Je suis Charlie – ‘You can’t let this attack change the way you work’- Bruce MacKinnon, nationally acclaimed cartoonist

By Drake Lowthers
Jan. 27, 2015

Halifax cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon remembers Jan. 7 as “A very dark day.”
“It was 12 people mowed down in cold blood and it was extremely shocking.”
But the Antigonish native and 17-time Atlantic Journalism Award winning editorial cartoonist wasn’t scared.
Two masked-gunman entered the offices and murdered 12 members of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo after controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohammed were published.
MacKinnon doesn’t have an immediate reason to fear.
“You can’t let that change what you do. I’m not going to let it change what I do. Try not to let it effect your life.”
Violence towards journalists has been seen in the mainstream media increasingly this past year at the hands of ISIS militants.
From beheadings of prisoned journalists to the recent claiming and praising of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris on Jan. 7, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has kept violence towards journalists one of its top priorities.
Gary MacDougall, editor of The Guardian in Charlottetown, said the violence is happening because ISIS wants publicity, so they commit violent acts against members of the media.
“A lot of the tactics of the violent extremists are designed to stir things up in the West. To stir up hatred and animosity in the West.”
Grabbing the media’s attention with a bold statement seems to be how ISIS continues to relay its message, MacDougall said.
In the wake of the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks, The Guardian hasn’t done anything different, nor do they feel as if there is a need to, MacDougall said.
“But of course in this ever-changing world, you never know when something crazy is going to happen, especially in this era of the lone wolf.”
A lone wolf is someone who commits or prepares for violent acts outside of any command structure alone and without material assistance from any group.
In the era of the lone wolf, an attack similar could happen anywhere in Canada, MacDougall said.
“The lone wolf just wants to make a splash and he wants to make it somewhere that makes it an interesting target.”
MacDougall said he hopes his decision to not change anything isn’t one he regrets in hindsight.
But population-wise and per capita-wise, the numbers are probably in P.E.I.’s favour with not having many lone wolves, compared to a city like Toronto.
MacKinnon, who has been the editorial cartoonist for The Chronicle Herald in Halifax, N.S., since 1986, said there are guidelines everywhere and everybody has them.
“My thoughts and considerations are first, I work for a family newspaper. There are always going to be issues of legality, if a cartoon is liable.”
MacKinnon said if he has something to say about an issue, he wants to find a way to say it, so it gets into the paper and gets published, so it will have an effect and maybe influence someone’s opinion.
There are matters of taste in almost every newspaper in the land, MacKinnon said.
“Over the years, they (Chronicle Herald) trusted me to go with my own instincts and create what I wanted to. I learned ways to say what I want to say.”
The Guardian didn’t publish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed a few years ago when they caused controversy, and they didn’t repeat them in the last few weeks when they were published in France and different Canadian media outlets.
“My position is I fully support the right of the media to do satire and to publish what they want, within the confines of the law.”
Sometimes, with just publishing things, you have to be careful of hurting people’s feelings and insulting them for no particular reason, MacDougall said.
MacDougall fully supports what the French magazine did but it isn’t something The Guardian would do, he said.
“We’re a completely different kind of media outlet. They were a satirical magazine and we’re a general news newspaper, where we hope people of all faiths are going to read us.”
MacDougall said just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you have to.
MacKinnon said he was initially upset after finding out about the Charlie Hebdo attacks and compared it to the day that Nathan Cirillo was shot on home soil.
Cirillo a Canadian soldier, was standing as a ceremonial guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at The National War Memorial on Parliament Hill on Oct. 22, 2014 when he was fatally shot and killed by a lone wolf.
As a cartoonist and journalist, MacKinnon said the Charlie Hebdo attack hit closer to home for him.
The Guardian has had some security threats in the past, but nothing serious, MacDougall said.
“We’ve had issues at the courthouse, when we have people down there and people don’t want their picture taken. There has been some issues of interference run against our photographers and things like that.”
With the attack on Charlie Hebdo, The Guardian has no plans at the present time to change its security, MacDougall said.
“It wouldn’t be unusual in the coming months that there were security matters. We certainly have no plans for any security changes in the light of recent events. If they happen, it would just be changes in the world we live in, the same as down at the government buildings.”
Even though The Guardian does have some security inside its building, the front door remains unlocked and open to the public, unlike the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where its front door remains locked and you need access granted.
MacKinnon said in his 30 years of cartooning he’s had a lot of threatening language thrown at him but as for an actual death threat, he doesn’t think so.
“You make people angry when you do these things. Usually you’re taking a side, one way or another. There are always people on both sides of the coin.”
MacKinnon doesn’t plan to change the way he looks at or completes his cartoons after the recent Hebdo attacks.
“If anything, it pushes you in the other direction, not away from the issue but more towards it. It makes you angry. It makes you think ‘You’re not going to get away with this.’”
We live in Canada, so relatively speaking, we’re about as safe as we can be, MacKinnon said.