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Harassment strikes CUP journalism conference

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Josée Boileau did not expect to receive abusive tweets during her keynote at the Canadian University Press’ January national conference. As the editor-in-chief of Le Devoir was presenting on the paper’s history and adjustment to new media, a Twitter account named @le_devoir appeared, which featured a background picture of Boileau.

The account, which also referenced her long speech and deemed her remarks arrogant, sparked comments from other delegates. One attendee tweeted that Boileau was “not just tooting the Le Devoir horn [but] leaning on it with all her weight,” while another lamented “sitting through an hour-long Le Devoir hand job.”

CUP is a non-profit media co-operative, with membership from campus papers at most Canadian universities. CUP President Erin Cauchi said she heard of the tweets shortly after the speech.

“They were in poor taste and they were rude and I was horrified. I saw some people laughing about it, but I thought it was horrible.”

Cauchi said the “totally inexcusable” remarks prompted a phone call from Boileau and a response from conference heads.

“We made it clear very quickly that we do not condone that behavior as an organization.”

Cauchi admitted that Boileau spoke for twice her allocated time. “She went for a long time. […] Print journalists aren’t as used to performing.”

Amid responses that the comments were only said in jest, Mai Anh Tran-Ho, editor-in-chief of Le Délit, the francophone paper at McGill University, shot back that “saying a keynote is equivalent to a hand job or that the speaker is ugly is not positive criticism.”

“It’s outrageous that there were students who want to be journalists who would post something so disrespectful,” Tran-Ho told The Varsity in a French-language interview.

At the plenary session on the last day of the conference, a motion passed by a two-thirds vote, compelling CUP staff to “refrain from following the fake Twitter account,” requiring a “notice of respectful social media use” in the next conference’s code of conduct, and a letter of apology to Boileau and Le Devoir.

Tran-Ho, whose paper proposed the motion, said she was happy it passed but wished CUP executives would have been more vocally supportive in condemning the “denigrating” remarks.

A motion on respectful use of social media also passed. The motion, which Cauchi says was drafted weeks before the conference, compels CUP staff to “abide by the CUP code of conduct online when discussing CUP-related business, articles, or using a CUP-related social media account.”

One attendee described the motion as “trying to limit people’s right to free speech,” adding that it was unenforceable.

Cauchi said most people supported the motion, though some “didn’t understand that it’s a big deal.

“They’re not understanding the repercussions of their actions, which is a scary thing in journalism because we’re supposed to understand that sort of thing.”

CUP conferences are known for a fair amount of hijinx, including fake Twitter accounts. Though the @le_devoir account closed some time during the Sunday plenary session, some tweets can still be viewed through a Google cache. Tran-Ho tweeted that CUP could have been sued over the account, but Cauchi disagrees.

“I don’t think it’s defamatory,” said Cauchi. “I just thought it was really rude.”
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Bilingualism was the other main subject of discussion at the plenary. A motion on francophone inclusion was passed, compelling CUP to have a bilingual registered name and website, and requiring that “a bilingual conference shall occur as often as finances and personnel will allow, but at minimum every four years.” It also amended CUP’s incremental fee structure, designating a slower schedule of rising dues for French-language papers, as services develop.

“It’s a bit unrealistic for us to pay the same for services given the current situation,” Tran-Ho told The Varsity.

In an editorial criticizing the treatment of francophones within CUP, she pointed out that CUP’s lawyer, offered as a service to all members, “knows neither Quebec law, nor the Civil Code [of Quebec] and, moreover, does not speak French.”

Cauchi responded that in recent years CUP has had access to a French lawyer who was never used, likely because French papers weren’t made aware.

“It just reminds me that we’re not making ourselves clear enough. I have to accept full blame for that, for any tension there,” said Cauchi. “They’re just missing the message.”

Tran-Ho said that while many papers made an effort to welcome francophones, she found some papers, especially from western Canada, “less open to a bilingual delegation.” Cauchi admitted that bilingualism remains a sensitive issue within CUP.

“A bunch of the French papers said ‘we’re just gonna abstain from all motions and walk out,’” said Cauchi. “They were basically effectively threatening the end of bilingualism in CUP. They were […] actively campaigning to go to other French papers, saying ‘you gotta leave, don’t be a part of this.’”

“There’s a lot of tension and animosity that I hear coming from some French papers; I just honestly don’t know why. Because we’re trying to do a good thing.”

Cauchi says that in past years, CUP was “trying to form this inorganically with these outside ideas of what French papers want” but noted CUP executives will meet with francophone papers in March to plan a francophone policy.

“It’s something that we’ve really been working on. I think we’ve made a lot of headway this year.”

Editor’s Note: The Varsity is a former member of CUP.