Just how loyal are Canadian newspapers to the state?

It’s an important question to ask, particularly because they are supposed to be the ones holding the government to account.

One way to approach this question is to look at how newspapers behave when the state goes to war, a time where loyalty is demanded of all yet extra scrutiny is what’s actually more appropriate. 

I have done that, by recording the editorial stances Canadian newspapers have taken on some conflicts and regime change attempts Canada has been directly involved in since the First World War, as well as the 2003 invasion of Iraq due to assumed interest. I focused solely on editorials written by the editorial board to represent the newspaper’s official view, as this is the most direct way to get answers. 

The newspapers I examined were: the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen and Vancouver Sun. I also wanted to examine the Toronto Sun’s record, but their archive prior to 2007 isn’t publicly available (if it exists at all.)

The conflicts I included were: the First World War, Second World War, Korea, Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Libya and Islamic State. (I have compiled editorial views on Israel’s attacks on Palestinians elsewhere.) This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list.

I categorized a newspaper’s stance on the war as either “Support” or “Oppose.” Support means they agreed Canada should be involved militarily, even if they thought it should have been done differently. This was sometimes the case, with editorial boards occasionally calling for less of an involvement, but typically asking for more (i.e., troops on the ground as opposed to just a naval presence.) Oppose means the paper believed Canada shouldn’t be involved in the military effort at all. I also noted if a publication didn’t take a stand on the conflict, or didn’t exist when the conflict happened. 

I came to a determination of a newspaper’s stance on a conflict based on what they wrote in the leadup to it and when it was officially declared, or for shorter conflicts, during it or very shortly after it officially wrapped up. This means that for the Iraq War, for example, I looked at what editorial boards said in March 2003, not what they may have argued 15 years later.

Most of the articles I based this research on are publicly available through the Canadian Newsstream database, or historical databases for individual newspapers, if you have a membership at certain libraries. Others (from the First World War to Korea in the Gazette, Sun and Citizen) were accessed through a paid-website

I provided at least one quote from each article cited to help give a sense of how they read for those who can’t — or understandably don’t have the time to — access them directly. These quotes often help clarify the nature of a newspaper’s support for the military effort being discussed. These quotes are followed by the article’s headline, as well as the publication date in month:day:year format.

Here is a quick summary of what I found. 

Between the six newspapers and the 12 conflicts included, 65 stances were taken. Of these 65 stances, just two were opposed to Canada’s involvement in the military effort being discussed. The other 63 offered support in some regard. This means that these editorial boards have supported Canada’s war efforts 98 per cent of the time. Five of the six editorial boards also supported the Iraq war.

Feel free to share this graphic on social media, but please do so along with the link to this article so others can read the details.

Here are those details, in reverse chronological order. If you’d like to jump to a particular conflict you can use these anchor links: First World War | Second World War | Korea | Persian Gulf | Bosnia | Somalia | Kosovo | Afghanistan | Iraq | Haiti | Libya | Islamic State.

Islamic State

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “There is a compelling case for Canadian involvement in the fight against ISIS. The government hasn’t made it perfectly – but it has made it.” — On balance, Harper is right (10/8/2014)

Toronto Star: Oppose

  • “First there was Afghanistan, then Libya. Now it is Iraq, and just maybe Syria. This is beginning to feel like whack-a-mole.” — Harper fails to build trust (10/3/2014)

National Post: Support

  • “Canadian values do not include sitting on the sidelines while our allies do what’s right on our behalf.” — A fight worth fighting (10/7/2014)

Montreal Gazette: Support

  • “Canadian participation is neither desirable, nor popular nor easy. It is simply the best course of action.” — Participation in military strikes is Canada’s duty (10/7/2014)

Ottawa Citizen: Support

  • “While some questions remain unanswered, we believe [Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s] government has now made sound arguments in favour of a narrow, temporary mission. The action is justified.” — Canada must do its part in Iraq (10/7/2014)

Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “Our support should be limited and specific, while putting pressure on countries that helped spawn Islamic State – such as Saudi Arabia and Iran – to spend their blood and money fighting the monster they created.” — Harper needs to define limits on mission to Iraq (10/3/2014)

Libya

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “The mounting likelihood of a campaign of vengeance by Moammar Gadhafi against his Libyan opponents makes the imposition of a no-fly zone an urgent matter.” — The preventable bloodbath (3/12/2011)

Toronto Star: Support

  • “It’s good to see Prime Minister Stephen Harper throw Canada’s modest military weight behind the United Nations as it moves to force Moammar Gadhafi to stop slaughtering the heroic but outgunned democratic reformers who have challenged his 42-year autocracy.” — ‘Free Libya’ gets a lifeline (3/20/2011)

National Post: Support

  • “Whatever the risks that attend military intervention, we must not permit a North African Srebrenica.” — Preventing a Libyan bloodbath (3/8/2011)

Montreal Gazette: No Stance Taken

Ottawa Citizen: Support

  • “There might not be a need for Canadian military support beyond September (although Canada should remain open to that option) but we must be ready to offer diplomatic and developmental support for the foreseeable future.” — Winning the peace in Libya (9/1/2011)

Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “In facing down the cruel dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Canada is putting words into action in defence of Libyans fighting for their freedom.” — Canada’s role in Libya gives heft to UN’s words (3/26/2011)

Haiti

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “Haitians are rightly wary of such intervention, given the games outside powers have played with their fate over their country’s violent history. But if the past decade or so has shown anything, it is that Haiti badly needs international help to be viable. Canada and others must step forward to offer that help in Haiti’s hour of need.” — Haiti’s descent (3/1/2004)

Toronto Star: Support

  • “Canadian troops and police should be despatched [sic] in greater numbers, to help restore order. They should stay as long as needed. And help train a new security force.” — Canada owes Haitians a hand (3/1/2004)

National Post: Support

  • “Assuming our overworked and underfunded Armed Forces can cope, we applaud this contribution. Indeed, given Canada’s large Haitian community, and the linguistic and cultural ties between Canada and Haiti, it seems the least we can do.” — Voodoo is not enough (3/5/2004)

Montreal Gazette: Support

  • “For more than 200 years, Haiti has been the problem child of the hemisphere, desperately poor, chronically unstable, riven by factions, fiercely determined to govern itself but manifestly unable to do so. It is clear that the nation will descend into anarchy unless its neighbours intervene. The critical question now is not whether such intervention is appropriate but what form it should take.” — Haiti needs help from its neighbours (2/18/2004)

Ottawa Citizen: Support

  • “Canada has correctly promised to join the multinational force, though with our depleted military it’s unclear whether the Canadian contribution will amount to much. The good news is that, with Haiti being a weak country, only a few hundred UN-approved troops may be needed to restore order.” — Haiti’s needs are great (3/2/2004)

Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “The true will of the people is almost impossible to divine in a land where democracy has been perverted, communications scarcely function and education levels are rock-bottom low. But it’s clear to anyone who has ever visited Haiti that its people do crave order. So that’s a start. The challenge will be to finish the job — something the intervenors, Canada among them, botched in 1994.” — Foreign commitment is what Haiti needs (3/2/2004)

Iraq

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “Canada will now sit out, at least officially, the war that could begin as early as tonight. Having made this unfortunate decision through pretzel logic, Mr. Chrétien should be especially willing in the months ahead to commit Canada to the reconstruction effort.” — Canada’s Iraq policy: Inconsistency ho! (3/19/2003)

Toronto Star: Oppose

  • “This war is morally wrong, ill timed and of dubious legality. Criminal as Saddam’s regime is, and deserving of containment, it poses no real threat to the U.S. or anyone else.” — Canada is right to say No to war (3/18/2003)

National Post: Support

  • “So the Prime Minister was effectively signalling that Canada will sit out the fighting along with the rest of the French-led Coalition of the Unwilling. That this should be so while similarly situated nations such as Australia and Britain fight shoulder to shoulder with the United States brings shame to this country.” — On to war (3/18/2003)

Montreal Gazette & Ottawa Citizen & Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “War is never desirable but sometimes necessary. It is necessary now. The indictment against the Iraqi regime has been proven over and over.” — Canada must stand and be counted (3/11/2003)

Afghanistan

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “Military action is the only logical response to [Osama Bin Laden’s] proven threat, and it’s a good bet that Canadians will support a long and slow campaign if it is necessary to eliminate terrorism’s ringleaders.” — As Canadian troops go off to do battle (10/10/2001)

Toronto Star: Support

  • “It is impossible not to be troubled by innocent civilians being hurt in this campaign. But by every traditional test this is a defensible attempt to re- establish some order in a world made anarchic by terror.” — Sermon on terror misses mark (10/19/2001)

National Post: Support

  • “Canada’s military contribution to the war in Afghanistan will thus protect lives back home and improve many more lives overseas. Could there be a more necessary or noble task?” — A war of necessity (10/9/2001)

Montreal Gazette: Support

  • “Canada’s military contribution should be seen for what it is: a measured response to an act of war committed on Sept. 11 against our foremost ally.” — Canada goes to war (10/10/2001)

Ottawa Citizen: Support

  • “Mr. Chretien is right not to promise that the task ahead will be painless. But he is also right to commit Canadian forces to fight a war that must be won if we are not to live in the shadow of tyrants.” — The war against shadows (10/8/2001)

Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “Canada, as a freedom-loving nation, has a responsibility to stand tall with our allies against these terrorists and their repugnant tactics.” — Canada, too, must stand against terrorists (10/8/2001)

Kosovo

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “But Canada’s actions are consistent with our history, are supported by international law and fall within reasonable bounds of calculated military risk. The test now is how effectively the war can be won.” — A peacekeeper goes to war (4/22/1999)

Toronto Star: Support

  • “This was not the gentle U.N. peacekeeping that Canadians have specialized in, in recent years. This was a resolute Canada reminding the rest of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that we are armed and ready to fight, and fight well, when the cause is right. And this cause was right.” — War in Kosovo was morally right (6/11/1999)

National Post: Support

  • “They say the war is legally justified, and winnable, so it should be done.” — Is NATO justified? Can it win? (4/1/1999)

Montreal Gazette: Support

  • “Sustained pressure must continue against Serb military targets, including the deployment of low-flying attack helicopters that operate against tanks and artillery.” — Do what it takes (3/30/1999)

Ottawa Citizen: Support

  • “If, as we believe, Canada is right to join NATO action, Mr. Chretien should recall the House for an emergency debate and make this nation’s commitment crystal- clear.” — Bring them back (3/31/1999)

Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “Very regrettably, some of Canada’s ethnic Chinese have joined ethnic Serbs — praiseworthy and previously peaceful communities — in demonstrations against NATO and this country’s participation in the strikes.” — It is time to enlist the United Nations (5/15/1999)

Somalia

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “The Prime Minister acted in Canada’s best humanitarian tradition when he sent troops to Bosnia and Somalia. He was right to speak provocatively about how military force might be used in future.” — A debate on peacekeeping (12/15/1992)

Toronto Star: Support

  • “In Somalia, the world finally acted with military resolve for humanitarian purposes.” — Learning lessons of inaction in 1993 (1/1/1993)

Montreal Gazette: Support

  • “The achievement of the many far outweighs any blame that investigators may find in the case of some Somalis killed by Canadian soldiers.” — A job well done in Somalia (5/6/1993)

Ottawa Citizen: Support

  • “The armed intervention in Somalia is a calculated risk taken for the right reason. For practical and moral reasons Canada must be involved from the beginning.” — Somalia poses new moral issues for UN (12/5/1992)

Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “So when this veteran of United Nations actions says peacekeepers should be in Somalia, let’s do more than listen to him.” — We should move on this man’s advice (8/8/1992)

Bosnia

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “The Prime Minister acted in Canada’s best humanitarian tradition when he sent troops to Bosnia and Somalia. He was right to speak provocatively about how military force might be used in future.” — A debate on peacekeeping (12/15/1992)

Toronto Star: Support

  • “The world has watched and waited in the vain hope that the Bosnian conflict would somehow take care of itself. It hasn’t. The time has come for the U.N. Security Council to intervene militarily.” — Canada’s voice in Bosnia conflict (8/11/1992)

National Post: Did not exist. The paper was founded in 1998.

Montreal Gazette: Support

  • “The time has come for sticks and stones.” — Stop the dithering on Bosnia (7/11/1992)

Ottawa Citizen: Support

  • “Beefing up the UN contingent in Bosnia and expanding its role from providing mainly humanitarian aid and peacekeeping (which, under the circumstances, is impossible) to a more active kind of peacemaking is crucial to ending the war.” — UN peacemakers needed (8/31/1992)

Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “[Major-General Lewis MacKenzie] also warned against the UN getting tangled up in a guerrilla-style war in the rugged Bosnian countryside. No doubt he’s right that full-scale military invention would be crazy. But limited military invention is now essential.” — We should move on this man’s advice (8/8/1992)

Persian Gulf

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “Canadian absence from this worthy enterprise would have been conspicuous – and unthinkable.” — Why Canadian destroyers must help restrain Iraq (8/13/1990)

Toronto Star: Support

  • “The build-up against Iraq, by its very nature, risks plunging the Middle East into a full-scale war. But it’s a risk that has to be taken to make it plain to Saddam that he’s an international pariah who will be punished if he doesn’t retreat.” — Answering Saddam (8/8/1990)

Montreal Gazette: Support

  •  “It was fitting for Canada to make a concrete gesture of solidarity with the community of nations – and especially with the majority of the Arab nations – to help stem the rabid aggressions of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.” — A modest but useful gesture (8/13/1990)

Ottawa Citizen: Support

  • “Canada must counter the Iraqi threat with more than words. The response should, however, be militarily relevant (not just symbolic) and guarantee Canada a say in decision-making.” — Canada in the Gulf (8/14/1990)

Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “The Americans – vindicated when Arab leaders voted to join rather than condemn them – have hinted that a complete sea blockade is imminent.” — Iraq: the noose tightens (8/11/1990)

Korea

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “The Canadian man in the street this week is saying: ‘Good old Truman, that’s the stuff,’ recognizing that the United States has acted rightly and boldly. He cannot say ‘Good old St. Laurent’ because he knows that his own country is doing nothing to cheer about, but merely standing on the sidelines making encouraging noises. It is not by performances like this that a country acquires the reputation and influence Canada aspires to.” — Canada on the sidelines (7/1/1950)

Toronto Star (Then the Toronto Daily Star): Support

  • “The effort of free civilization to reverse the military situation resulting from the serious set-back to the South Korean army presents a difficult task. But in the end, as on many occasions in the past, the cause of right will triumph and humanity once more may be able to breathe freely.” — The U.N.’s call to arms (7/4/1950)

Montreal Gazette: Support

  • “The people of the United States and Canada have shown that they are on the side of the police, and that, come what may, the illegal gamblers must be forced to withdraw to the interests of law and order.” — On the side of the world police (7/22/1950)

Ottawa Citizen: Support

  • “The decision of the Canadian government to place three destroyers of the Royal Canadian Navy at the disposal of the United Nations for the defence of the Korean Republic is a momentous step.” — Canadians off to Korea (7/13/1950)

Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “The Korean affair can’t be settled by a phony peace. There must be a complete surrender of the Korean Reds and submission to the authority of UN.” — This is our fight, too (6/15/1950)

Second World War

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “But although acting of its own volition, Canada has entered the war against oppression to support the Mother Country.”; “We do not believe, however, this is a time for criticism.” — Canada has decided (9/11/1939)

Toronto Star (Then the Toronto Daily Star): Support

  • “This is a rich country. Its inhabitants enjoy an average scale of living unknown in many lands. They must be ready to sacrifice in many ways in order that victory may be achieved.” — Officially at war (9/11/1939)

Montreal Gazette: Support

  • “Our enemies as well as our friends know now where we stand and there need be no further doubt as to the completeness of Canada’s co-operation with Great Britain.” — Canada at war (9/11/1939)

Ottawa Citizen: Support

  • “So, we say that every Canadian will be called upon to do his part in the days ahead. It will be better for all of us if we begin on that premise.” — All must share in the task (9/13/1939)

Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “When evil forces threaten to sweep away our liberties […] then we must fight for them, when there is no other way. There is no other way now.” — Canada at war (9/11/1939)

First World War

Globe and Mail: Support

  • “French-Canadian and English-Canadian, and all other races who feel the throb of freedom in their blood, stand up, some under the Southern Cross, some under other skies, and they too are counted.” — The world’s fight for freedom (8/4/1914)

Toronto Star (Then the Toronto Daily Star): Support

  • “Canada must participate. It is only a question as to the extent and the manner.” — The shadow of war (8/4/1914)

Montreal Gazette: Support

  • “Canada at least will not be found wanting in the hour of peril. Her people are willing to fulfill their obligations.” — The empire at war (8/4/1914)

Ottawa Citizen: Support

  • “In such times of stress as Canada is now launched upon, the less the ignoble type of party spirit is in evidence, the clearer will the path of duty be seen, and the greater our courage to pursue it.” — Banish the party spirit (8/5/1914)

Vancouver Sun: Support

  • “That here and there a few should be found who prefer dollars to duty and would sink the honor of the race for the sake of ease, is not surprising. It has been the experience of every people to be dishonored by such an element who call themselves fellow-countrymen.” — Standing together (8/4/1914)

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