David Suzuki forced to resign from board of foundation by "vicious" media attacks

BC environmentalist David Suzuki says he stepped down due to media and political attacks threatening the foundation bearing his name. But staff say it’s not a ‘divorce’—he’ll continue to work as a volunteer.

Photo courtesy of the David Suzuki Foundation

Vancouver environmentalist and Canadian icon David Suzuki cited attacks from opponents and threats to the group’s charitable status as the reason why he left the foundation bearing his name. What some media reports fail to mention is that the press itself was often one of those opponents.

“In the last year, it’s clear that we have been subject to increasingly vicious attacks from our opponents in the media, most notably Postmedia and Sun Media, and we have seen a growing number of what I would describe as sort of ‘smear tactics’ by our opponents in various governments,” said David Suzuki Foundation communications director Jim Boothroyd.

“Those have often been very ad hominem and pointed at David Suzuki. So he felt that it would be best for him and best for the Foundation if he stepped down from our board, while continuing to do a whole lot of volunteering work for us.”

In an open letter released on Friday, the 76-year-old Suzuki describes feeling compelled to speak out against the type of “bullying” faced by charitable organizations across the country. In addition to targeted attacks by Conservative senators investigating environmental groups, the federal government has now committed $8 million in the budget to crack down on charities engaging in political activity.

“I want to speak freely without fear that my words will be deemed too political, and harm the organization of which I am so proud,” Suzuki wrote.

“I am keenly aware that some governments, industries and special interest groups are working hard to silence us. They use threats to the Foundation's charitable status in attempts to mute its powerful voice on issues that matter deeply to you and many other Canadians.”

In a CTV interview, Suzuki pointed a finger at Sun Media for calling his work and his foundation “too political”, and Sun Media’s Ezra Levant responded with a segment on his show The Source backing up their claims about his “uncharitable behaviour”.

Levant and Sun Media editor Lorrie Goldstein said many of Suzuki’s actions could be considered overtly partisan, citing a Liberal party video featuring the famous environmental advocate. As the “public face” of the Suzuki Foundation, opponents say these types of actions are outside of the limits for political activity by charities, set by the Canada Revenue Agency.

But Boothroyd says it’s important to separate Suzuki’s personal statements and appearances from the work of the Foundation.

“In the last few years, in particular in the last year, his comments have attracted more intense criticism. And when they do, that criticism has been leveled at the Foundation,” he said.

“People do not see often a separation between the man and the foundation that he helped create.”

The Foundation moving forward

Though he actually left the board last year, Suzuki’s recent letter has sparked a flurry of media attention around the Foundation. But Boothroyd explained that it hasn’t been as dramatic a departure as some may think.

“We’re not separated from David. We still see him,” he said.

“So people don’t feel like we’re being divorced from David Suzuki. Specifically, we’re losing him as a board member and we have a very talented board.”

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