Interim Staff

In a surprising victory for pro-life journalism, Interim columnist Frank Kennedy has arrived at a compromise with the Queen’s Park Press Gallery in Toronto, thus maintaining his press credentials at the Ontario Legislature.

Just prior to a specially called meeting, Kennedy, who has been the Queen’s Park correspondent and a columnist for The Interim, Canada’s life and family issues newspaper, for nearly 20 years, confided to editor Paul Tuns that he thought his press gallery colleagues would vote to expel him.

As we reported last month, Kennedy had been informed in October that he had “offended” some of his fellow journalists after he placed a pro-life bookmark in their mailboxes. The bookmark featured the famous picture of the out-stretched hand of baby Samuel as doctors were performing surgery in utero – a photo that has graced the cover of Newsweek. Kennedy was told at the time by press gallery president Alan Findlay that the gallery was considering rescinding his part-time membership and expelling him from the group.

Kennedy said he expected to get the boot from the press gallery, in view of many of his colleagues’ pro-abortion bias. But he and Interim editor-in-chief Paul Tuns prepared defences of his right to represent the paper at Queen’s Park. However, while Tuns was not allowed to stay for the proceedings, he was allowed to lobby individual journalists immediately before the meeting, during which time he argued that expelling Kennedy for distributing a pro-life bookmark was a disproportionate punishment.

During the meeting, Kennedy argued he was being expelled for his pro-life views and defended his presence at the press gallery along freedom-of-expression and freedom-of-the press lines.

A motion was presented by the press gallery executive to expel Kennedy from their group. The motion invited The Interim to replace him with another journalist. Tuns told that that option was not realistic. “It’s not as if we have dozens of reporters that we can shift around,” said Tuns. “We are not the Toronto Star and we don’t have a large staff of writers.”

The proceedings are confidential and it cannot be reported who said what, but Kennedy relayed that there was little interest among the nearly 20 members attending the meeting to expel him. Most thought the punishment to be disproportionate to his alleged wrongdoing. While he cannot divulge names, Kennedy said some of his support came from journalists or outlets that are not often friendly to the pro-life cause. “But they were reasonable,” Kennedy said. “They understood this was about freedom of speech.”

Kennedy said some were persuaded by his impassioned plea to be allowed to stay, which stressed the important role that niche journalists can play in the political arena He also outlined his history of pro-life reporting from Queen’s Park. Among the highlights of his journalistic career was a 1999 story on taxpayers picking up the costs of security at Henry Morgentaler’s Toronto abortuary, which was picked up by the Toronto Free Press and subsequently reprinted in the Ottawa Citizen. (We’re publishing a follow-up to that story this month.)

To satisfy Kennedy’s critics, a compromise was settled upon during the one-hour meeting. Kennedy is allowed to remain a part-time accredited journalist, but will receive a written reprimand for what the gallery considers “inappropriate activism.” The gallery will ask for a written assurance from Kennedy that he will no longer distribute pro-life literature, including The Interim, in mailboxes of members of the press gallery, although he will be allowed to leave a quantity of them in a common room at the gallery.

In his letter to gallery president Findlay, Kennedy said he agrees not to lobby politicians or members of the media, but reaffirms his right to “seek information” from them in his role as a journalist.

Tuns said he is pleased with the compromise. “The real winners are Interim readers, who will be able to continue reading Kennedy’s Queen’s Park musings and occasional breaking stories, including the cover story of next month’s issue,”he said.

Tuns reiterated the importance of having Kennedy at Queen’s Park, noting that too many members of the mainstream media ignore life and family issues.