Reflecting on the Chris Bittle Affair – the Partisanship Angle

Drew Wilson offers his own reflection on the Chris Bittle affair, talking about the partisanship angle.

Last week, Liberal MP, Chris Bittle falsely accused Michael Geist of being racist. The incident was followed up by Bittle issuing an apology for his comments. As I noted, these attacks are nothing new given the previous incident where Bittle blocked me after calling him out for trivializing sexual assault.

When I woke up today, I had thought about writing a dedicated post about where some of these attacks might be coming from – essentially offering a reflection. As it turns out, Geist thought of doing the same thing and beat me to the punch by writing his own reflections post. Geist worried about whether antisemitism takes a back seat to other forms of racism in the Liberal governments strategy. Indeed, given the reaction to the events, that is, indeed, something to be concerned about.

Of course, as the title suggests, I had a different angle in mind in all of this – partisanship. The source of this takes into account the broader way Bittle has been conducting himself. This is beyond the false accusation of racism. It’s probably a product of the times we live in where we live in hyper-partisanship era. While it is easy to source hyper-partisanship with far right elements both in Canada and the US, it is also easy to overlook the idea that so-called “left” leaning parties are completely immune from it.

The common pattern I’ve seen with Bittle and some Liberal party supporters is that people like Geist and myself are simply either members of the Conservative party or hardcore right wingers. This, of course, is far from the case for both of us. From some of the feedback I’ve seen during the earlier days of Bill C-10 of the last government, some of these voices have taken to assume that Geist (and, subsequently, myself) have gone down the path of the right wing crazy train when we raised concerns with the legislation. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth and our political leanings almost always winds up taking a back seat to the issue at hand.

These comments are probably easy to dismiss as false neutrality (which is a problem in political discourse these days) where people assume someone like myself are smart enough not to associate with the far right wing movement, but will “vote” nothing but right wing lawmakers in all day long. This assumption is very easy to make about Geist and myself when you have absolutely no knowledge or context about our history.

Luckily, you don’t actually have to go that far back to find out that, yes, we aren’t some right wing partisan hacks. One great example is how both of us reacted to how Innovation Minister, Navdeep Bains, handled his profile right up to the very end of his tenure. His support for network neutrality and fostering innovation garnered huge support from myself and Geist. When Bains departed, it was actually a pretty sad and worrying moment because both Geist and myself detected that the Liberal government is seemingly shifting away from the policy of welcoming internet issues as a cornerstone towards a digital strategy.

What’s more, during the Bittle affair, both Geist and myself warmly welcomed Anthony Housefather’s reaction to all of this in calling for an investigation into how the Canadian government got to this place with CMAC in the first place.

For those who ask about how we were when the Harper Conservative party was in power, both Geist and myself had been highly critical of the push for surveillance laws.

I could go on and on, but the question is, if Geist and myself are somehow Conservative party hacks, why would we do anything like this? It doesn’t make sense if we are to be viewed from the lens of being hardcore Conservative party supporters.

There is a simple truth to all of this, we aren’t actually partisan when it comes to examining how legislation affects internet related issues. If the government is tabling terrible surveillance legislation, we don’t care what party is in power, tabling such legislation. If it’s bad for every day users on the Internet, we are probably going to tear that legislation down in our analysis and perspectives. We objectively look at such issues and assess what impact this has, the consequences of such a law, and how we feel things are headed.

Indeed, such objectivity is rare. I’ve personally seen numerous mainstream media outlets fail to achieve such objectivity (which is disappointing). What’s more, it’s annoying when people jump to the conclusion that if we don’t support X legislation of the current government, then we must be hardcore supporters of the current official opposition.

Yet, when I look at how Bittle has conducted himself with Geist in the past few months, I can’t help but think that this is how a number of Liberal party members and supporters think. That we are only talking and commenting on current affairs for the sole purpose of making the Liberal party look bad and nothing more. People are not sitting here saying “you have a hole in your pants” because it’s funny and makes you look bad. We’re saying “you have a hole in your pants” because you have a freaking hole in your pants!

Equally, we are freaking out about legislation like Bill C-11, Bill C-18, and the forthcoming online harms legislation not because we think it’s hilarious and that it would make the Liberals look bad. The truth is that they are bad bills that are going to cause a heck of a lot of problems.

Indeed, when digital first creators expressed their concerns about Bill C-11, the response they got would suggest that Liberal MPs think we are Conservative party hacks trying to make them look bad by obstructing and delaying some kind of important piece of legislation. The truth of the matter is that many of us digital creators saw the legislation, objectively looked through it, and realized that we would be completely screwed over and are fighting for our collective lives and livelihoods. When creators are saying that this will have a negative impact on their careers, we are, indeed, straight talking about this here. There’s no real ulterior motive to be found (unless saving free speech and preserving the path to becoming a career digital first creator counts as an ulterior motive).

I’m not kidding myself into thinking that this post is going to stop this type of partisan thinking about digital rights activists and digital journalists. This sort of thing has been happening for well over a decade now (remember the “Pro User Zealot” attack?) and I fully expect that people constantly putting a partisan label because we either support or oppose a certain bill is going to continue for years to come. What’s more is that I’m not kidding myself into thinking anyone important is ever going to read this, either. Still, it seemed important to at least write about this to clear the air about who people like myself are from the political perspective – at least for the time being.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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