Dawn: A hawker’s twilight years mirror newspapers’ slump

‘I’ve seen the rise and fall of newspapers,’ says visually impaired Essa Sarparah — Photo by the writer.

MASTUNG: The early morning breeze is pleasantly cool before the reddish rays of the sun appear over the hills of Mastung. The meandering roads leading to the main bazaar, situated on an embankment opposite the Hammach mountains, are completely silent.

One of them leads to the Bolan Hotel, where Mama Essa Sarparah reaches at his usual time of 7am sharp.

The elderly newspaper hawker and his childhood friend, Mullah Qayyum, both in their 70s, sit across from each other sipping tea and munching on a roti. It is too early in the morning in this small town and there isn’t much activity around. But Mama Essa has already broadcast a message: a Dawn journalist is in town to meet him.

Upon entering the tiny hotel, I catch the first glimpse of Essa: clad in a traditional cap and shalwar kameez, sporting a grey beard with the sun shining on his face. He’s busy munching on his roti as I approach him. He holds my hands and says: “I used to distribute 30 copies of Dawn at Cadet College, Mastung in a day in the 1990s.”

On this World News Day, Dawn tells the story of a visually-impaired man whose livelihood is tied to the print industry

Mastung is one of the neighbouring districts of Quetta, situated 54km southeast to the provincial capital. Local newspapers arrive early morning by passenger vans, as the main town is located on the Quetta-Karachi highway. With no dearth of transportation, Essa receives his copies after 8:30am.

The visually impaired Essa initially struggled to find a job in Mastung, forcing him to beg. “I changed my mind during Gen Zia’s rule,” he tells Dawn while sipping his tea. “I was afraid I would be arrested as I was told Zia had banned beggars.”

He pauses for a bite and continues his story: he was the sole breadwinner in a family with five dependants; a stepmother, two younger brothers and an elder widowed sister.

“I used to beg to earn enough to feed them,” he recalls. “But one day, a man approached me out of nowhere and took me to Quetta.”

In the provincial capital, Essa was introduced to Inayatullah, a Pashtun newspaper dealer on Fatima Jinnah Road. “The man handed Inayatullah Rs500,” he recalls, which became the initial capital investment that funded his foray into the world of newspaper hawking.

Essa started selling newspapers in 1988 and has been at it since. From selling a good 300-400 copies a day, he says that now, his sales barely make it into the double digits.

“Back in the day, people would queue up to buy newspapers, but now the newspaper waits for buyers. Unlike the past, nobody bothers reading a newspaper now,” he adds, blaming social media for the decline in demand.

“I’ve seen both the rise and fall of newspapers. When people can read papers for free in their beds on social media, why would they spend Rs20-30 on it?”

By now, Essa’s tales have attracted an audience. Almost everyone at the Bolan Hotel has joined in around the table, harking back to the old days when newspapers, magazines and Urdu digests were all the rage. One of the listeners adds nostalgically that there was a time when everyone, including political workers and the elderly, would be visiting hotels and sitting on pavements to read newspapers.

Every day, from 9am to 12 in the afternoon, Mama Essa is out on the roads and streets of Mastung city, dedicatedly selling newspapers, despite the dwindling demand. When the time for his paper route rolls around, he leaves to pick up his daily stash. I decide to follow him, surreptitiously.

Even at 70 years of age, it appears he remembers the streets, roads, and turns of Mastung bazaar by heart.

IntekhaaaabMashriq,” he calls out to attract customers, his voice hoarse from years of yelling the names of the papers he holds. He walks slowly with his cane leading the way. He hands over a few copies to some of his regular clients — shopkeepers and roadside hotel owners. Other than that, he gets no customers.

I try to pose as a customer and buy a few copies from him. I speak to him in Brauhi, one of the local languages, but even then he hangs on my words, as if trying to place my voice.

His route eventually leads him to the crowded Quetta Bazaar in Mastung city. The sun is now high in the sky and the hustle and bustle of the marketplace gradually drown out the hawker’s cries.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2022

Dawn: World News Day

In 1896, The New York Times introduced on its masthead the words which went on to become not only its own manifesto but also set the standard by which other newspapers would be judged. The words ‘All the News Fit to Print’ were reportedly chosen in response to the scurrilous content of its two main competitors who were peddling news deemed ‘unfit’ for publishing or what came to be known as ‘yellow journalism’.

As World News Day is observed today, it is interesting to note that terms such as ‘yellow journalism’ are now considered belonging to another time, another generation. So is the case with the idea of ‘objective’ reporting. Current news consumers (no longer necessarily readers) are more familiar with the terms ‘fake news’, ‘keyboard warriors’ and ‘trolling’ and all that they entail. So what is the significance of the day in a contemporary context? Organised primarily by the Canadian Journalism Foundation and WAN-IFRA’S World Editors Forum, with over 500 newsrooms participating, the objective of observing this day is to bring the focus back on journalism that is committed to being fact-based and credible.

However noble the intentions, the current challenges to credible news seem almost in­­surmountable. At the same time, in today’s crisis-ridden world the need for credible sou­rces of news — and credible voices that convey the news — is greater than ever before. Perhaps even greater than during days of censorship of which journalists in Pakistan have particularly painful memories.

While the phenomenon of fake news has been known to be around for over a century, it was Donald Trump who made it part of the mainstream discourse. He accused critics of peddling fake news about him, while at the same time used it as an effective propaganda tool against his opponents, including journalists. His aide, Kellyanne Conway, went a step further by introducing in the lexicon the idea of ‘alternative facts’, which was actually a euphemism for lies.

The challenges to credible news seem almost insurmountable.

Fake news can only be defeated or countered with fact-based journalism and this is where the importance of professional newsrooms (in newspaper offices or TV/radio channels) is truly felt. However, at a time when social media is overtaking even the traditional electronic media — not to mention print — there is a scramble to be the first to break the news. This often entails compromising on fact-checking. TV channels, in competition for ratings, are also among those peddling fake news even if inadvertently.

So why should anyone care about the news? Does truth in journalism and in reporting actually make a difference in people’s lives? Just going by the threats and violence faced by journalists in the line of duty, fact-based and investigative reporting is upsetting the apple cart of corruption and repression in several parts of the world. The extreme response of those thus exposed earns many countries — including Pakistan — the reputation of being among the ‘most dangerous place for journalists’ by organisations promoting press freedom. In a world where populist leaders are increasingly trampling on people’s rights — and not only in Third World countries — the media’s adversarial and watchdog roles assume greater significance.

It is not only ground-breaking news that has an impact or makes a difference. Not every investigation on the part of journalists can lead to the resignation of a head of state as was the case with The Washington Post and the Watergate scandal involving Richard Nixon.

In the case of Pakistan, for instance, sustained reporting on an issue can achieve far-reaching positive results. We have seen how reports on honour killings (a vile practice unheard of some decades back) helped both in awareness and consciousness raising, leading to human rights groups taking up the issue and campaigning till ultimately the judiciary stop­ped condoning the practice. Si­­milarly, when the first group of agricultural labour managed to escape from the bondage of feudal landlords in Sindh, it was newspaper reporting that helped HRCP campaign for a law against bonded labour that was passed in 1992.

Journalists in Pakistan may not have covered themselves in full glory with their stories. However, they have shown resilience and resistance when it has mattered most. During the dictatorship of Gen Ziaul Haq, when journalists were not only imprisoned but also flogged they courageously covered the democratic movements — including the Movement for Restoration of Democracy and the nascent Women’s Action Forum. The pictorial coverage of women protesters in Lahore in 1983 being dragged into police vans has become an iconic part of Pakistan’s news history.

However, these are possibly the worst times for those whose jobs it is to convey news. In a highly divisive society and under attack, fairly or not, for being partisan or being a beneficiary of the ‘lifafa’ system, journalists must reiterate their commitment to speak truth to power.

The writer is a human rights activist.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2022

Dawn: The whole truth

The war on truth has never been more relentless than it is today. Authoritarianism is on the rise and purveyors of ‘alternative facts’ have multiple channels of communication whereby they can obfuscate, deflect and deliberately misinform. World News Day 2022 is an occasion to celebrate fact-based journalism and remind people why this calling is so critical to democracy and human rights, to all those values that make the world a more livable place. When journalism is done well, when journalists can do their job without having to second-guess themselves for fear of putting a step ‘wrong’, they have the power to shine a light in the darkest corners and hold governments’ feet to the fire. Granted, this may seem like a utopian fantasy, and many a time vested interests do come in the way of this objective — but it should nevertheless be at least an aspirational goal.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan we seem to be drifting in reverse. With hugely consequential decisions on the political landscape happening behind closed doors, it is fertile ground for conjecture and conspiracy theories. To that, add propaganda and ‘fake news’ wheeled out as ‘journalism’, and the result is a citizenry losing trust in mainstream media. Social media — the go-to news source especially for Pakistan’s massive youth demographic — erases context and shades of grey, fostering a correspondingly reductive thought process. Together, both have led to the extreme social polarisation that we can see today. Nevertheless, many journalists, despite threats and intimidation, continue to do stellar work, uncovering facts and asking the searching questions that all those who wield power and must be held accountable should face as a matter of course. Perhaps the media as a whole must do more to showcase such journalism. It could also do a better job of explaining to its audience why they, the people, must fiercely guard their right to information which, in turn, depends on the right to free speech exercised by the press. No trade-off is worth the price of being kept in ignorance.

Noxious though some of its effects are, social media is the apotheosis of a process that began some two decades ago when Pakistani television news channels exploded on the scene. The frenetic news cycle reduced information to easily digestible, transient sound bites. As the audience, with advertisers following suit, shifted to the electronic medium, the circulation of newspapers went into steady decline. Sept 25 was National Newspaper Readership Day, an opportunity to appreciate the unique advantages that print journalism enjoys. An island of stability amid the din of digital and electronic media, print — especially newspapers of record — still inspires a certain level of trust. After all, the permanence of the medium demands a higher level of diligence on the part of its practitioners as well as the grace to acknowledge errors. For those reasons alone, newspapers are more relevant than ever today.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2022

CBC News: More than 1 in 5 residents in long-term care given antipsychotics without a diagnosis, data shows

To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story, which was shared by CBC News (Canada), was first published on August 25, 2022.

Tens of thousands of residents in Canadian long-term care homes without a psychosis diagnosis have been prescribed antipsychotics — a number that has been increasing since the pandemic began. This story reveals the “potentially inappropriate” antipsychotic use on residents who have significant difficulties or are completely unable to advocate for themselves.

When Laura Pinto moved her father to a Windsor, Ont., nursing home in 2017, she says he deteriorated from someone who had dementia and memory issues into a “zombie.”

The change was the result of a cocktail of drugs, according to Pinto, that included Haldol and Seroquel — antipsychotic medications traditionally prescribed to control symptoms like hallucinations or delusions, and the behaviours that result from them.

Her father received the medication off-label — for issues not specifically recommended by Health Canada — for more than six months. He is described as engaging in “prevalent exit-seeking behaviour” — wandering around trying to find a way out of the home — in a medical report supplied to CBC News by Pinto. However, he’d never been diagnosed with psychosis, meaning a doctor had never determined he had schizophrenia or any of the psychiatric conditions that highly sedative antipsychotics are meant to treat.

Robert Pinto was just one of tens of thousands of residents in Canadian long-term care homes without a psychosis diagnosis that have been prescribed antipsychotics — a number that has been increasing since the pandemic began, according to data from Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI)…

To read the full story on the CBC News website, please click here.

Credit: CBC News.

CBC News: Canada’s convoy movement waved the Dutch flag. Then conspiracy theories swirled about fertilizer and bugs

To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story, which was shared by CBC News (Canada), was first published on August 25, 2022.

A Canadian convoy movement embraced protests by Dutch farmers, interpreting them as allies in a global fight against an array of policies they maintain are too progressive, such as public health mandates or emission targets. However, the campaign is fed by misinformation and deliberate attempts to sow confusion about government policies in Canada and the Netherlands. It threatens to overshadow legitimate concerns that Canadian farmers have about how to grow food while also addressing climate change.

Over the summer, supporters of the Freedom Convoy movement have continued to hold anti-mandate demonstrations across the country, attracting anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred people in places like Sudbury, Ont., Acheson, Alta., and Regina.

Like the protests in Ottawa last winter, these smaller demonstrations featured big rigs, pickup trucks and honking — though they tended to last only a few hours and kept to parking lots or slow-moving convoys on highways.

But they also featured a new — and perhaps surprising — symbol: The flag of the Netherlands was being waved alongside the more familiar Maple Leaf and F–k Trudeau banners…

To read the full story on the CBC News website, please click here.

Credit: CBC News.

World Economic Forum: Disinformation is a scourge on public discourse. Fact-based journalism can help stop it

The digital age has ushered in an era of unprecedented connectivity, allowing people across the world to share ideas and opinions in almost real time. It has also been characterised by the spread of disinformation.  

This is clear when examining nearly all the major issues facing the world today. 

For instance, the rise of the Internet and digital technologies brought the promise of greater democratization by providing an unprecedented ability to share information. Today’s reality, however, more resembles the digital dystopia that the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report warned of nearly a decade ago. In many countries, online disinformation purposefully created and curated abroad is circulating freely, undermining those countries’ political stability.

Democratic institutions are also coming under pressure as disinformation increasingly fuels polarization and political violence. Today, several countries — including Brazil, Italy, Nigeria and the United States, among others — are warning that disinformation is spreading ahead of important elections. 

Meanwhile, digital platforms have enabled us to share expertise and scale solutions to tackle climate change. But too often disinformation derails the discussion. In fact, in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the United Nations warned that efforts to curb climate change were being “undermined significantly” by misinformation. 

Digital technologies have also supported efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic response. This includes the development of infection tracking systems and vaccination delivery. Yet disinformation has come to define the pandemic, too — so much so that the issue was dubbed a so-called infodemic

The disinformation surrounding these issues and others has soured public discourse and stifled productive dialogues and action. It has also fuelled conspiracy theories. 

Take, for example, the conspiracy theory surrounding The Great Reset, a World Economic Forum initiative that promoted the idea of rebuilding economies to be greener and fairer post-COVID-19. Since 2020, state-backed purveyors of disinformation have created and spread deliberate falsehoods about the initiative, often tying it to anti-semitic conspiracy theories about “control” over the global economy.

Claims like these are unfounded and are shared without evidence. Nonetheless, they have spread from extremist corners of the internet to the mainstream. The recent account of Russia’s disinformation campaign against a US women’s march in 2017 also shows how almost any topic can be targeted. In this case, disinformation was used to inflame divisive culture wars and shift public discourse away from policy-based discussions.

A resurgence of fact-based journalism can help stem disinformation. 

Editors and reporters need to push back against politicians and political commentators who bring fringe falsehoods into the mainstream public discourse. Newsrooms should also take care to avoid misleading both-sides-ism. After all, neutrality does not mean abandoning fact-based journalism.

Moreover, fact-based journalism is vital to protecting free speech as disinformation often tarnishes forward-thinking debate. This only serves to slow down progress and undermine efforts to address urgent issues like public health and the climate crisis.  

On World News Day, it is important to remember that the disinformers must not be allowed to win. 

It is imperative that the free exchange of ideas and opinions proceeds unpoisoned, and that public discourse remains focused on the critical issues facing people all over the world.

Canada’s National Observer: Critics say Ontario moving too slowly on old oil and gas wells

Norfolk County resident Paula Jongerden has been pushing the Ontario government for years to deal with old oil wells that spew water, gas and pollutants around her home. File photo by Nick Iwanyshyn.

To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story, which was shared by Canada’s National Observer, was published on September 9, 2022.

The Ontario government is in the “early stages” of developing a strategy to deal with old oil and gas wells in the wake of recent disasters, including an explosion last summer that decimated downtown Wheatley and injured 20 people.

Natural Resources spokesperson Anita Tamrazi said via email that the ministry will work with other governments, stakeholders and Indigenous communities on “a long-term strategy and take action to manage and mitigate the risks posed by legacy wells and subsurface gas migration.”

Critics say the government is not acting fast enough.

“It’s a ticking time bomb, literally,” said Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner. “I don’t understand why the government isn’t operating with a strong sense of urgency, especially after what happened in Wheatley.”

The explosion in the small southwestern Ontario community that levelled several buildings is believed to have come from an old, forgotten well underneath the town. Investigations have since detected four more wells that municipal officials were previously unaware of.

An August 2021 explosion in Wheatley, Ont., is believed to have come from an old well underneath the town. Twenty people were injured and the area is still under evacuation. Photo courtesy of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.
An August 2021 explosion in Wheatley, Ont., is believed to have come from an old well underneath the town. Twenty people were injured and the area is still under evacuation. Photo courtesy of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.

A blast the previous summer on Marentette Beach Road southeast of Windsor that killed a couple may have come from an old well on their property. The damage was so severe that the Office of the Fire Marshal could not determine the cause, but residents in the area report smelling gas and fear there could be other wells posing danger to the community.

In nearby Norfolk County, residents have long been pushing the province to deal with a series of old wells that belch pollution into waterways and forests.

An old well in Norfolk County has been spewing water and pollutants for several years, creating what one resident called "our own Chernobyl." File photo by Nick Iwanyshyn.
An old well in Norfolk County has been spewing water and pollutants for several years, creating what one resident called “our own Chernobyl.” File photo by Nick Iwanyshyn.

Under provincial regulations, landowners are responsible for plugging old wells if the original operator is no longer around. That’s the case for most of Ontario’s 27,000 old wells, many of which date back to the 1800s when an oil boom gripped the province.

But landowners argue they lack the resources — costs can range from tens of thousands of dollars to millions — and the know-how to deal with a problem they had nothing to do with creating. And plugging individual wells can simply mean one begins bubbling elsewhere in a process analogous to the game of Whac-A-Mole.

Industry estimates put the number of potentially dangerous old wells at 4,400, along with “several thousand” more that might not be identified. The province’s Abandoned Works Program provides some funding to deal with high-risk wells, but only enough to plug 380 wells since 2005.

Schreiner called for an “aggressive strategy” to locate all old wells, followed by a sound plan to deal with them in a co-ordinated way to ensure plugging one doesn’t just move the problem elsewhere. The province should also, he said, do its utmost to recoup expenses for dealing with the wells from industry but acknowledged that in many cases, that will likely not be possible.

Sandy Shaw, environment critic for the official Opposition NDP, said most of the wells are in rural municipalities that already struggle with infrastructure costs and shouldn’t be expected to shoulder the burden of Ontario’s erstwhile oil industry.

“The government shouldn’t be dithering, they should be stepping in to help people,” said Shaw. “They shouldn’t be pointing fingers, deflecting responsibility… It’s like a hot potato, they just want to pass it around, they don’t want to own the problem. In the meantime, individual residents and municipalities suffer.”

Mary-Margaret McMahon, environment critic for the Ontario Liberals, said she will be pushing for a rapid governmental response to the issue.

“It’s a threat to the environment and to people’s lives,” said McMahon. “What happened in Wheatley can happen again — it will happen again. We need to act before someone gets injured. We cannot let it get to that point.”

The Narwhal: How a conservative U.S. network undermined Indigenous energy rights in Canada

Land defenders fortify a blockade near the Wedzin Kwa (Morice) River as RCMP units advance deeper into Wet’suwet’en territory in 2021. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal.

This story is a collaboration between Floodlight, The Narwhal and the Guardian.

A U.S.-based libertarian coalition has spent years pressuring the Canadian government to limit how much Indigenous communities can push back on energy development on their own land, newly reviewed strategy documents reveal.

The Atlas Network partnered with an Ottawa-based think tank — the Macdonald-Laurier Institute — which enlisted pro-industry Indigenous representatives in its campaign to provide “a shield against opponents.”

Atlas, which has deep ties to conservative politicians and oil and gas producers, claimed success in reports in 2018 and 2020, arguing its partner was able to discourage the Canadian government from supporting a United Nations declaration that would ensure greater involvement by Indigenous communities.

The Canadian Parliament did eventually pass the legislation to begin implementing the declaration in 2021, but observers say the government has made little progress to move it forward.

Meanwhile, Indigenous groups linked to the Macdonald-Laurier Institutes’s campaign — including the Indian Resource Council — continue to appear at conferences, testify to federal committees and get quoted in major media outlets to push the view that Indigenous prosperity is virtually impossible without oil and gas.

Hayden King, executive director of the Toronto-based Indigenous public policy think tank Yellowhead Institute, called the campaign “a contemporary expression of the type of imperialism that Indigenous peoples have been dealing with here for many, many years.”

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute directed questions about the reports to the Atlas Network, which did not respond to requests for comment.

The Atlas Network calls itself a “worldwide freedom movement” and has nearly 500 partners, including think tanks like the Manhattan Institute. Other powerful partners include the Cato Institute, a think tank co-founded by Charles Koch in 1977, as well as the Heritage Foundation, which hosted a keynote speech by Donald Trump in April. Their influence on U.S. politics includes leading campaigns to make Americans doubt if human-caused climate change is real.

Atlas members have helped influence the views of Republican politicians, including George W. Bush. The Arlington, Virginia-based organization — which received more than US$1 million from the oil company ExxonMobil through 2012 and US$745,000 from foundations linked to the Koch brothers through 2018, according to watchdog groups — has also exerted significant influence on conservative politics in the U.K. and Latin America.

Bob Neubauer, a researcher with a Canadian oil and gas watchdog organization known as the Corporate Mapping Project, said Atlas includes “a very significant number of the most influential right-wing think tanks and advocacy organizations on the planet.”

“It should make people nervous,” he added.

Atlas and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute have for years been pushing back against attempts by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to align Canadian laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a declaration Canada endorsed more than a decade ago. That could have codified Indigenous rights to reject pipelines or drilling, the Atlas Network feared, according to their strategy documents, which were shared with Floodlight by an investigative climate research organization called DeSmog.

That’s because the treaty contains clauses affirming Indigenous peoples’ sovereignty over territories they’ve lived on for thousands of years. Implementing it would potentially make it harder for extraction companies to operate on those territories. At stake, the report explains, were Canada’s “monumental reserves of natural gas, hydroelectricity, potash, uranium, oil and other natural resources.”

In recent years the Atlas Network has deepened its connections to Canada, setting up a Center for U.S. and Canada that “works with local civil society organizations on both sides of the border to create positive perceptions of the role of free enterprise and individual liberty,” according to its website.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is one of roughly a dozen Atlas Network partner organizations in Canada. It’s a relatively new organization, formed only in 2010, but its board members and advisors come from some of the top lobbying, legal and financial firms in the country.

In 2018, the Atlas Network created a 13-page “think tank impact case study” report about a campaign being led by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute called the “Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resource Economy Project.” Atlas wanted to highlight this project at a training academy for its partners around the world.

The report is no longer accessible on the Atlas Network website but was recovered by DeSmog on an internet archive called the Wayback Machine.

“The Macdonald-Laurier Institute, its staff, and the authors affiliated with the Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resource Economy project were the only entities that worked on that project,” institute spokesperson Brett Byers wrote in an email.

“Questions regarding the content, nature or interpretation of a report published by the Atlas Network are better directed toward the Atlas Network,” he added. The Atlas Network didn’t respond to a detailed list of questions about its involvement.

The report claims that this project was started “at the behest of the Assembly of First Nations,” a national advocacy group for Canada’s Indigenous peoples, which “saw potential in the natural resource economy as a major driver of transformation in Indigenous opportunity.” The Assembly didn’t respond to a media request asking if this is accurate.

The Atlas report notes that a prime objective of this collaboration was removing barriers to the production of fossil fuels. It explains that as political momentum began building in 2016 for Canada to implement the UN declaration, this “concerned the team” at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

That was because the UN declaration contains a clause stating that Indigenous peoples have the right to give “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” before governments make decisions that could have a large material impact on their traditional territories.

Some legal experts see this as a reasonable way to ensure that Indigenous communities are equal partners in decision-making. But the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the Atlas Network appeared to interpret this to mean that those communities could effectively veto new oil pipelines, fracking operations and other resource extraction projects.

“This provision, while well-intended, would have allowed even the most fringe groups to veto improvement projects at the expense of whole communities,” Atlas argued.

“It is difficult to overstate the legal and economic disruptions that may have followed from such a step,” the report continued.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute with the support of Atlas embarked on “a sophisticated communications and outreach strategy to persuade the government, businesses, and Aboriginal communities on the dangers involved with fully adopting UNDRIP,” the report says.

Early success came that November, when then-Canadian minister of justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, who is is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation, “offered her support to [the institute’s] view.” The report was referring to a 2016 speech where she said that fully implementing UNDRIP would be “unworkable,” creating doubt about the government’s commitment.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s “experts are always in regular communication with MPs, ministers and government officials,” Byers wrote. Wilson-Raybould didn’t respond to a media request.

Meanwhile, an opposition party member introduced a new bill meant to enshrine UNDRIP in law. This effort slowly gained momentum and political support, but when the bill ended up before Canada’s Senate for approval in 2019, a Macdonald-Laurier Institute scholar named Dwight Newman submitted written comments suggesting that the way the courts might interpret “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” could “have enormous implications for Canada.”

He said the bill pursued “laudable aims,” and that various amendments could improve it. But the outcome was that the bill was not implemented.

“The bill was ultimately defeated,” Atlas explains on its website.

“There could be some truth to that,” said King, who is Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation. “The bill died in the Senate because Conservative senators delayed and basically filibustered the legislation.” And one of the senators accused of filibustering, Don Plett, quoted at length from a Macdonald-Laurier Institute report during a Senate debate about UNDRIP.

This was seen as a major victory by Atlas, which appears to have provided funding for the campaign. “Atlas Network supported this initiative with a Poverty & Freedom grant,” notes a 2020 document on the Atlas website. That document also identified First Nations allies “working directly” on the campaign, such as the Indian Resource Council and the First Nations Major Projects Coalition.

“That is inaccurate,” wrote a spokesperson for the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, referencing 2018 testimony its vice-chair gave in support of UNDRIP.

When the Trudeau government made yet another attempt to implement the UN declaration in 2021, Indian Resource Council president Stephen Buffalo told a standing senate committee that there should be language in the legislation preventing “special-interest groups” from being able to “weaponize” the declaration to block new pipelines.

“Whether or not you support the oil and gas industry, it is the right of the 131 nations of the Indian Resource Council of Canada to develop their resources as they see fit,” he said. The organization didn’t respond to a media request.

The Trudeau government successfully passed a bill starting the implementation of the declaration in June 2021. But it’s been a slow process since then. “There’s very little progress,” King said. “It’s bogged down in administrative morass.”

The Atlas Network appears to be moving into a new phase of advocacy. At a conference in Guatemala earlier this year, leaders “from freedom-minded organizations, many of them Atlas Network partners,” gathered to “sharpen their plans for the coming year.”

At this invitation-only event, Macdonald-Laurier Institute “workshopped a project to improve opportunities for native populations,” according to an Atlas Network write-up of the conference.

Macdonald-Laurier Institute wanted to apply what it has learned in Canada globally. “The goal of the project would be to promote Indigenous economic development across the world,” Byers wrote.

The Narwhal: ‘Scared into silence’: former workers allege abuse, safety issues at B.C. environmental organization

Illustration: Eryn Lougheed/The Narwhal.

To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story, which was shared by The Narwhal, was published on June 20, 2022.

Breathtaking photos. Adventurous boat trips. A mission to save the planet. Young people were drawn to Pacific Wild, but many describe a work culture of bullying and harassment.

At first, Andrea’s experience with Pacific Wild Alliance was “amazing,” she says. She got to see beautiful places while working as a deckhand on photography and film shoots on B.C.’s central coast.

Andrea, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, worked with the B.C.-based environmental non-profit for the first time in 2014. She worked with the organization’s co-founder, Ian McAllister — one of the province’s most prominent wildlife photographers — and felt lucky to experience the Great Bear Rainforest, a region where eagles fly above old-growth forest, wolves roam the beach and humpback whales breach in ocean inlets.

But the serene natural environment didn’t mirror the work environment onboard Ian’s catamaran, Habitat, she says. There, she says, she witnessed verbal harassment and what she describes as “dangerous” boating practices by Ian, now in his 50s, who was executive director of Pacific Wild at the time. She also says he would drink alcohol consistently after hours and while operating the boat.

By 2020, she says the situation had become its “worst.” She says Ian neglected safety protocols on multiple occasions. That year, she decided not to work with Pacific Wild again.

“He put us all in danger,” she says.

Andrea is not alone. The Narwhal spoke to more than a dozen contractors and employees who worked with Pacific Wild over the years. Many say they were put in positions beyond their marine experience. More than that, they say they witnessed a wide range of what they considered to be inappropriate behaviour, including verbal and emotional abuse and Ian frequently drinking on the job, including while captaining his boat. In September 2020, Ian publicly admitted he used a seal carcass to attract wolves.

The Narwhal was also alerted to an alleged sexual relationship Ian had with a woman who reported directly to him, which spanned roughly two years. Internal emails show that rumours of the relationship were brought to the organization’s attention in 2019. The woman resigned a year later. When contacted by The Narwhal, she said she could not provide comment.

The Narwhal reviewed an email she sent to Pacific Wild board members and the McAllisters at the time of her resignation in 2020, in which she alleged Ian drank at work and exhibited “anger,” “manipulation” and “emotional abuse.” She said there was a “lack of accountability at Pacific Wild.”

“Because of the lack of policies, and the conflict of interest in leadership, I did not know who to go to for help,” she wrote.

“I am hurt by the fact that I trusted all of you, and the system, to protect me in my work environment, and that didn’t happen.”

“The combination of the power, the shame, the manipulation, and the various levels of isolation, kept me silent, but I will not be silent anymore,” she wrote.

Prior to 2021, Ian was the long-standing executive director and his wife Karen was the organization’s conservation director, making them the two primary managers of staff.

They founded Pacific Wild together in 2008 and have been prominent conservation advocates for decades. Pacific Wild is known, in part, for pushing for the protection of the Great Bear Rainforest, a 64,000-square-kilometre area that hugs the shoreline of B.C.’s north and central coast. Stewarded by First Nations for millennia, the region is famous for the iconic spirit bear, a black bear with a recessive gene that makes it glow white against the mossy forest floor.

A white kermode bear, or spirit bear, in the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo: TJ Watt.
A white kermode bear, or spirit bear, in the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo: TJ Watt.

As a non-profit organization, Pacific Wild is technically governed by a board of directors. But Ian and Karen both sat on the board from 2008 to 2019 while also leading the organization, so some workers had little faith their concerns would be meaningfully addressed. Workers say it wasn’t always clear who was on the board, partly because the organization does not list board directors on its website.

Despite these concerns, The Narwhal has learned that Pacific Wild board members were alerted to Ian’s conduct at least twice from 2015 to 2020. One worker says the board failed to sufficiently act on her warnings in 2015, and that unsafe practices continued. The Narwhal reached out to board members from this period to find out how they responded to allegations but did not receive comment.

Ian stepped down as executive director on Aug. 16, 2021, with a statement from him at the time saying, “It’s time for me to step away for personal and professional reasons and for a new executive director to take the organization forward.”  Ian remains a conservation advisor, listed on Pacific Wild’s staff page, and his photographs continue to be shared regularly by the organization.

His wife Karen, who sat as the secretary and treasurer of the board of directors until late 2020, took over the position and remains executive director today.

For more than a year, The Narwhal has been investigating allegations of poor governance and abuse of power within the organization, and how workers’ safety may have been put at risk. Some people who spoke to The Narwhal say they had a positive experience and did not witness any inappropriate conduct at Pacific Wild. But more than a dozen former workers’ experiences, as well as documents and emails, align in painting a picture of a tumultuous workplace where people regularly felt unsafe and overworked but feared speaking out.

The names of workers who are concerned about the impact of speaking out on their personal and professional lives have been changed. Some of these workers have close personal relationships with one another, which have not been disclosed to protect their identities.

“I’d rather be doing anything than coming forward with this story,” Madelyn, who worked with Pacific Wild for more than a year, says. “But it feels really important to talk about this experience. Because I do feel like it’s a public danger to have these people in positions of power who have escalating patterns of abuse towards the people around them, who are so protected by these organizations and the people around them.”

“I feel like it’s hugely disrupted and damaged so many lives, and the lives of so many up-and-coming conservationists and people who are wanting to do good in the industry.”

Max Bakken, who worked for Pacific Wild for three years, pictured doing field work in the Great Bear Rainforest. He spent a lot of time installing camera and hydrophone equipment. Photo: Peter Thicke.
Max Bakken, who worked for Pacific Wild for three years, pictured doing field work in the Great Bear Rainforest. He spent a lot of time installing camera and hydrophone equipment. Photo: Peter Thicke.

Over the course of several weeks, The Narwhal tried repeatedly to speak with Ian, Karen or current or former Pacific Wild board directors, and sent a detailed list of questions outlining the allegations in this story. They did not respond directly — instead, we received an emailed statement from Kirsten Mihailides Public Relations.

“Pacific Wild Alliance does not comment on personnel matters but observes that all organizations face challenges as they renew and grow,” the statement says.

“Ian McAllister led Pacific Wild during its first chapter. While he no longer has any operational or leadership role with the organization, Pacific Wild is energized under its new leadership and focused on continuing its efforts in wildlife habitat protection.”

Over the years, Pacific Wild has brought in millions of dollars for the organization’s advocacy — even receiving endorsement from the likes of Miley Cyrus and Ryan Reynolds. Beyond pushing to partially protect the Great Bear Rainforest, some of its self-proclaimed successes include getting trophy hunting of grizzly bears banned in B.C. and campaigning for the cancellation of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, a multibillion-dollar proposal that was scrapped in 2016.

Many sources say Pacific Wild had an ability to share beautiful images that inspire people to care about the region. But former workers question the trade off between compelling conservation campaigns and the toxic environment they say they were exposed to.

“There’s no denying that those images are powerful. But I think for a long time, those beautiful images have been the justification for a lot of the harm that goes on behind the scenes,” one former worker says.

June 2014
Denny Island, B.C.
Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) territory

In 2014, when Madelyn began as a volunteer with Pacific Wild, the then-22-year-old diver dreamed of becoming a wildlife photographer. She thought photography was a form of storytelling that could “change people’s hearts and minds.” She was passionate about protecting wildlife in the face of climate change.

Madelyn travelled some 300 kilometres from Vancouver Island to Denny Island, B.C., Haíɫzaqv territory, to volunteer for the organization. She was excited to help wildlife, as well as learn about photography from Ian.

“It just seemed really fun,” she says. “Until it wasn’t.”

On its surface, the work entailed going on trips to see awe-inspiring wildlife and then sharing those images to promote conservation. When she arrived, she got a sense the rules were casual. The staff seemed cool and young. She says it seemed like a “conservation party.”

She lived on Denny Island in a small cabin with her co-workers, a short distance from the McAllisters’ home where they lived with their two children. The sparsely populated island adjacent to Bella Bella houses about 100 people. Staff and contractors say they worked in close quarters with each other and Ian, often living together on boats, and in isolated areas without signal, sometimes for weeks at a time. They say they largely relied on each other for company and safety.

The McAllisters and some workers lived on Denny Island, B.C., and did field work and photo shoots around B.C.’s central coast. Map: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal.
The McAllisters and some workers lived on Denny Island, B.C., and did field work and photo shoots around B.C.’s central coast. Map: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal.

But working with Ian was different than she expected. She says he seemed cynical and fulfilled a “moody” artist archetype. She discovered the workplace was disorganized, with staff often lacking clear instructions and working in chaotic and demanding conditions.

“Every day, you were just working on something as if it was an emergency,” she says.

To Madelyn, it seemed everyone around Ian accepted that he was dysfunctional and erratic because of his talent as a photographer. Despite his moodiness, she and Ian got along well at first, she says.

“There would be a lot of camaraderie and fun and silliness,” she recalls.

But soon Ian began making negative comments about her work ethic and personality. She says he got angry with her just months into her time there, and things got progressively worse.

Ian would drink on the boat to the point Madelyn was concerned about his ability to meet his responsibilities as captain. She felt Ian would often breach safety norms, including not having appropriate safety equipment or working with unreliable equipment. Other workers had similar experiences in the following years.

Madelyn said the work environment began to take a toll on her mental health, but there was pressure to stay “committed to the cause.” In the face of Ian’s criticism, she worried about “not being good enough.” In hindsight, she sees his comments as gaslighting.

“You just felt like you were doing such important work,” she recalls. Despite the chaos, she joined Pacific Wild as a staff member in 2015 after volunteering for about six months.

Madelyn says Ian showed up at the staff cabin more than once, appearing to be drunk, and yelled at her in front of her co-workers for not working hard enough.

“I could see all the problems, but I could see them through a lens of empathy rather than red flags … like this person’s really angry because I made them angry. I just need to support them more and do better,” she says.

The staff cabin where workers stayed, a short distance from where Ian and Karen McAllister used to live. Photo: Peter Thicke.
The staff cabin where workers stayed, a short distance from where Ian and Karen McAllister used to live. Photo: Peter Thicke.

Another former worker The Narwhal spoke with is Taylor, who worked with Pacific Wild for a year. She says environmentalists often feel they can’t “air dirty laundry” because it will “undermine our achievements and goals.” But she says that mindset is hypocritical.

“We can’t be committed to being honest and speaking truth to power about the ways we’re destroying the planet, and turn a blind eye at the ways we might be harming each other in the process,” Taylor says.

“I want those young people who are idealistic conservationists, who are dreaming of making a big difference in the world, to know that if they see something wrong, they should speak up.”

While Pacific Wild did not speak to any specific allegations, its statement includes a description of the workplace.

“The daily operations of Pacific Wild Alliance are run by a group of nearly 20 dedicated staff who care deeply about conservation and the protection of wildlife habitat. The board provides long-term vision to the organization through volunteer directors who generally serve with terms staggered for continuity. The directors work diligently to meet organizational challenges and provide long-term direction. The staff work diligently to develop and carry out conservation initiatives. Working collaboratively, the members of the Pacific Wild team have helped the organization achieve many meaningful victories for the environment and therefore the public interest,” it reads.

Summer 2015
Denny Island, B.C.
Haíɫzaqv territory

Max Bakken, who worked at Pacific Wild for about three years, says he felt professional boundaries were being crossed on multiple occasions. On one occasion, he recalls installing monitoring equipment on remote offshore rocks, called Gosling Rocks, about 40 kilometres southwest of Bella Bella with two coworkers.

“There’s nothing between us and the Pacific Ocean,” he remembers. It was exposed and windy.

Ian, he says, showed up on a paddleboard, with no life jacket, and began criticizing the work they’d done. He wanted them to redo it. Bakken says it seemed Ian had been drinking. One of his coworkers, a woman, tried to defend their work.

“They’re literally yelling at each other … out on this rock in the middle of nowhere,” Bakken says. Meanwhile, he was “racing” to get the work done to allow two hours to return home before darkness set in.

Sometimes, the lax rules meant freedom, which was perfect for an adventurous spirit like Bakken, who has spent his life working on the water and in the woods, and today works as a log salvager. He says he climbed trees alone, 100 feet into the air, while working at Pacific Wild. He enjoyed the adventure. At other times, it felt dangerous.

Max Bakken, pictured installing field equipment, says part of Pacific Wild’s appeal was the freedom it offered — but he also witnessed verbal harassment and “irresponsible seamanship.” Photo: Peter Thicke.
Max Bakken, pictured installing field equipment, says part of Pacific Wild’s appeal was the freedom it offered — but he also witnessed verbal harassment and “irresponsible seamanship.” Photo: Peter Thicke.

Madelyn says she was often asked to do things beyond her marine skill level — she worried she might have to take charge of the boat when Ian was drinking alcohol, but didn’t have the expertise required if anything went wrong. She also remembers Ian asking her to navigate tumultuous water alone in a small inflatable dinghy in 2015.

Midway through, she began struggling to follow directions and navigate the small boat, she says.

Bakken remembers seeing Madelyn arrive in Bella Bella that day and being shocked to hear she travelled about 30 kilometres alone. Bakken says he grew up on boats, has done marine emergency training and has a small vessel operator certificate. He spent years commercial fishing and deckhanding. He says Madelyn crossed choppy water that he would “never cross in a small boat,” and calls it “very irresponsible seamanship.”

“As a captain of a boat, [Ian’s] in charge,” he says. “He sent her out across a body of water that easily could have flipped the boat.” Another former worker tells The Narwhal Ian asked them to navigate a dinghy alone in rough conditions years later, and they feared colliding with rocks, and felt “extremely unsafe.”

Back on land, Madelyn constantly felt pressured to work late into the night. Bakken remembers Ian coming to the cabin in a “rage,” appearing to be drunk, banging on the door and calling for Madelyn before storming away. Peter Thicke, who worked at Pacific Wild for more than a year, witnessed a similar incident that summer in which Ian entered the cabin in the evening, asking Madelyn why she wasn’t working, in a “raised voice and very aggressive tone.”

“I remember kind of just being shocked,” Thicke says.

Thicke also loves photography, and he lives and works in Tofino as a city planner today. He thinks boundaries were blurred in the isolated and intimate workplace, and unprofessional and hostile behaviour was normalized. But the workers were passionate about the work they were doing and committed to doing it.

“The workplace, at times, was horrible,” he says. “There’s also times where it, maybe, was one of the most meaningful places you’ve ever been.”

Pacific Wild workers were often in small teams, relying on each other in remote locations out of signal, taking in the beauty of the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo: Peter Thicke.
Pacific Wild workers were often in small teams, relying on each other in remote locations out of signal, taking in the beauty of the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo: Peter Thicke.

Thicke emphasized the job could be fun and adventurous, and so could Ian. Other workers also recalled the freedom of exploring land and waters, seeing incredible wildlife and getting to know each other while eating sushi at the dock or going to the local pub.

In the moment, Thicke says he rationalized Ian’s behaviour to himself. Only with hindsight did he begin to see the juxtaposition between the good times he had with Ian and the work he was proud of, and the treatment he witnessed.

“[There’s] some interesting conflicts between whatever good that somebody does, versus the harm that they’ve done,” he says.

Meanwhile in 2015, Ian released one of his many books, called The Wild in You, and his famous photo of a wolf peering through the surface of the water was named one of National Geographic’s top pictures of the year.

October 2015
Denny Island, B.C.
Haíɫzaqv territory

Madelyn was thinking about leaving Pacific Wild.

At the time, they were actively campaigning to end B.C. ‘s wolf cull — a program that involves government contractors shooting wolves from helicopters in a controversial attempt to protect endangered caribou. The campaign garnered a lot of attention, including from pop star Miley Cyrus, who at the last minute joined Pacific Wild for one of their trips, along with her brother Braison Cyrus. Madelyn says she was the only crew member working with Ian on this trip and, once again, she was put in a position beyond her marine experience.

On the first night she says he effectively left her in charge while he stayed up late with Miley and Braison.

“This was, like, two or three in the morning, and I remember Ian, Miley and her brother were being so loud and just partying on the back deck,” she says.

Miley Cyrus did not respond to The Narwhal’s request for comment. The other guests on the boat — ecologist Carl Safina and wolf biologists John and Mary Theberge — went to bed early and say they didn’t see or hear Ian up late drinking with the pop star and her brother. They also say they didn’t witness any inappropriate conduct.

“I didn’t see anything that struck me as disrespectful,” Safina says. He has donated to Pacific Wild over the years. “Ian has done a lot for publicizing the coast and its nature and the importance of it. And I always had a high regard for all of that.”

“It was not a party atmosphere,” John Theberge says, adding “we have a lot of respect for Pacific Wild.”

Madelyn says she was awake, working, and experienced it very differently. It was stormy, she recalls, and she didn’t trust Ian would be able to intervene if something went wrong.

“I just remember being really scared about the boat dragging anchor or something happening, and Ian being too drunk and high to do anything,” she says.

Illustration: Eryn Lougheed / The Narwhal.
Illustration: Eryn Lougheed / The Narwhal.

With the pressure of Miley’s celebrity status, Madelyn says that when they returned to land Ian pushed her to work late into the night to get a video and press release out for the next morning. She says he came to the cabin and banged on the door again, yelling.

“I was in physical agony from sleep deprivation and overwork,” she says. “I remember crying, sitting at my computer, sobbing.”

Madelyn was feeling burnt out and wrestled with difficult questions: was Pacific Wild helping wildlife or were they building a portfolio of beautiful images? Were they raising money for conservation or were they raising money for their own campaigns?

A couple weeks after the Miley Cyrus trip, Ian was away on a shoot and Madelyn was going through photos when she found a series from 2013 that she says made her heart stop. There was a seal carcass hanging by a rope from a tree. A salmon on the forest floor. Followed by pictures of a wolf looking into the trees, at the seal just out of frame.

Baiting, she thought.

Putting out food runs the risk of habituating wolves to humans. Madelyn had already noticed that wolves Ian frequently photographed on a remote island near Bella Bella seemed habituated to humans. Habituation increases the risk of wolves being shot: either by hunters, because they are less likely to run away from humans, or by conservation officers who deem them a threat to humans. Other people utilize the area too, like local First Nations and kayakers. But these photos appeared to confirm her worst fears — that Pacific Wild was risking the well-being of the wolves it purported to protect.

Illustration: Eryn Lougheed / The Narwhal.
Illustration: Eryn Lougheed / The Narwhal.

“All the abuse that I’ve been taking has been for a lie,” she remembers thinking. Those wolves had been put in harm’s way for “professional gain.”

“The veil was really lifted for me that day,” she says.

She emailed Ian on Oct. 17, 2015, asking him to explain what she was seeing. He admitted to hanging the seal, but he said he thought the tide would take the carcass away and he wanted to ensure the wolves had access to prey and to see if there were wolf pups. He maintained photography “was the least of it.”

“I should have left it alone but I put [it] in the tree to see what would happen,” Ian responded in an email reviewed by The Narwhal.

“I could have let the carcass go into the water or could have brought it further up. In this case it was way further up,” he wrote an hour later. “ I think if you were with me you would have agreed to it.”

He went on to say they had done something similar together when they pulled a sea lion up a beach the summer before. Madelyn maintains she saw him move the sea lion, but didn’t participate.

“I would like to think that you know my history with those wolves enough to know that I would not do something to knowingly put them at risk,” Ian wrote.

“Conducting wildlife research, film photography in a non-invasive way has always been a priority and in this case I don’t believe I caused harm but it was a really dumb move.”

Madelyn spent days agonizing before she quit. She wanted to resign immediately, so she retained a lawyer pro bono to get her out of her contract.

Her lawyer wrote a letter on her behalf to the McAllisters and some Pacific Wild board members. The letter outlined the baiting of wolves, safety concerns, consumption of alcohol in the workplace and what she considered harassment. She says she never heard back from the board directly, and The Narwhal was not able to confirm how board members responded. Instead, she received a letter from a lawyer representing Pacific Wild and Ian, who stated her letter was defamatory. Despite this accusation, Pacific Wild’s lawyer proposed a settlement with a confidentiality clause and a non-disparagement clause, which she refused to sign.

“It isn’t defamatory if it’s true,” she wrote in a Nov. 20 email.

“These problems are way bigger than me. My going away will not fix them.”

Still, Madelyn worried that she would be sued if she talked about her experience.

“I was totally scared into silence,” she says.

In emails a couple of months after she quit, Ian told Madelyn to focus on the “positive” and “be proud of all the good work that you have done and will continue to do and try not to be so judgemental.”

“There is so much important work to be done,” he wrote. “This constant criticism of me is draining and takes away from work that I know you care about.”

In 2016, Pacific Wild partnered with another organization to launch a judicial review into the province’s wolf cull. In 2017, Ian published another book, Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest. That September, Pacific Wild released a song tribute from Miley Cyrus about grizzly bears.

November 2020

Years later, in 2020, Madelyn heard from Pacific Wild workers that issues with the work environment continued after she left, and she felt a responsibility to speak out. In emails reviewed by The Narwhal, she reported Ian to the B.C. Conservation Officer Service for baiting.

The conservation officer service says it cannot confirm or deny whether an investigation into Ian McAllister is underway.

Scott Norris, an inspector with the conservation officer service, tells The Narwhal this is to adhere to privacy laws and to avoid jeopardizing an investigation if it does exist.

He says the service rarely receives reports about baiting, in its colloquial sense — using food to attract wildlife for any purpose. But in the Wildlife Act, the word baiting is specifically associated with hunting.

According to B.C.’s Wildlife Act, a person must not “intentionally feed or attempt to feed dangerous wildlife” or place an attractant “with the intent of attracting dangerous wildlife.”

The minimum fine for placing attractants is $345, Norris says, but it can go much higher — a B.C. wildlife tour company was fined $35,000 in 2019 for attracting black bears with food.

Norris says attracting wildlife causes animals to “develop dependence on humans.” Speaking to wildlife photographers generally, he says he wants people to understand the impact they can have on wildlife, whether they are flying drones over animals or placing attractants.

“They start to learn when that boat pulls up on the beach, for example, that ‘oh, the boat pulled up, that means food’s coming,’ ” he says.“If you’re gonna start doing this stuff, those animals are gonna develop that dependency on you, unsuspecting or not.”

Mist hangs over trees in the southern range of the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal.
Mist hangs over trees in the southern range of the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal.

Ian emailed Madelyn after he found out she had reported him. He said a complaint would hurt Pacific Wild’s ongoing court challenge of the annual wolf cull.

“I expect you are aware how this complaint will be used against our collective efforts by government, trophy hunters and all those that oppose our wildlife conservation work,” he wrote on May 21, 2021. “It stands a chance of destroying years of hard work that came with a significant financial investment both on the pending legal front and the public campaign front.”

In September 2020, nearly six years after Madelyn discovered the photos, Ian posted publicly on Instagram about hanging the seal. He admitted he profited from the images — an image was included in his 2014 book Great Bear Wild. With hindsight, he said he should have deleted the image or fully described how it was captured.

“I can say that this is the only image that I have ever taken in over 30 years of photography and film work that could be described in the ‘baited’ category other than throwing tuna in the water to take pictures of sharks,” he wrote.

April 2019

According to people who worked with Pacific Wild in the years after Madelyn left, Ian continued to bully staff and contractors and drink on the job, and many still felt there was not an avenue to report or address the situation.

In 2018, Rebecca was hired for a short contract with Pacific Wild. She recalls being asked by Ian to navigate Habitat in a rocky, “super narrow” channel, despite making it clear ahead of time she was not experienced enough to navigate in challenging conditions. The boat hit a mud bottom. At first she thought they were stuck, she says, but was relieved when she and a coworker were able to reverse out without issue. Still her mind went to what could have happened — if they had hit a rock, it could have punctured a hole; if they lurched more, someone could go overboard.

She also recalls Ian drinking in the evenings to the point it made her “uncomfortable.” She only spent two weeks with Pacific Wild and never worked with them again. She says she felt ostracized by Ian and the crew throughout her experience.

“Coming out of it, I just felt shattered,” she says. “I held Pacific Wild in really high regard … I felt like everything I believed was a lie.”

Two Pacific Wild workers working in the field installing camera equipment. Photo: Peter Thicke.
Two Pacific Wild workers working in the field installing camera equipment. Photo: Peter Thicke.

Taylor joined Pacific Wild shortly after, and she too was idealistic about helping the environment. Like many of her peers, she says it didn’t take long for her to see the workplace was dysfunctional.

On a week-long shoot in spring 2019, Taylor says Ian was regularly drinking at what she considered “inappropriate times.” She heard him chastise a first-time deckhand, Katie, who was not an employee.

“He was being so forceful and unreasonably loud,” she recalls. “I was really appalled.”

Katie had been excited at the opportunity, but found Ian intimidating almost immediately. She says he gave no direct instructions, but would then be upset if things weren’t done how he wanted them to be.

One night he got mad at her in the galley and, Katie says, she broke down crying. It was such a beautiful place, but the experience was “tainted,” she says.

“I felt attacked,” she says. “I was pissed that that happened. But I was also mostly disheartened … [I] had idolized Pacific Wild and their work so much.” She never worked for Pacific Wild again.

Taylor reflects on her time at Pacific Wild as complicated. She was travelling to beautiful places and making good friends, and she says Ian “could be very charming and complimentary.” But the good was overpowered by the moments she felt unsafe and witnessed what she considered bullying. She began to feel anxious working there. She says one night she began “crying uncontrollably” while trying to talk about work with her partner.

“He was like, ‘if this is how work makes you feel, you need to quit your job,’ ” she says. She left shortly after.

February 2019
Victoria, B.C.
Lekwungen territory

Ian spent years directing an IMAX film about the Great Bear Rainforest, which premiered in February 2019. The film was distributed by MacGillivray Freeman Films and funded by Seaspan, which runs three shipyards along with ferry, tug and barge transportation, and Destination BC, the provincial government’s tourism corporation.

Narrated by Ryan Reynolds, the film features sweeping drone footage of waterfalls and rivers, bringing viewers close up to spirit bears, seals and wolves. High-definition footage of the trees immerses the viewer in the forest.

Throughout 2019, Pacific Wild and Ian promoted the IMAX film. It received many positive reviews, but also drew criticisms.

Jess Housty, a Haíɫzaqv writer and community organizer, thought the movie exacerbated the colonial misconception of untouched wilderness, which ignores Indigenous Peoples.

“I made it official folks so can you please stop calling Haíɫzaqv territory ‘untouched’ now,” she said sarcastically in a tweet accompanied by a photo of her touching her hand to a beach.

In an article by The Tyee, Ian said he worked hard to include “caring, smart young leaders who care deeply about where they are living” from the Gitga’at, Kitasoo/Xai’xais and Haíɫzaqv nations.

On the film’s website, Ian said “it was always essential to us to have the First Nations deeply involved … It was important to us to talk sincerely with the local communities, so we went to each of them and explained what we were hoping to do with the film and then we took their advice and direction.”

William Housty, conservation manager for Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department and Jess’s brother, says this didn’t happen in practice. He says he was disappointed with the framing of the movie and wanted to see more of a Haíɫzaqv perspective.

Multiple people who worked with Pacific Wild say its’ reputation of working with Indigenous Peoples was a big part of why they wanted to work with the non-profit. But William says non-governmental organizations still have a lot of room for improvement in how they work with First Nations.

Non-governmental organizations “still operate as though they think they know what’s best for the First Nations,” often campaigning “at the expense of the nations or their territories,” he says.

William also says he felt “betrayed” when he found out about Ian hanging the seal from a tree because the nation had invested “a lot of time and effort” in its relationship with Pacific Wild. He says baiting is “dangerous” for animals and humans.

William Housty, conservation manager for Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, at a snare to collect grizzly bear hair for research in Haíɫzaqv territory. Photo: Morgan Hocking / Heiltsuk Nation.
William Housty, conservation manager for Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, at a snare to collect grizzly bear hair for research in Haíɫzaqv territory. Photo: Morgan Hocking / Heiltsuk Nation.

“We are open to working with people that have good projects in mind, and they want to build relationships and build trust,” he says. “We don’t want to be burned. We don’t deserve to be burned because we’re just trying to do good.”

He says the Nation’s relationship with Pacific Wild has “dropped off” in recent years.

Pacific Wild did not respond to The Narwhal’s request to comment on what we heard from William by deadline.

Summer 2007
Denny Island, B.C.
Haíɫzaqv territory 

Pacific Wild isn’t the first workplace where Ian has come into conflict with his peers.

The McAllisters founded Pacific Wild after leaving the Raincoast Conservation Foundation in 2007. Ian and his father, Peter McAllister, helped co-found Raincoast, a registered charity which conducts advocacy as well as peer-reviewed research of habitat and wildlife. But Ian had a falling out with the other leaders, and Raincoast sued Ian in 2007 for theft of equipment and for using photos that Raincoast said belonged to the foundation.

In the court documents, Raincoast says it conducted the first-ever study of coastal mainland wolves, and the foundation is “the owner of all right, title and interest” of photographs and other materials gathered as part of the project, including photographs taken by Ian. Ian was slated to use some of these photographs in a book without Raincoast, leading the organization to sue him for general damages and profits from copyright infringement.

“[Ian] McAllister admitted on or about May 27, 2007, in writing, that [Raincoast] is the owner of the intellectual property rights … but has refused to pay [Raincoast] a reasonable royalty for his reproduction,” the documents read.

“It’s surprising and disappointing that Raincoast is wasting precious charity dollars on a frivolous lawsuit,” Ian told the Victoria Times Colonist at the time. The dispute was then settled out of court.

The Narwhal asked Raincoast for an interview about Ian’s time at the foundation and the court case but was told “Raincoast can’t speak to any of Ian McAllister’s employment history.”

Aug. 12, 2020
MakeWay office, Vancouver, B.C.
Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and səlilwətaɬ territories

When Madelyn left Pacific Wild in 2015, she says she was too scared to speak out.

But when she heard from workers years later describing a hostile workplace, she says “it just become so clear to me that it wasn’t going to stop.” She says she knew it wasn’t her fault, but she still struggled with feeling accountable.

“I felt really responsible for not speaking out about it,” she says.

On Aug. 12, 2020, Madelyn filed a complaint with the MakeWay Foundation outlining her experience. MakeWay had a Pacific Wild Fund between 2007 and 2019 to support conservation activities identified by Pacific Wild, which included the Great Bear Education and Research Project, known as GBear.

MakeWay partnered with Pacific Wild on GBear from 2008 to 2019 to collaborate on conservation programming on topics such as oceans, salmon and coasts, according to Alison Henning, director of communications at MakeWay. The foundation officially stopped funding or working with Pacific Wild by the end of 2020. In the time it was active, $2.8 million was dedicated to the GBear project, she wrote in an email.

GBear project workers were employed by MakeWay but some sources tell The Narwhal they effectively worked for Pacific Wild, reporting directly to the McAllisters. Henning says the GBear project also employed Ian between 2013 and 2019.

“MakeWay takes allegations of abusive behaviour and the well-being of our staff very seriously,” Henning tells The Narwhal. The 2020 complaint “was the first time these concerns had been brought to our attention,” she says. However, since MakeWay did not employ anyone at Pacific Wild when the complaint was filed, there was little they could do.

“As we had no formal employer relationship at the time, and were limited in our jurisdiction and ability to take recourse, we were not able to take on a fulsome investigation as we would have if an issue like this arose with current employees,” Henning says. “Despite this, our team held interviews and provided emotional support and coaching.”

Henning says the GBear project was cut because it was “no longer sustainable” financially.

Illustration: Eryn Lougheed / The Narwhal.
Illustration: Eryn Lougheed / The Narwhal.

Joanna Kerr, president and CEO of MakeWay, spoke to former workers about their complaints.

“Not only does every person deserve to work in a place free of harm, but work environments should be safe and empowering. Leaders in this sector need to ensure this,” she wrote in an email to The Narwhal.

Pacific Wild Alliance, its full legal name, is a registered society in B.C., which has a board of directors. It registered as a charity federally in Canada in 2019. It is also registered as a charity in the U.S., and that chapter of Pacific Wild has its own board.

Boards of directors are meant to be an arms-length governance structure that provides fiduciary oversight and generally oversees the executive director. Board members are expected to act in good faith and “in the best interest of the corporation,” Tim Richardson, senior manager of the standards program at Imagine Canada, says in an interview. Imagine Canada provides programs and resources to charities and non-profits, which can get accredited by Imagine Canada if they meet its rigorous national standard for best practices. Richardson does not work directly with Pacific Wild as the charity is not accredited through Imagine Canada.

Ian and Karen both sat on the B.C. society board until Ian left the board in 2019.

Richardson says it’s fairly common for an organization’s most senior staff person to sit on the board, but that it’s not best practice. Imagine Canada’s standards program stipulates “no employee may be a [board] director.” He says they will sometimes make exceptions, and it’s possible for an executive director to recuse themselves from discussions about their performance, but that “it’s not advisable.”

“That can create a bit of a contradiction because one of the board’s roles is to supervise the executive director,” he says. “If you are a board member, you’re kind of supervising yourself. You’re providing oversight to your own performance.”

Richardson says it’s likely that Ian left the board because Pacific Wild was trying to get charitable status, and sometimes organizations won’t get approved if the executive director is on the board. In December 2020, Karen also left the board, followed by two other board members. Two new board members were brought in, and the board introduced a conflict of interest clause to Pacific Wild’s bylaws, which had not existed before.

Ian’s catamaran, Habitat, where many of the experiences The Narwhal heard about took place. Photos: Max Bakken.
Ian’s catamaran, Habitat, where many of the experiences The Narwhal heard about took place. Photos: Max Bakken.

When Ian resigned as executive director on Aug. 16, 2021, he didn’t give details as to why he was stepping down. According to the most recent tax return available, from 2019, Ian is listed as the chairman of Pacific Wild Alliance’s U.S. board, but The Narwhal was not able to confirm if he still sits on that board.

“For over 30 years I have been passionately dedicated to conservation and protecting wildlife and their habitat. For the past 12 years, I have been particularly proud of what we have accomplished at Pacific Wild, and of the incredibly talented and dedicated team we have,” he said in a statement.

“I am very excited about the future and direction of Pacific Wild and know that we have built a very strong foundation to continue being a leading voice for wildlife conservation.”

In its 2021 strategic plan, Pacific Wild identifies organizational resilience and accountability as one of its foundational goals.

It says some of its objectives are “diversity and accountability” in its governance structures, as well as policies to support “onboarding, succession planning and resilience.”

Its second goal is respectful relationships with Indigenous communities, with intentions to “uplift the voices of Indigenous communities,” improve protocols and “unlearn” colonial assumptions.

Spring 2022
Victoria, B.C.
Lekwungen territory

Max Bakken bikes by the new Pacific Wild office in Victoria and peeks inside. He’s moved on to a new career. He doesn’t follow what the organization is doing anymore.

He says the conservation world gets less scrutiny because of the assumption everyone is doing “good work.” He hopes former workers sharing their stories will change that.

“If you’re out there saving whales and trying to protect wolf habitat and trying to save animals, I think we have a bit of moral blindness about that. We just assume that those people are inherently good,” he says.

But people doing “good work” aren’t immune to the same failures seen in other industries, he says. People want so badly to be a part of the non-profit sector, they put up with treatment they wouldn’t otherwise, Bakken says.

People need to receive “a living wage and be treated well in that position, not like you’re just replaceable,” he adds. “That’s what I would like to see change.”

He encourages people interviewing for new jobs to ask about the structure of the organization they’re applying for, including who is on the board.

Illustration: Eryn Lougheed / The Narwhal.
Illustration: Eryn Lougheed / The Narwhal.

Madelyn has moved on to a new career as well. But she still wants to see a change.

“When something like this carries on and is enabled by the board of directors and all people in the organization, it just contributes to a culture where this is happening everywhere,” she says.

“I felt silenced in a lot of ways … I was silent for a long time,” she says. “Other people got hurt as a consequence.”

“I would risk a lot to stop that from happening again.”

Editor’s note: A member of The Narwhal’s board of directors, Lauren Eckert, is a Raincoast conservation fellow. As per The Narwhal’s Code of Ethics, the board of directors is not involved in day-to-day news operations.

The Narwhal has received funding through MakeWay Foundation, previously known as Tides Canada, including for reporting on the Great Bear Rainforest. As per our donor transparency policy, all of The Narwhal’s funding is disclosed annually.