As far back as when explorers traveled east for spice and west for gold, expeditions have always contained an intractably political facet. Still, it came as a surprise to many when veteran Canadian reporter and Pulitzer-prize winner Paul Watson resigned from the Toronto Star over what a squashed story concerning the treatment of federal workers during the Parks Canada expedition to the shipwreck HMS Erebus, explorer Sir John Franklin’s flagship during his doomed search for the Northwest Passage in 1845.
Due in no small part to the changing climate and receding ice, the arctic has now become a flash point and gold rush, with global powers Canada, Russia and the United States jockeying sovereignty claims as new transportation routes and mineral/hydrocarbon resources become increasingly available.
These conflicts don’t just take place with contracts and cartographers–culture makes all the difference. That’s why Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail called the Parks Canada HMS Erebus shipwreck discovery “a keystone of Prime Minister Harper’s Arctic Sovereignty Legacy.”
Less than a year on from the discovery, things have started to go wrong. Philanthropist and former Research in Motion (of mobile device Blackberry notoriety) co-CEO Jim Bastille of the Arctic Research Foundation believes that a recent Environmental Ministry-backed documentary The Nature of Things portrayed “(an) exaggerated narratives for the exclusive benefit of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.
More worryingly, Toronto Star journalist Paul Watson (who had joined the Parks Canada expedition) abruptly quit his post, claiming his paper had refused to publish a story “of significant public interest,” and that he and others were “disturbed” by the Prime Minister’s Office’s direct involvement in stage-managing the announcement. He went on to say that the public servants involved in the expedition were “upset with the way that this unfolded (and) allowed distortions and untruths to ruin the historical record.”
July 7, 2015
At a meeting today in Vancouver, I submitted my resignation to the Toronto Star following the newspaper’s refusal to publish a story of significant public interest.
Resigning is the only way I can resume that reporting, complete the work and fulfill my responsibilities as a journalist.
My reporting is an attempt to give voice to federal civil servants and others involved in the grueling, High Arctic search for British Royal Navy explorer Sir John Franklin’s lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Several are experts in their fields.
For months, these individuals have been angry at what they consider distorted and inaccurate accounts of last fall’s historic discovery of Erebus in the frigid waters of eastern Queen Maud Gulf. They identify a peripheral member of the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition, who has access to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office as well as editors at The Star, as the source of these accounts.
I intend to continue my efforts to bring this important story forward and will endeavor, as I have throughout my long career as a journalist, to ensure full, fair and accurate reporting of the facts.
Please watch this space, and follow me on Twitter at @wherewarlives and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArcticStarCreativity, for updates on my progress.
As national military forces train, mineral companies explore and anthropologists, archaeologists and historians continue to hunt the arctic, stakes will continue to rise and political pressure will be exerted on explorers, scientists and journalists alike. One only hopes there are others like Paul Watson out there to push back.