human rights violations taking place, bringing the news into Canadians’ homes.” This is a direct quote from the website of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, a charitable non-profit with over a dozen chapters in Canada, including one in Peterborough, with the focus of providing education to women and girls of Afghanistan. Their founder saw the article and, like many Canadians, thought, “I have to do something.” Today, the women of Afghanistan are telling their own stories. On radio, in print, online. They even have their own television channel! Afghanistan’s first and only TV channel, exclusively aired by and for women, called ZanTV.

Or Betty Ann Adam, an Indigenous reporter whose StarPhoenix investigations helped launch a public inquiry into the 1990 freezing death of 17-year-old Neil Stonechild, who was seen in police custody the night of his death. In the aftermath of the inquiry, the police chief was fired. A First Nations woman was appointed as head of the Saskatoon police commission.

And Robyn Doolittle, who led a 20-month investigation that exposed the fact that one in five sexual assault cases in Canada were closed by police as “unfounded,” meaning police don’t believe the crime happened. Doolittle’s investigation brought about far-reaching changes to police services all over Canada, including within the RCMP and the Canadian military police. 

The impact of their work, their words, continues to be felt. 

That’s why the work of Journalists for Human Rights is so crucial: training and mentoring journalists, including women, in challenging environments to cover human rights issues ethically and objectively. Honing their skills so they can effectively tell the stories of the unheard, shape public discourse and catalyze positive change. 

Recently, Journalists for Human Rights-mentored media coverage helped to shut down a militia responsible for committing mass rape in Kisumu, near Bukavu in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Journalists for Human Rights-mentored media worked to highlight needless deaths in the then-besieged Al Rukban camp on the Syria-Jordan-Iraq border. Within days of coverage airing, the government of Bashar al-Assad allowed the opening of a humanitarian corridor to the camp.

Today, I’d like to announce that the Government of Canada is investing $11.7 million over four years so that Journalists for Human Rights can help the media uphold and protect human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Jordan and the Syrian diaspora in the Middle East. 

The project will ensure that more women are represented in the media, as journalists, managers and featured sources. 

The project will focus on the rights of women and girls because when women succeed, their families succeed. Countries are more stable and economies are stronger. To get there, women and girls’ voices need to be amplified. Their stories need to be told. They need to pen their own stories. And those stories need to be heard. When they do, different perspectives are shared, and we get closer to hearing the whole story.

This project will make a difference:

  • in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 75% of media content is either created by men or focuses on their experiences; 
  • in Kenya, where only 10% of stories mention human rights or equality; and
  • in Jordan, where there are five times more men than women in newsrooms.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those who put their lives on the line for the truth.

Those students considering journalism as a career. The families whose lives will never be the same again because their loved ones will not be returning from assignment.

Journalists for Human Rights.

Trainers already deployed.

Those planning to go, you’ll represent us well.

You’ll be enriched by your experiences. We look forward to welcoming you home.

When people are informed or outraged, held to account or inspired, change happens. 

Your stories matter. 


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