Letter to Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps Regarding Canadian Catholic Newspapers

Thursday, March 04 1999

The Honourable Sheila Copps
Minister of Canadian Heritage
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A4

Dear Ms. Copps:

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has recently been made aware of a decision by your ministry’s Publications Assistance Program to deny at least four Catholic newspapers in Canada postal subsidies on the grounds that they do not meet minimum Canadian content regulations.

The newspapers in question, the BC Catholic from British Columbia, the Prairie Messenger from Saskatchewan, the Catholic Register of Toronto and the New Freeman from Saint John, New Brunswick, are all locally or regionally produced publications that play a major role in the dissemination of news and information to the Catholic communities they serve.

These papers are staffed by local people and operate on very limited budgets. The effect of denying the postal subsidies to them would seriously endanger their existence and in effect reduce the Canadian presence in Catholic publications, running contrary to the very purpose of the Publications Assistance Program. Canadian Catholics would have to rely on foreign publications for their news and these publications would have very little Canadian content.

The reason cited for denying the subsidies, given with less than a week’s notice, was that these papers did not have 80 percent Canadian content. This decision is most questionable. Part of the content that was not deemed Canadian were stories from Canadian Catholic News (CCN), a co- operative news distribution system set up by the seven largest Catholic papers in Canada. Through this co-operative, the member papers exchange stories and use the services of a freelance reporter working out of the Press Gallery in Ottawa to report on national issues that affect Catholics across Canada.

To deny that CCN material should be treated as Canadian content because it is not original to the individual publication is unacceptable. To say that Canadian content can only mean content produced locally within the boundaries where those newspapers publish goes against the grain of what it means to be Canadian. Surely a newspaper must report on issues that have impact on its subscribers locally, regionally, provincially, nationally and internationally, and use the tools that are available and within their financial means to do so. Not to allow the Catholic press in Canada to adequately report on events from outside Canadian borders is also puzzling, considering the core role the Vatican plays in the life of the Roman Catholic Church. An international perspective is surely an important mark of all Canadian churches as well as the Canadian government.

I would invite you to read any of these newspapers and you will most certainly attest to their Canadian identity and content. The effect of cutting the subsidies could result in the closing of some of these papers, and the closing of Canadian Catholic News. I call upon you, as Heritage Minister, to re-examine this decision so that all Canadian religious publications can go forward in their important and vital role of serving Canadian society and their respective faiths.

These newspapers are not simply organs of the Catholic Church. They regularly offer valuable criticism of Church as well as social policies and activities, just as the secular press offers criticism of social as well as religious policies and activities, and so play an essential and vital role in the issues we debate. We would be adversely affected without them.

I thank you in advance for your attention in this matter.


Msgr. Peter Schonenbach, PH
General Secretary