CAJ Montreal chapter president resigns

(This article was translated from the original French article that appears on our French sister site, ProjetJ.)

(This article was translated from the original French article that appears on our French sister site, ProjetJ.)

The president of the Montreal chapter of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), Roger-Luc Chayer, has resigned from the organization. He partly blames Monday's CAJ press release distributed in response to comments that day from Quebec Minister of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women, Christine St.-Pierre, regarding the potential establishment of the title of “professional journalist” in Quebec. Chayer claims the release contains false information.

In the release, the CAJ reports that it established a committee in May to consider the recommendations of a report to the Minister by University of Laval professor Dominique Payette (aka the Payette report) regarding professional accreditation, with the participation of the Montreal chapter. But according to Chayer, the Montreal chapter withdrew from the committee following a meeting of the CAJ's executive committee on August 15.

The Montreal chapter instead decided "to form a group of people respected as opinion leaders in Quebec and to publish, as individual signatories, the position of members," as stated in the minutes of the meeting. The vice president of the Montreal chapter, Beryl Wajsman, strongly opposed any regulation of the Quebec media via the adoption of a status of professional journalist and the reinforcement of the Press Council of Quebec. For him, the Payette report is "an affront to freedom of expression" and deserves "a resounding rejection."

In an interview with J-Source's French sister site ProjetJ, CAJ president Hugo Rodrigues reaffirmed the CAJ's commitment to addressing the Payette report and participating in the public debate launched this week by St-Pierre.

"We will do so after considering the recommendations that come from our committee and consulting with our members across Canada," he said.

"Different opinions on this issue are represented on our board. Some are for professional certification, while others are vehemently opposed. This reflects, in my opinion, the diversity of opinion among all Canadian journalists."

Before the CAJ officially responds, Rodrigues plans to consult its members, as the Professional Federation of Quebec Journalists (FPJQ) did this past spring. Such an exercise, he said, is essential, noting that a provincial decision to implement professional accreditation will have repercussions across the country.

Accusations of irregularities

Tension between the CAJ and its Montreal chapter extends beyond the Payette report, says Chayer. He accuses the CAJ of serious irregularities that undermine its credibility and burden its membership.

"I have witnessed some very serious situations within the CAJ, excluding members of the executive committee of Montreal, and I do not wish to associate my name with irregularities that do not honour the journalistic profession," he wrote in his letter of resignation. He believes that the CAJ's published membership numbers are partly fictitious and that the association has fewer than 300 members from coast to coast, while the organization claims 800. In addition, he says the organization has not filed an annual report to Corporations Canada since 2009, and is now in default.

Rodrigues denies any impropriety and maintains that the CAJ actually has 800 members, but that he is not in a position to provide a list. While he is aware of declining numbers — membership has decreased by half over the last two years — he indicates that a plan is in place to boost membership, including providing journalists with useful services such as conferences and training. He said the reasons for the decline are complex. In a J-Source interview published earlier this year, he points to an overall decline of staff journalists across the country as the main culprit.

However, it's not a job loss that motivated Raphael Melançon to resign from his post as treasurer of the Montreal chapter this summer.

"I feel we are so obsessed with squabbles and disagreements that we have become distracted from our primary goal: defending and promoting the interests of professional journalists. We are going around in circles, and so I decided to leave this organization that no longer motivates me," he wrote in his letter of resignation in early August.

It was in this context that several members of the executive committee of the Montreal chapter launched the idea of forming a new association of journalists in Quebec.