Lawyers & Limelight

The chaos south of the border has pushed many immigration & refugee issues into the limelight. Over the past few weeks, I’ve spoken to reporters from CBC, Law Times, Winnipeg Free Press, the Canadian Press and Metro News. They have asked for quotes on various topics, radio interviews and even one request for a TV interview at a time I was unavailable. For this post, I will not get into all the substantive issues of Trump’s Executive Orders and how they may impact Canada. Instead, I want to review my recent experiences with the Canadian media and, hopefully, provide some insight on how to deal with limelight.

Back in 2006, I attended media training as a member of the OBA Executive. A highly-paid media consultant provided tips on how to handle the media: print, radio and TV. My colleague, Warren Kinsella, shared stories from the trenches while he was trying to manage the message for the Liberal Party while, at the same time, taking friendly jabs from his Conservatives counterparts on exactly how the Liberals messed it up.

My main take-aways from the media training were these: stay on message, regardless of the questions. If necessary, ignore questions entirely if they are not relevant to your message. Above all, protect your client and maintain confidentiality.

OK – so I tried to implement the above tips in my recent encounters with the media. When the media started to call, I identified 4 points for my focus (I started with 3 and then added the 4th as the issues unfolded):

  1. The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) is causing refugee claimants to avoid border crossings and they are coming to Canada by foot, causing injury and risking their safety. It should be suspended or repealed.
  2. Refugees are an economic positive for Canada by themselves. In addition, the anti-refugee rhetoric will lead skilled professionals to seek entry to Canada.
  3. The STCA is rarely an issue when the refugee claim is heard at the tribunal.
  4. I am representing a woman who was denied entry into Canada and we filed an appeal to Federal Court challenging the STCA.

How did things go? Well, let me get into the weeds:

  1. For this piece with the CBC, I was able to work with a friend (law school professor Shauna Labman) and we both provided content. I focused on the procedural side of making a refugee claim while Shauna gave context and background. Overall, the article is good and the reporter picked up points 1 & 3. (I will say that I am not pleased with my quotes. I suppose it comes down to how words are spoken versus how they are written. I need to be more careful. Worse example to follow.)
  2.  The piece for Law Times focused on point #1. I also covered point #2 in detail but those quotes didn’t make it into the piece. I have to admit, I did not expect this quote: “I think more people are coming based on the rhetoric coming from the United States. It’s partially Trump, but I mean Trump was elected, because in general, there is an anti-refugee sentiment in the United States,” he says. “It’s not just him, but I think — generally speaking — there is less of an appetite for refugees in many parts of the United States.” I was replying to a question about Trump (every reporter seems to be trying to tie their story with something Trump has done or said, for better or worse) and it comes across as rambling and incoherent. I should have stayed on point and, of course, I am not qualified to opine on US law.
  3. For the CP story, the reporter also focused on point #1. The quotes from this article are a little odd. I spoke with her for 20 to 30 minutes and she left out much of what I would have included. The quotes about language and transportation are self-evident. It seems like she preferred quotes from my Winnipeg colleague, Bashir Khan. (He is doing very good work, by the way.)
  4.  Metro News focused on point #2 above. I’m glad he included the MPNP program and other points. The tie-in with STCA was a little awkward but covered point #1.

So overall I think I got my points across. I need to be more careful when I am speaking to reporters and constantly remind myself that my words will end up in print. Point #4 was completely overlooked, alas, but the media may pick up on this story once I file my memo and the case is further in the process.

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