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Setting the record straight on the ‘Pike’ Mike Covid predicament story

"Pike' Mike Harrison is a longtime fishing guide in the NWT. From his Facebook page

As publisher, I have to set the record straight on Yellowknifer Columnist Nancy Vail’s opinion on the treatment of ‘Pike’ Mike Harrison by News/North and unnamed “public health office, senior government officials.” Vail scolded both for shaming of ‘Pike’ Mike Harrison.

You can click here to read her column.

Bruce Valpy, Publisher, NNSL Media, Northern News Services Ltd.By “public health office, senior government officials,“ I expect Vail was trying not to out Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola, who outed herself quite publicly by making it clear she takes her office, its powers and the reasons for them very seriously: Anyone openly defying them will be stopped from doing so by any means required, up to and including prosecution and incarceration.

Click here to read the story on Kandola.

While Kandola’s steely stance may distress Vail, no doubt it gives great comfort to those families with elders and medically vulnerable members in the smaller communities in the area like Jean Marie River, Trout Lake, Fort Liard and Kakisa, all dreading a further spread of the virus outside of Yellowknife.

But Vail is not accurately telling the story of ‘Pike’ Mike’s predicament. Pike Mike contacted NNSL Media. I asked NNSL Managing Editor Mike Bryant what happened.

Click here to read his reply.

So, neither editors nor reporters “outed” him. To compare his deliberate actions to legitimately withholding the identity of the single Covid-19 patient identified in Yellowknife is a stretch of the facts.

Related coverage:

Ice Lake Rebels star stuck in 'COVID-predicament' at the border

The day the story went out, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson also commented, calling it irresponsible reporting on Facebook. Johnson felt we were glorifying Harrison and undermining the authority of the public safety protocols and the GNWT. We discussed it over Messenger. 

My argument was as follows: Rylund, don't understand why you think it is irresponsible reporting. I do think the headline is a problem, open to misinterpretation that Yellowknifer somehow has taken up his cause. I will speak to editors about that. Ultimately though, he seems determined to flaunt the law and now the authorities are warned and public is informed. Even with the flawed headline, isn't it better to have this fellow outed than wandering around anonymously?

Johnson replied: Yeah I guess my issue is the people sharing this appeared to be taking up the cause and with the end of the article quoting his quest it seems that was the intent of the article. No issue with the rest of the article or the reporting of this. But I think we’re in agreement that making a cause out of ignoring public health orders isn’t what was intended.

The headline in question was: 'Let Pike Mike In': Ice Lake Rebels star stuck in 'COVID-predicament' at the border ‘ After discussion with Johnson, I simply removed the 'Let Pike Mike In' and the headline remaining was supported by the facts in the story.

Again as publisher, my role is to ensure balance in our opinions and coverage. I must also again balance off Vail’s attack on the mines still operating. Despite her past denial that she holds mining in contempt, there is no mistaking her hostility for the industry in this latest article in her defence of Pike Mike.

Are the mines taking a risk? Yes. Has the health officer assessed the risk based upon the protocols brought to bear by the GNWT, the company and unions if they are involved? Yes. While slamming the judgement of our professional health officials, Vail is again ignoring the families the mines feed and the personal sacrifices the miners make to leave their families at this terrible time, which also happens to benefit the Northern economy presently under brutal siege. Hopefully, something might be left of the industry once the Covid-19 dust settles and people will have jobs to go back to.

One more point: Contrary to Vail’s assertion and according to Snowking, ‘Pike’ Mike never worked on the Snowcastle and was never involved.  

Make no mistake though, Nancy Vail is a valuable contributor to NNSL. She and we are all writing on the fly doing our best for our readers. We will make mistakes - as we did in the original headline on the ‘Pike’ Mike story - we all do. I expect Vail will hold myself and our editorial department accountable - as she has done in the past - as much as we will with her.