The day will come where I’ll get over my experience with the Canadian University Press, but that day isn’t today

This past Monday saw many Canadians gather with their families and loved ones to share a meal and to give thanks for their blessings. Though without the presence of family and coming off perhaps one of the worst years of my adult life, I thought it important to make a solid effort to reflect on the things that did go right in my life this year.

Thanksgiving was spent doing what I normally do when I’m not with family: spending it alone. As has become tradition, I went to Vancouver’s downtown core to a Korean restaurant for traditional Korean meal while downing two bottles of soju as I reflected on the events of the past year. Once the meal was over, I stopped by an overpriced bar, which doubles as the city’s foremost karaoke joint, took a seat at the bar and started running a pretty hefty tab consisting of whisky and peach schnapps. Occasionally, the silence of my quiet reflection would be broken by the cute bartender making small talk.

I left the bar once I was satisfied that my reflection had been complete, walked over the Burrard Bridge to the posh Vancouver neighbourhood of Kitsilano, where I recently rented a small room which pretty much acts as my live-in office. Though not at all what I am used to, it is vastly more comfortable than the previous living arrangement I had, which consisted of me sleeping on a buddy’s air mattress without much in terms of privacy.

It would not be honest of me to say that I found a great deal of things to be thankful for this year. The optimism that was so characteristic of me at the beginning of this year was curbed in April when I was told by the Canadian University Press that my services as president were not wanted. Since then, I’ve made a lot of snarky remarks on social media about the controversy, all in between trying to rebuild my life in Vancouver, writing my book and dealing with critical family issues.

This week will end with many of my friends from The Other Press, as well as other student journalists from Western Canada, gathering for CUP’s Western, Prairie and Northern regional conference in Saskatoon. I have fond memories of last year’s conference in Prince George, and I am saddened to not be going this time around. Surely, if I had been given the role for which I was elected to in January, I would be in attendance, but alas, I am not.

I genuinely find the CUP conferences fruitful. The workshops are decent, but I was always more interested in meeting contemporaries from other publications. I have no doubt that this year’s WPNCUP will be memorable for those attending, and I am genuinely saddened to not be going myself.

So on this WPNCUP eve, I wished those attending WPNCUP well in their travels to Saskatoon. Though much of what I post on Facebook doesn’t usually generate a response, one CUPpie left a comment, saying that I should “get over it.” This comes on the heels of another former CUPpie in Quebec asking me if I was “mad” about the ordeal — that; however was in response to a nastier Facebook post.

RELATED: Sad day for democracy at the Canadian University Press
RELATED: What I learned at NASH76

In fairness to this one individual, since April 7th, many of the updates I have posted about the Canadian University Press have been jabs at their integrity as an organization. Given my history of sarcasm on social media, especially as it relates to CUP, I can only assume he meant that I should get over the Canadian University Press invalidating my January election as President, only to implement their board-level process to hire someone else to effectively manage the roles of President and National Bureau Chief. Of course, I can’t be certain as to what he meant, but this is an educated guess. That being said, this Facebook update was not meant to be that. I am unable to attend the conference due to a scheduling conflict (taking a vacation to work on a 2nd book–a novel this time), and never asked my publication to consider me as part of the delegation going to WPNCUP.

When asked to elaborate on what he meant, the commenter simply said: “Well… I guess… I don’t know, Pat.”

If you’re a staunch defender of CUP, don’t like sarcasm or don’t like me very much, I can certainly understand the sentiment. I was elected over 10 months ago and deposed six months ago. Surely, that’s enough time to “get over it”, right?

Well… I guess… I don’t know… perhaps it isn’t.

Last year’s WPNCUP was my first of only two CUP-sanctioned conferences, and there was a good group of people who got to know me over a weekend who sparked some serious questions I needed to reflect upon. One of those questions was whether or not I should put myself forward as a candidate for CUP President.

While some will go into such a process with light-thinking, I had to seriously contemplate what I wanted to do. I had made my life in Vancouver, had a significant other to think about, academics and two jobs. Running for CUP’s top job would effectively require me to end or put on hold some of these engagements. It was for that reason that I didn’t submit an application for the position until  the very last day of the application period, taking advantage of every available day to contemplate what I could bring to CUP.

In applying, I genuinely thought that I had something to contribute–that I was the best possible person for the job in that juncture of the cooperative’s history. In applying, I was prepared to make sacrifices in order to do the job well.

At my second CUP conference, NASH in Edmonton, my ideas were pit against a CUP heavyweight, and victory was never my expectation. I was as shocked as most delegates were to have been elected. The trials I underwent in just getting to NASH76 are all documented in the book I am hoping to complete soon, so I won’t go into too much of it here. Needless to say, my election as CUP’s next president was truly a remarkable personal accomplishment for me, considering what I had gone through to get there.

In all of my dealings with CUP subsequent to my election, I’ve acted in good-faith, with a trusting nature that, in hindsight, I should not have given to CUP. My mother gave me a lecture on how acting in good-faith was a bad idea, and I honestly felt sorry for her. I had typically conducted myself with others by giving them the benefit of the doubt, and did so when I moved to Ontario. Clearly that was a mistake, and when told that I would not be employed by CUP, I was understandably angry and disappointed.

What hurts the most about being told to “get over it” is that, as much as I want to, I am still living the detrimental day-to-day impact of being at the centre of this controversial experience. When this began, I wanted to get back at CUP — I wanted a public relations battle; I wanted a day in court; I wanted justice. None of that happened. My temper cooled a bit, and the realization was beginning to set in. The decision was made, and I didn’t want to fight it anymore. I knew that in order to sustain a public relations battle, I would need the support of the membership, whom by this time were either apathetic or on their summer break. Either way, it was a fight I was not going to win, no matter how righteous I felt the fight may have been.

That being said, in relocating across the country (twice in two months) I incurred a significant amount of expenses. I left two jobs to relocate, got rid of my apartment and all of my belongings to start a new chapter in Toronto. When that didn’t happen, I had no income, and had to undergo the expense of returning to Vancouver–this time, with nothing. CUP did eventually pay out a small settlement, which was a fraction of the expenses I had incurred, again, only because the settlement proposal I had offered them reflected CUP’s turbulent financial situation. Even after CUP dumped me, I still considered what was in the best interests of CUP and its membership.

One misconception about this entire ordeal is that I hold grudges against people on a personal level. That could not be further from the truth. My thinking about the people who run CUP is that, for the most part, they are good people. But, from time to time, good people come together to do a bad thing. One bad thing does not bad people make. Unfortunately, this misconception about my feelings toward individuals at CUP has led them to distance themselves from me–a by-product which is unfortunate, but understandable.

Going back to the Facebook comment…

Yes, in time, I will get over this. The time has not yet come for that, and if you don’t like the snarky comments I make on social media, I’ll encourage you to take steps to not expose yourself to them. I’ll look for a few less Facebook friends or Twitter followers in the morning. I do; however, find it ridiculous for someone to suggest that this is something I could have simply gotten over. If you were in my position, having incurred the expenses and hardships I’ve had to endure these last few months, you may not be so quick to give me such misguided advice. It is clear this individual has never gone through such a situation before, and so, despite being a little irked by the comment, I’ll forgive it knowing that it comes from a place of blind ignorance with respect to what I have had to endure. I am more inclined to take the advice of people who can relate somewhat to the situation I’ve experienced — less inclined to listen to people who have no clue what they are talking about.

Complicating matters is that I have a principled position on what journalism ought to be, and it seems that CUP’s attitude on the national staffing controversy of earlier this year is to pretend it never happened. Not once did anyone at CUP ever thank me for putting my name forward as a candidate for national office; not once did anyone thank me for being more than understanding and acting in good faith; not once did anyone at CUP ever apologize for the turbulent situation I found myself in on the evening of April 7th. Even in CUP’s last letter to me, on June 24th, regarding the settlement I was to be given, did it say that anyone at CUP was regretful of the entire episode. It simply said that the “payment ends (the) professional association” between myself and the Canadian University Press.

There has never been a public acknowledgement by CUP of what took place, or, to my knowledge, an honest account of what took place. The objective I worked so hard to fulfill at NASH76 has forever been forgotten by CUP, and its history will never reveal what actually took place. If a group of people so quick to speak of “truth”, “accountability” and “transparency” can refuse to acknowledge this sad episode in the cooperative’s history, what’s to stop this very same group from doing something like this again?

It leads me to ask: is no one actually bothered by this? In an organization of Canadian student journalists, does everyone feel as though I should simply “get over it”? If I had been running for a municipal council seat or for an elected position on a student’s union, would Canadian student journalists simply shrug their shoulders as if it was no big deal? By telling me to “get over it,” are you suggesting that transparency, accountability and democracy mean nothing to you? Like this afternoon’s Facebook post, these questions aren’t meant to be sarcastic–I’m being very genuine right now. If those of you actually think this isn’t a big deal, then I fear the future of Canadian journalism will have a prominent “laissez-faire” approach to major issues. The controversy itself was bad enough — but sweeping it under the rug as they have is worse.

Finally, some have asked me what I want from CUP. While back in April, many CUPpies were sympathetic, they also didn’t really understand what was going on. No one can blame them — everyone found out about it not through a CUP communication, but through my release the night I was told I would not be employed. Months later, CUP has made a few comments, but is there anyone in the CUP membership that truly feels they know the “whole story”? Hell, I don’t even know the whole story — but I can put two and two together and come up with a rather sinister picture, as I am sure most already have. CUP was successful at making this a part of their history that will never be revisited. So it’s left to me to write the book (which I had been planning to do as CUP President anyhow).

What do I want from CUP? I’d love for them to acknowledge my brief contribution to its vast history, and to acknowledge the flaws in the subsequent hiring practice. It should have been an online referendum, and to say there was no time to have one is not only dishonest, it’s dishonourable (not to mention breaking CUP’s own bylaws). But what I really wanted–what I really was looking forward to, is something CUP will never give me.

NASH was a memorable experience for me because it was the setting for the most remarkable achievement of my professional life. When it was announced at plenary that I had been elected, my first thought was of thanksgiving to everyone who gave me their vote and confidence. My second thought was: “I am going to be at NASH next year.. in my hometown.. as CUP President.” Nothing else would have made me happier, and regardless of what you think of the controversy or of me personally, no one can dispute that I was robbed of this opportunity.

So yes, one day, I’ll get over this unfortunate episode. One day, I’ll stop reflecting on those “what would have been” questions I keep asking myself. Whether it will be sooner or later I can’t really say. I’m still in the process of rebuilding. Perhaps this time next year; perhaps next Thanksgiving, I will look upon 2014 and be thankful for the lessons I’ve learned in a year that has been nothing if not a character-building exercise.

In the meantime… don’t like what I have to say? I’m not inclined to care. So as was said earlier, you can decide to not expose yourself to the comments I make, or “get over it”. Either way, as it relates to CUP, I think I’ve earned the right to say just about anything I want.


The devil we (kinda) know is taking a few baby steps in the right direction

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Senior Columnist

Formerly published in The Other Press. October 14, 2014

It’s not the first time a North Korean leader has gone unseen for a prolonged period, but in the ongoing disappearance of 31-year-old Kim Jong-un, it’s raising eyebrows around the world.

kim jong un

The “Supreme Leader” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was last seen on September 3, when he attended a concert in Pyongyang.

There is no shortage of theories that attempt to explain Kim’s disappearance: some say he’s too ill; others say he’s dead or in prison. No one can truly be sure, but there are some telling signs, which may lead people to believe that there is, in fact, a coup d’état taking place in North Korea.

Since the Korean War ended in 1953, the world has paid little attention to North Korea. Yes, belligerent acts in the DPRK have been the subject of numerous United Nations’ resolutions and worldwide condemnation, but for the most part, we’ve let what happens in North Korea’s political landscape play out without intervention.

If there truly is a coup underway, the world may now be wishing it had done something, understanding that if the dynasty falls, there’s a high probability that whomever takes the reigns in North Korea will plot a path south and to war.

Kim Jong-un leads a regime that should be dragged before the International Criminal Court to answer for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of counts of crimes against humanity. The Supreme Leader has not done much (as far as we know) in terms of dismantling political prison camps or the random summary executions of its people. Kim is also the leader of the most secretive, impoverished, and repressive country in the world. His record is evidently not great.

All of that notwithstanding, Kim has done one thing that is a clear break from his father’s style of governing. While Kim Jong-il relished the role of commander of the military, which was evident by routine military inspections, Kim Jong-un’s industrial and commercial inspections makes him appear more concerned about the overall economy. That’s the younger Kim’s redeeming quality; the one thing the rest of the world can look to and say he’s trying to change things.

It also makes him vulnerable among the elites of his country, who are predominantly military officers. If the military isn’t getting the attention it expected from the son of Kim Jong-il, they may be thinking about changing the leader, which creates a power vacuum with no heir apparent. More often than not—as has been proven through thousands of years of history—when no one is clear on who is in charge, it leads to civil war.

While much of the information we have on the events in North Korea comes from defectors and spies, it’s clear that there is a conflict in the higher ranks of the DPRK’s governance apparatus. It’s economic versus military interests; it’s pitting Kim Jong-un’s plans for the country against his father’s legacy.

The only thing keeping North Korea calm is that for the last six decades, the machinery of North Korea’s government has focused on one family, the Kim family. The general public has been taught to regard Kim Jong-un, his father, and his grandfather, as benevolent men with divine gifts and talents. The military cannot simply decide to take up arms against Kim without fearing a backlash from the general population. On the other hand, how long will the military brass continue to tolerate Kim? He can’t stay out of sight forever.

So we come back to civil war—in a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Perhaps the rest of the world should take a moment, stop mocking the regime we know about and think about the possible scenarios if Kim were to be chased from power.

Question Period should provide more substance, less rhetoric

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Columnist

Formerly published in The Other Press. October 6, 2014

It has been said time and again that politicians, as public figures and representatives of the country’s citizenry, should set a higher moral standard. It may be an unfair statement to make, but when you witness the kind of behaviours our elected officials so commonly resort to, Canadians should probably strive to have their politicians simply be civil.

One of the key pillars of human civility is to provide an answer to a question posed to you. Canadians from coast to coast should be dismayed that our federal politicians cannot seem to even do that.

Last week, a fairly major controversy erupted during Question Period in the House of Commons. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair asked a question about Canadian involvement in Iraq in the fight against ISIS. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper was not in the chamber, his parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, issued this response to Leader of the Official Opposition: “Our friends in Israel are on the front lines, fighting terrorism everyday.” He then went on to attack the NDP, calling out one of their staffers who allegedly said in the media that Israel is guilty of “genocide” in Palestine.

The exchange would spark a wider controversy, calling into question the House Speaker’s neutrality, eventually leading to a teary-eyed apology from Calandra at the end of the week.

It’s this kind of chicanery within the hallowed walls of Parliament that makes Question Period a must-see spectacle for any Canadian political junkie. People aren’t tuning in for information, which is the intended purpose of Question Period, but rather for the kinds of ludicrous responses that’ll be offered up by the government.

Since the Senate expenses scandal, Mulcair has been far and away Question Period’s top performer, not for the rhetoric, but for what has become his trademark—short, simple, and poignant questions on the issues of the day. Canadians understand the questions Mulcair is asking, and see an ocean of disconnect when they listen to the government’s habitual non-answers.

Taxpayers in this country demand services of their government, but if that government is unable to answer simple questions from the confines of the House of Commons, what gives our government the right to demand any taxes of us? We deserve much better, and a good start would be to change the rules to make Question Period a time for the government to really inform Canadians, through their members of Parliament, on its activities.

Calandra and the rest of the Conservative government can save the stump speeches and tearful apologies for the campaign trail. Canadians expect Harper and the government to lead us by example, and display some civility in the House of Commons.

This starts with the straightforward notion that a simple question deserves a relevant answer.