Here are our biggest original stories from British Columbia in 2020
2020, a year of pandemics and provincial elections, provided no shortage of bizarre, disturbing and unjust stories that needed to be reported.
While British Columbia’s corporate-owned media outlets spent the year targeting Indigenous activists and fear-mongering about Vancouver’s homeless population, PressProgress focused on underreported stories about corporate greed, unforgiving landlords, as well as the many attempts by far-right extremists and hardline social conservatives to wield influence over mainstream politics.
Here’s a rundown of how PressProgress’ journalism broke through the noise and made an impact in 2020:
1. Holding billionaire Jim Pattison to account
Save-On-Foods, one of BC’s largest supermarket chains, sparked outrage when it announced last spring it was cutting its employees’ $2 per hour pandemic pay bump.
PressProgress was the only news outlet to get Save-On-Foods owner Jim Pattison, the sixth richest person in Canada, on the record over the pay cut, which the billionaire claimed was beyond his control.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) June 8, 2020
“I’m not involved,” Pattison told PressProgress. “We own and finance the company, but we don’t run them.”
However, multiple experts cast doubt on that claim. Anthony Schein, director of shareholder advocacy at the Shareholder Association for Research and Education, told PressProgress:
“As the CEO and Chair of Jim Pattison Group, if Mr. Pattison thinks it is appropriate to provide hazard pay to front line grocery workers during the pandemic, then a statement saying as much would most certainly make a difference.”
To add insult to injury, Pattison later boasted to corporate media that Save-On-Foods’ parent company, Jim Pattison Group, was “looking today at opportunities like we’ve never had before. We’ve never been in better shape to invest.”
2. Exposing the BC Liberal Party’s use of taxpayer dollars to support an anti-LGBTQ magazine
Back in June, PressProgress broke the story about 14 BC Liberal MLAs who spent more than $1,700 in taxpayer dollars on ads in a conservative Christian magazine that regularly publishes anti-LGBTQ content.
NEW: BC Liberal MLAs billed taxpayers thousands of dollars for advertising in an anti-LGBTQ magazine.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) June 29, 2020
The story resulted in BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson stating his party would be “taking immediate steps to ensure our advertising decisions reflect [the party’s] values at all times.”
However, BC Liberal MLA Laurie Throness told media he had no plans to stop supporting the publication, resulting in calls for his expulsion from the Liberal Caucus.
The BC Liberals’ failure to take action on Throness resulted in the party being banned from the Vancouver and Tri-Cities virtual Pride parades.
3. Exposing rogue landlords and telling the stories of struggling renters during the pandemic
After the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic, PressProgress told the stories of dozens of struggling renters across Canada being threatened with eviction and pressured into paying rent as normal despite the public health emergency.
NEW: Canadian landlords are using federal coronavirus emergency funds as an excuse to demand rent money from unemployed workers on April 1st.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) March 24, 2020
In BC, PressProgress spoke to a renter in Victoria who was threatened with eviction by his landlord, despite a provincial ban. PressProgress‘ original reporting prompted an investigation by the BC Superintendent of Real Estate.
As well, PressProgress exposed a secret Facebook group in which rogue BC landlords plotted ways to circumvent the province’s eviction ban. Following our reporting, the group vanished from public view.
4. Holding the University of British Columbia’s leadership to account
Back in February, PressProgress obtained emails through Freedom of Information that contradicted the University of British Columbia leadership’s explanation for why it allowed a talk attacking trans rights to go ahead on campus last year.
NEW: Internal e-mails contradict UBC’s explanation for why it hosted an ‘alt-right’ event on campus.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) February 5, 2020
UBC’s Provost and VP Academic told colleagues “half of individuals weighing in on this event have asked that the event occur,” — but records showed he, in fact, received overwhelmingly-negative responses to the event.
UBC also confirmed to PressProgress that it had been monitoring the social media activities of faculty who criticized the administration’s handling of the event.
In August, PressProgress reported on messages sent by UBC President Santa Ono obtained through Freedom of Information showing that Amazon had asked UBC to keep details of a $3 million deal secret.
Our reporting also raised questions about Michael Korenberg, UBC’s then-chair of its board of governors. Korenberg’s Twitter history showed that he extensively interacted with far-right content, including tweets comparing Black Lives Matter to Adolf Hitler’s paramilitary wing.
Korenberg resigned following the publication of PressProgress‘ story.
5. Shining a light on BC’s far-right anti-lockdown movement
PressProgress was also first to report on anti-lockdown protesters who blocked the ambulance bay at St. Paul’s hospital in Vancouver.
VIDEO: Anti-lockdown protesters blocked an ambulance bay at a downtown Vancouver hospital and shouted insults at frontline healthcare workers.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) May 11, 2020
Our reporting helped show that, despite fuzzy claims that anti-lockdown protesters were concerned primarily about helping businesses, the anti-lockdown gatherings were actually organized by far-right activists and conspiracy theorists, including flat-earthers, 5G conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis and other far-right elements.
6. Calling out the smear campaign against BC’s homeless and drug user populations
Last summer, local media reported a director of Vancouver’s right-wing Non-Partisan Association had called for residents in his neighbourhood to “start harassing” homeless “low lifes” in a Facebook comment.
Director of Vancouver’s NPA municipal party encourages people to “start harassing” homeless “low-lifes”:
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) September 2, 2020
PressProgress was the first news outlet to get former NPA mayoral candidate Ken Sim on the record condemning his old party’s director’s comments. Following the publication of PressProgress‘ story, the NPA’s elected caucus stated they “categorically denounce the statements made by Mr. Wilson.”
7. Holding political parties accountable to advertising rules
Four Vancouver-area Liberal MPs removed a misleading partisan ad back in April after PressProgress raised questions about its use of the official Government of Canada watermark.
“The Government of Canada wordmark must be removed immediately.”
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) April 9, 2020
Alex Marland, a political science professor at Memorial University, told PressProgress the ad’s use of the official symbol “failed” the federal government’s criteria for non-partisan communications.
As well, during BC’s fall provincial election, PressProgress revealed the BC Liberal Party ran 47 misleading partisan attack ads that used digitally altered images of a local newspaper.
8. Exposing bizarre and outlandish comments from socially conservative politicians
Back in spring, controversial Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld made national headlines for suggesting that Canada’s Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, may be secretly transgender, and therefore cannot be trusted to make sound public health decisions.
NEW: Controversial BC school trustee Barry Neufeld has deactivated his Facebook account after denying a cartoon he recently posted is ‘racist or sexist’.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) May 13, 2020
Following those remarks, PressProgress revealed Neufeld had also shared a cartoon with his son on Facebook blaming “independent” women for low birth rates among the white race.
As well, PressProgress discovered that Neufeld’s colleague, Darrell Furgason, claimed “fear” of the pandemic was “greatly exaggerated by the government and media.”
At the provincial level, former BC Liberal MLA Laurie Throness’ riding association president resigned after PressProgress raised questions about her anti-LGBTQ Facebook rants.
PressProgress also revealed Throness had received the endorsement of the leader of the far-right Christian Heritage Party. The CHPA, among other things, insists Canada be ruled according to Biblical law.