The World we live in

Panel discussion April 27 on “free speech, ethics and democracy” as part of the Ottawa International Book & Food Expo held at the Horticulture Building. PHOTO: LIZ MCKEEN


On the weekend of April 27 and 28 at the Horticulture Building in Lansdowne, an event took place called, more or less, “Ottawa International Book & Food Expo.” The event featured panel discussions (as above) billed as a discussion of free speech, ethics and democracy. They featured speakers such as Maxime Bernier, Randy Hillier, Andrew Lawton and other personalities considered far right or who were associated with the “freedom convoy.” The Expo itself showcased books, alternative health, nutrition and foods. The event also offered singles meet-ups, advertised with scantily clad women.

This event at Lansdowne was flagged for concern by Community Solidarity Ottawa (, a grassroots organization that is “building a community response to the far right.” This led to an investigation by the editor of PressProgress, a not-for-profit media outlet funded by the Broadbent Institute ( He turned up a number of anomalies such as fake employees and false sponsorship claims. The Ottawa Public Library, the Hill Times and others denied sponsorship although their logos are on the website. The Mexican Embassy cancelled its participation. Ottawa Tourism removed the event from their website, saying that it had “misrepresented itself.”

The Ottawa International Writers Festival, a respected event with a reputation built over 27 years, rushed out a press release on April 28 to state emphatically, in bold face, “We are NOT affiliated in any way with the Book Expo, its organizers, or the speakers they presented.” The urgency was because the “Book Expo” was being confused with the Writers Festival, and no wonder. One of the names used by the “Book Expo” was “Ottawa International Book Festival.” Their website is “” whereas the Writers Festival website is identical but with the domain .org rather than .ca. The “Book Expo” took place less than a week before the actual spring Writers Festival held May 2 to 5.

What to think about all of this? I think the problem lies not with the event itself – free speech, after all – but with the deception and misrepresentation that surrounds it. The sly positioning of the event next to the respected Ottawa International Writers Festival. The attempt to normalize discussions that many people are appalled by, insinuating them into existing well-known contexts like a book fair – what could be more innocuous? This attempt to mask and deceive is worrisome – it requires an uncomfortable degree of vigilance on our part to see through the misrepresentations and pseudo-legitimacy.

–Liz McKeen

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