Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.7

December 4, 2003


Laurier LaPierre is still passionate after all these years

When we heard that veteran broadcaster Sen. Laurier LaPierre was speaking to a first-year journalism class, CTR threw out a challenge to the students: Write an account of his visit, and we’ll publish the best one. Congratulations to Stephen Day for capturing the flavour of this vivid personality.

by Stephen Day

“If you are a homophobe, get out! If you’re anti-Islam, get out! If you think all native people are drunk and stupid, Get out! Get out, Get out!”

Senator Laurier LaPierre gripped journalism students Nov. 25 with a speech that touched on — or rather, hit — a slough of issues from hate and media concentration to life and the death penalty.

“Only barbarians kill their people,” he said. “It is profoundly disgusting.” LaPierre, along with other famous Canadians, including Pierre Berton, were involved in a campaign in the ’70s to save 13-year-old Stephen Truscott, sentenced to death for rape. The sentence was eventually lifted when forensic testing found the boy was in fact innocent.

Arranged as part of the Journalism Department’s series of Tuesday conferences of media personalities, the lecture ended with applause from a crowd on its feet. LaPierre’s work writing and co-hosting the radical CBC news journal This Hour Has Seven Days made him an influential activist of the ’60s.

He spearheaded Canadian opposition to the death penalty and the war in Vietnam and interviewed Pierre Elliott Trudeau and other prominent personalities. Now 74, an Officer of the Order of Canada with an honorary doctorate, author of many books and articles published in the Financial Post and Encyclopœdia Britannica, he’s one of the few openly gay senators.

“I have an antipathy to rules,” he said. “I had to apologize every day in Senate because I said Goddamn or damn.”

It’s hard to believe that he only went to Grade 10 in high school. Being literate, to him, “is an essential part of life.” LaPierre explained that when This Hour Has Seven Days was first broadcast, “the CBC felt there were only 40,000 intellectuals in Canada.” They thought most of the audience wouldn’t understand the show, but LaPierre says, “every Sunday between one and one and a half million watched.”

LaPierre also spoke about the concentration of media ownership. “[It] limits the possibility of a marketplace of ideas,” he said, and added “in the marketplace of ideas the citizen must have access to the means of production.” LaPierre pointed to the statistics. “Seventy-four per cent of people in B.C. receive their information from CanWest,” he said, “this is unconscionable.”

LaPierre criticized today’s media further, saying “by and large, editorials are always the same.” He cited the “misogynist” treatment the Canadian press gives politician Sheila Copps.

“[Copps] decided to behave like men and be forceful,” he said. “When she did it, she was a bitch. Every day there was a negative statement about her, because she was a woman.” LaPierre also said that Copps was the only candidate to stay to the end in the race against Paul Martin.

And LaPierre, a Liberal appointed to Senate by Jean Chrétien, doesn’t think highly of the way the media treated Martin, either. “Martin has more advisors than stars in the sky,” he said, adding that many papers are simply attributing statements to Martin’s advisors. He added that this is “lousy journalism,” and that “unattributed statements should not be in the paper.”