Police say journalist who revealed vandalism story did so

CALGARY—The news hit the internet within hours.

Photos showing the vandalized bust of a Ukrainian nationalist with wartime ties to Germany – the base of the statue scrawled with the words “ACTUAL NAZI” – and a nearby monument in Edmonton have been sent to a media outlet in line called Progress Report, he said.

These images allowed the outlet, which describes itself as a “proudly left-wing media project,” to report the story first on August 10, 2021 — to “break it,” as reporters put it — though other outlets would follow.

At a time when criticism of statues of historical figures from John A. Macdonald to Winston Churchill had forced a conversation about who we immortalize in stone and why, the story exposed the monument’s controversial history and the pressure to have it taken down .

But according to Duncan Kinney’s story, it was unclear when two statues were defaced, or who was behind them.

More than a year later, Edmonton police say they have the answer. They claim it was Kinney himself.

“I just thought it was weird,” says Steve Lillebuen, an assistant professor of journalism at MacEwan University in Edmonton who has studied ethics in crime reporting.

“To have someone accused of reporting a crime they are accused of committing? I mean, it’s beyond comprehension, isn’t it? Like, would anyone really do that?

It is not yet clear what evidence the police have to support their allegations against Kinney. But it’s a case that will pit the police against one of their most vocal critics.

Kinney, 39, is a political gadfly and outspoken leader of a non-profit organization called Progress Alberta, whose no-prisoners approach to politics has won him fans and haters across the prairie province. (Kinney did not respond to The Star’s requests for comment. He and the Toronto Star are both charged in a libel suit brought by former UCP candidate Caylan Ford.)

Much of his work is the Progress Report, which produces a newsletter and podcast and, according to its website, focuses on marginal communities and injustice, and rejects the idea that journalists should be apolitical. or neutral. While his work has unabashedly championed progressive issues, he has also drawn criticism for sometimes straying from what is considered a journalist’s role.

A vocal critic of former Prime Minister Jason Kenney, Kinney once led a satirical campaign for a Senate seat – an attempt to thwart Kenney’s push for an upper house election; sought and obtained an injunction so he could attend pre-budget briefings for reporters and even flagged a (second-hand) sighting of Kenney at a time when he was under fire for dodging the public, after his brother apparently spotted the former Prime Minister at shawarma joint.

This new incident has sent waves through the Alberta media community.

According to a police spokesperson, Kinney was charged earlier this month with mischief under $5,000 in connection with an incident of vandalism to a statue on August 10, 2021. He will appear in court on November 10. .

It wasn’t the first time the statue had been vandalized, or that Kinney had written about it.

In late 2019, the statue was labeled with the words NAZI SCUM. Seven months later, in July 2020, Kinney wrote an article about the incident and cited other community organizations who said she was being investigated by the Hate Crimes Unit.

(Edmonton police told the Star that while the unit is often initially implicated in cases involving “identifiable communities,” no suspects were found and no charges were laid in this case.)

After the second act of vandalism, Progress Report’s Twitter account posted a topic about how the Ukrainian Youth Unit Complex, where the statue is located, received a $35,000 federal grant as part of a program to reduce hate crimes and increase security.

In this case, the money had been spent on upgrades, including security cameras, the thread points out, again mentioning the statue’s recent vandalism.

But the case raised eyebrows for another reason. Kinney has long been one of the Edmonton Police Department’s most public fighters, and he has publicly argued with senior officials over everything from police budgets to armored vehicles to their elimination from the camps. homeless.

It was work that the police seemed to think had crossed the plea line. Last summer, Kinney wrote on the progress report website that a police spokesman had told him that the media relations team – the staff responsible for answering journalists’ questions – would no longer respond to him as he was no longer considered a media partner.

(In an email, a media relations staff member told the Star that they were “not in a position to comment on Mr. Kinney and his specific situation.”)

They added that while accredited media can send questions to the media relations team and attend press conferences in person, others can still watch conferences online and ask questions through the unit. freedom of information, which is normally a slower process.)

Then this spring came a sign that Kinney’s police surveillance may have become more serious.

According to a report in the Edmonton Journala member of the police commission named Ashvin Singh sent a letter to the mayor in June, asking him to investigate an alleged “ethical issue” involving another councilman who also served on the commission.

The alleged ethical breach? Singh called for the adviser. Anne Stevenson had tried to ‘actively influence’ a police investigation – one involving Duncan Kinney. At the time, the letter prompted more questions than answers, as it was unclear what Kinney was being investigated or what his relationship with Stevenson was.

But now that Kinney’s charges have been made public, the police commission’s executive director told the Journal in a follow-up story that the allegations of interference were still under review. Meanwhile, Stevenson, the adviser allegedly involved, declined to comment on an ongoing investigation.

Lillebuen, the journalism professor, argues that the fact that it became public in this way that Kinney was apparently the subject of a police investigation is in itself an ethical violation that should be investigated. “People come into contact with the police for a wide range of reasons,” he says. “But for a commissioner to know and share it publicly is very, very rare.”

There is also at least one infamous earlier case where Edmonton police fired for unduly emphasizing a member of the media.

Nearly 20 years ago, officers illegally used police computers to find then-columnist Kerry Diotte’s car and then staked out a bar in hopes of finding him drunk. Diotte, who has since had stints as a politician, was not suspected of a crime but had been a vocal opponent of the forcible use of photo radar.

Lillebuen points out that Kinney is innocent until proven guilty, and that the bar is low for police to bring charges in Canada. “They might have binders full of evidence, they might have next to nothing,” he says.

“We will just have to wait and see what comes out in court. But I can’t wait to see what connections, if any, there would be between his police criticism and the fact that he was the subject of a police investigation.

Meanwhile, those worried about the statue itself fear that it is lost in the commotion.

The charges have reignited debate over the solemn-faced statue, which depicts a man named Roman Shukhevych, who died 70 years ago – apparently in a firefight with Soviet forces – but remains a hero of the first plan, albeit controversial, of the struggle for Ukrainian independence. .

Several Ukrainian cultural groups argue that criticism of the man and his statue is fanning the flames of Russian propaganda as a war rages on. But groups fighting anti-Semitism have long argued that Shukhevych’s ties to the Nazi regime and his involvement in the massacres outweigh his fight for a nascent Ukraine.

News of the charges was applauded by some Ukrainian-Canadian groups, including the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association. One of the people who figured prominently in Kinney’s story was Abe Silverman, director of public affairs for the Alberta chapter of B’nai Brith, an international organization fighting anti-Semitism.

“In Canada, we always have a presumption of innocence until proven guilty,” he said, speaking to the Star after the charges.

He still fears this will overshadow concerns about the statue, which he says should not be on public display. “The documentation is quite clear. And a very offensive statue in his honor.

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