A political hit job in the name of progress: how UCP candidate Caylan Ford fell from grace
On paper, Caylan Ford is the ideal candidate that a self-described progressive party like the Alberta NDP should want to see entering the rough-and-tumble world of politics.
Ford is a highly educated and accomplished 32-year-old woman and mother of two young daughters. Her husband spent a lot of the time looking after their kids for the last nine months so that she could devote long days to campaigning as the United Conservative Party candidate for the riding of Mountain View in northern Calgary. Before running for office, Ford earned master’s degrees from George Washington University and Oxford University in international affairs and international human rights law. She is currently on maternity leave from her job as a senior policy advisor at Global Affairs Canada, a role during which she served on UN delegations. She has also spent years advocating for religious and ethnic minorities’ human rights, most recently writing and co-producing an award-winning documentary on tortured Chinese political prisoners.
Her resume caught the eye of UCP leader Jason Kenney, who sang her praises and put her at the forefront of his party; she was the only candidate promoted in ads on Kenney’s Facebook page and he glowingly said she is “the personification of what I call a new generation of leadership.”
But Ford was on the wrong side of the political aisle, which put her in the crosshairs of Alberta’s left.
Press Progress, an NDP-affiliated and hyper-partisan media outlet, has been sniping at the UCP over the past year. They’ve succeeded in killing candidate bids and maligning the party by digging up controversial and embarrassing comments from nomination races and then presenting them in the worst possible light. A project of the NDP think-tank the Broadbent Institute, Press Progress is essentially a clearinghouse for the Alberta NDP’s dirty work. It has been publishing opposition research on the NDP’s political enemies since 2013, nearly exclusively targeting provincial and federal Conservatives.
Press Progress’s connections with the NDP and the outlet’s partisan attacks on political rivals, raise questions about the party promoting these articles in recent months on social media.
Changes to Alberta’s election law, reformed by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government at the end of 2017, requires an organization to register as a third-party advertiser if “it has incurred, or plans to incur, expenses of at least $1,000 for political advertising,” even in the months leading up to an election. The Rebel and Canadian Taxpayers Federation were reprimanded earlier this year by the election commissioner (a position created by Notley’s NDP) for buying billboards attacking the NDP; both organizations are challenging the constitutionality of the new laws in court.
The success of Press Progress’s hatchet jobs over the past year has certainly revealed holes in the UCP’s vetting process (or that it’s nearly impossible to look over every controversial thing a person has said and done publicly in the digital age). But the Press Progress hit pieces from last year also showed a party skittish of losing its lead position in the polls by risking defending anyone found to have said something that could be seen as remotely controversial. This is likely out of a fear of crashing and burning like the now-defunct Wildrose Party in the 2012 election, resulting in large part from the party allowing one candidate who made homophobic statements to stay in the race.
(In a sad irony, Kenney finally decided to stand behind a candidate revealed to have said homophobic comments, which Kenney condemned without kicking the candidate out. Political observers believe the main reason for Kenney keeping him on the team is that it was too late to replace him.)
Press Progress certainly has had the odd legitimate scoop, but many of the outlet’s “exclusive” articles are nothing more than flimsy, torqued stories reputable news outlets would never run.
The political hit job on Ford is case in point of the latter.
The article published a few weeks ago, dripping with innuendo and bad-faith inferences, obliterated Ford’s promising political career within hours of it blowing up on social media.
A few snippets of private philosophical conversations were all the evidence some journalists needed to join in with the frenzied mob of progressives pillorying Ford for what they believed, without a doubt, was evidence of her expressing white supremacist or white nationalist views.
But all of this conjecture and judgment leveled at Ford was based on a few ambiguous messages of private conversations devoid of all context. Her messages to a former friend—who has now had bad blood towards her for months—were conveniently published by the propaganda arm of the party in power, then preparing to go to war against the UCP the very next day when NDP Premier Rachel Notley called the election.
Ford first met Karim Jivraj in Toronto at a PC Ontario Lunar New Year banquet in early 2017. They became fast friends because of their shared interests in political philosophy and world affairs. Both have prestigious educations—Jivraj studied at the Sorbonne and Cornell—and the two would often discuss philosophers and social theorists, debating ideas at length.
Seasoned in grassroots Canadian Conservative politics, Jivraj has spent years as a Conservative politico, sitting on many riding association boards, working on many a candidate’s campaign and running as the federal Conservative candidate in Toronto’s University-Rosedale last federal election, finishing third to now-Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.
Looking back, Ford says there were red flags from the beginning of their friendship and admits, in a reflective and lengthy personal essay, she comes across looking “like a foolish naïf.”
For example, Ford said about a month after they met, Jivraj invited her to attend a riding association board meeting he was a member of to see local party politics in action for the first time. Hours before the meeting, a copy of a poison pen email was sent to board members and Ford received a blind carbon copy (the recipient is concealed from other recipients) from an account of a person connected to Jivraj that disparaged a young woman running for president of the board that evening.
The email, obtained by The Post Millennial, maligns the young woman as a “glamour girl” with no accomplishments to her name. After the meeting, Ford says the woman confronted Jivraj about the malicious email, believing he was involved. Ford confronted him as well after the board meeting since she randomly received a copy as well from Jivraj’s acquaintance she hadn’t met. Ford says he admitted being involved but didn’t have a justification for why they did it.
Jivraj told The Post Millennial he had no involvement with the email being sent. The young woman did not respond to request for comment. The owner of the email account that sent the email denied knowing Jivraj or the young woman when contacted by phone. The Post Millennial subsequently confirmed the sender of the email and Jivraj do know each other.
“I think I sort of flattered myself into thinking maybe I can have some salubrious effect on this guy’s character,” said Ford in a phone interview. “If I’m nice to him, and I reproach him when I see him doing bad things, and you know, give him books on moral philosophy—‘cause he’s a smart guy—he has some good ideas, he could actually potentially contribute meaningfully to Canadian civic life if he stopped doing bad things.”
She continued to be friends with him despite what she said were warning signs, finding him to be charismatic, well read and what she thought at the time to be a “good-faith intellectual sparring partner.”
A few months later Jivraj was planning to move to Calgary (where Ford grew up) after he had a falling out with the Ontario PC party brass. According to prominent Conservative figures with the PCs at the time, party insiders were convinced Jivraj was the user of an anonymous Twitter account spreading rumours about party members and publishing occasional bits of insider data from ridings Jivraj was involved with.
“So we basically told him to go away. He was done,” one prominent insider said.
Jivraj denies this characterization and says he left in good standing with the party, which never officially revoked his membership.
Upon moving to Calgary, Ford helped him find a job articling at a law firm and a place to live with a friend of hers.
In the first of several phone calls with The Post Millennial, Jivraj says that in the summer of 2017, a couple of months after moving to Calgary, he decided he wanted nothing to do with Ford because some of their conversations had troubled him, leading him to think she held white nationalist and racist beliefs. This was the same summer that the conversations Press Progress leaked occured.
Although Ford deleted her Facebook messages with Jivraj after she says he repeatedly sent rude messages to her, she is certain Jivraj was the other person in the conversations. (Ford has tried to retrieve her deleted messages to no avail, but she does have other messages that show Jivraj turning unpleasant.) Back in January, an anonymous Twitter account began tweeting out screenshots of Ford’s private Facebook messages to taunt her. In one of those tweets Jivraj’s Facebook profile name was visible in the screengrab.
At around the same time, a disgruntled conservative Twitter troll told Ford someone was shopping private Facebook messages of hers around to lots of media outlets.
How long Press Progress sat on the story is one of several questions posed to the outlet without a response.
Jivraj says his legal counsel has instructed him not to comment on whether he was the other party in the conversation or the one who leaked it to Press Progress.
“She’s Faith Goldy with a library card,” he said in the first interview, referring to the far-right nationalist mainly concerned about the size of the white population in Canada and immigration levels.
“I simply don’t hold the views that Jivraj has tried to attribute to me here. And in my conversations with him I was very clear in denouncing white nationalism” says Ford.
In a follow-up interview, Jivraj softened his previous assertions.
“I never accused Ford of being a white supremacist or a white nationalist.”
“I don’t know how much of a friend Ms. Ford considered me to be, I always considered her to be an acquaintance, we had some interesting conversations certainly, but these were questions with insinuations that I started to ask myself how well do I really know this person,” continued Jivraj.
A recorded conversation and emails provided to The Post Millennial from Ford tell a different story. Jivraj still saw her as a friend in the summer of 2018.
“I’ve been a total asshole to you and I’m sorry. It bothers me to no end that I can’t even muster the courage to acknowledge you,” reads part of an email Jivraj sent Ford on July 19 of last year to invite her to his campaign launch to vie for the Conservative Party of Canada candidacy in Calgary Centre. A nomination race the party would ultimately bar him from running in. “You’ve been one of the few kind people in my life, and I would very much like for you to be part of this evening.”
“I don’t know if I was saying she was a great person,” said Jivraj in a phone interview about the friendly email. “I know at the time, and I probably still am, that I was grateful, that there were some moments where she genuinely helped me out.”
First attempts to end Ford’s nascent political career
Jivraj’s first action that could’ve derailed Ford’s political aspirations took place at the beginning of March last year. In text messages obtained by The Post Millennial, Jivraj told another UCP candidate that Ford was accusing the candidate of inappropriate sexual advances.
“Karim had started this rumour about me, saying that I made unfounded accusations of sexual harassment against other UCP candidates. This is a career-killing accusation. If you’re new to politics, you’re trying to get your foot in the door, power brokers are generally male, if they think you make spurious accusations of that nature you’re toast, they won’t even meet with you, to protect themselves, quite understandably.”
Eventually someone else in the party advised the worried candidate to ask Ford directly about the alleged accusation she was making against him. After speaking, Ford and the candidate came to the realization that Jivraj had fabricated the accusation.
“As soon as I realized that [the candidate] reached out to [Ford], I now found myself in a personally compromised situation. Like, ‘Oh shit.’ This is my initial reaction, I froze up … because I violated Ford’s trust and I’ve implicated [the candidate] in the rumour mill,” says Jivraj about why he denied making up the allegation when confronted by Ford.
In a recorded phone call, he denies any idea of what Ford is talking about when she confronts him, despite Jivraj maintaining to The Post Millennial that she did actually make those allegations against the candidate to Jivraj prior to the recorded call with him.
Jivraj’s second action that could’ve derailed Ford’s candidacy happened late last year.
After Ford filed a request to run for office with her employer (a requirement for federal employees) that stated she would be running for the UCP nomination in Mountain View in April of last year, Ford says Jivraj caught wind of her intentions and decided to run to become the Mountain View riding association president.
Jivraj has a different version of events, saying he found it odd she followed him back to Calgary and then decided to run in the riding he became riding association president in.
After winning the position of riding association president, Jivraj helped author a letter addressed to a UCP executive claiming Ford was ineligible to run as a nomination candidate because she hadn’t lived in the province long enough. At the time, Jivraj was also actively helping another nomination candidate try to win the UCP nomination in Mountain View.
The month prior, Ford had to begin the process of legal action against Jivraj in order to get him to relinquish ownership of her domain name. (Jivraj says he bought all the domain names of all the candidates in Mountain View.)
In phone conversations with The Post Millennial, Jivraj downplayed his involvement in drafting the letter and getting board members to sign it, pointing out he didn’t sign it himself. But several board members who spoke to The Post Millennial all said that Jivraj was the one insistent they sign it. He showed some of them his private Facebook messages with Ford as proof that she hadn’t lived in the province long enough. Board members who signed it say they felt duped by Jivraj, and that when someone leaked it to Press Progress and other media they were surprised to find he hadn’t signed it himself.
After the letter was leaked to media, Jivraj acted as if he had no prior knowledge of the letter in both an email and at a board meeting, which incensed board members who he had had sign it. He resigned as president soon after, but not before cancelling one meeting and facing another impending one where the board was planning to kick him out.
The executive director later concluded that Ford was eligible to run and the claims in the letter were a misinterpretation of party rules. Jivraj says the party’s response made no sense, and maintains Ford was given an exemption to the party rules on residency.
In January of this year, during the UCP Mountain View nomination race, a mass email with the subject line “Caylan Ford: Too Good To Live Here” was sent out to 1,400 party members of the riding from an anonymous email account. The email contained falsehoods such as claiming Ford had never had a job in Calgary and a made-up quote: “I’m a South Calgarian. I would never live or raise my family in North Calgary. Anywhere above the Bow is basically a suburb.”
Ford previously lived in the north of Calgary for her undergrad.
“One of the flimsy pieces of evidence that I found was someone tried to log in to this anonymous account,” says Jivraj about the latter incident, which he denies was him. “They then basically found that the backup email was my personal gmail account. And I wrote to them or I made a call saying, ‘Guys, you can say that I’m devious, you can say that I have ill will, but to think that I would send an email from an anonymous account which links directly back to my account implies a level of stupidity for which I’ve never been accused.’”
Jivraj denies he had the membership list to send the mass email, but internal emails discussing the matter said Jivraj’s access to the membership list needed to be revoked.
Jivraj says Ford is not an innocent victim in all of this. He has filed a police report with the Calgary Police regarding an incident at a cafe on January 9 where he and a witness allege Ford “aggressively placed her hand on his back” and told him he was going to be served with a defamation lawsuit. The police report was filed on February 12.
“Some of this stuff that Ford purports to abhor, is the very same stuff she inflicted on me. I think you can kind of get a sense of this by [her] Medium articles, but do also take into account that this was not a one-sided campaign. Ford dragged my name through the mud.”
Dissecting the Press Progress hit piece
On March 18, 2019 at 2:49 PM Mountain Time, Press Progress editor Luke LeBrun sent Ford’s campaign an email asking for urgent comment on private messages of Ford’s he had obtained with a firm deadline of three hours or no later than 6 PM MT. The email contained loaded questions for Ford, drawing “parallels” or connections with her private comments to that of white nationalists and the far-right.
After not hearing back for an hour and three quarters, he sent her another email saying he was halfway through his deadline. After 32 more minutes had passed, he sent another email simply saying: “One hour.”
Ford says the email didn’t come to her attention until four, after which she took an hour before asking who provided Press Progress with the messages. LeBrun told her it was “a prominent conservative” and sent her a few more emails pressing for comment while also counting down the clock.
Ford says she decided not to respond and give comment, figuring she wouldn’t get a fair shake because of Press Progress’s affiliation with the NDP, and their misrepresentations of her in their previous reporting.
In October of last year, Press Progress first reported on Ford regarding the riding association letter attempting to disqualify her. Ford says Press Progress didn’t reach out for comment for that story and that she ignored the story. When Press Progress published “Here Are All The Bozos, Bigots and Sketchy Characters Who Created Chaos for Jason Kenney’s UCP in 2018,” the rundown included Ford and the Mountain View board letter, calling her an “Ontario resident.” Ford tried to set the record straight, but Press Progress wouldn’t correct and repeated the false information in a subsequent article.
In the Press Progress article that led to Ford resigning—”UCP Candidate Complained ‘White Supremacist Terrorists’ Are Treated Unfairly, Leaked Messages Show”—the nameless author (there’s no name attached to the story) frames Ford’s messages as “echo[ing] white nationalist rhetoric” and complained about white supremacist terrorists not being treated as fairly as Islamic terrorists.
In the first of three statements, Ford wrote:
When the perpetrator is an Islamist, the denunciations are intermingled with breathless assurances that they do not represent Islam, that Islam is a religion of peace, etc. When the terrorists are white supremacists, that kind of soul-searching or attempts to understand the sources of their radicalization or their perverse moral reasoning is beyond the pale.
When the terrorists are white supremacists, that kind of soul-searching or attempts to understand the sources of their radicalization or their perverse moral reasoning is beyond the pale. And anyone who shares even some of their views (e.g. wanting strong borders and immigration control), while rejecting the more odious aspects, is painted with the same brush. All are white supremacists, all should be extricated and denounced and marginalized. You just don’t have the same attempts to separate the violent terrorists from the wider community of belief.
Press Progress highlighted sections of these messages, suggesting Ford was complaining white supremacist terrorists are treated unfairly compared to Islamic terrorists. A close reading of her argument shows she called their beliefs a form of “perverse moral reasoning,” but that reasonable people can have overlapping views with extremists.
“My recollection of this conversation is that I was discussing ways to reduce the risk of radicalization,” explains Ford in her essay.
In Ford’s second message, Press Progress excised a qualifying statement from her original message, which read, “I would reject that appellation FYI, but yeah…”
So Ford is disagreeing with the wording of the other person’s message in the conversation, but Press Progress removed the context, without indicating the omission with ellipsis (three periods, standard practice when cutting down a quote mid-sentence), citing only the following words:
I am somehow saddened by the demographic replacement of white peoples in their homelands—more in Europe than in America—partly because it’s clear that it will not be a peaceful transition, and partly because the loss of demographic diversity in the human race is sad.
Press Progress suggests that Ford saying demographic replacement “echoe[s]” European far-right extremists using the term “great replacement,” a term for a conspiracy theory where adherents believe a cabal is conspiring to replace white Europeans with Muslim immigrants in Western countries. However, Ford did not use the term “great replacement,” instead citing the very real phenomenon of governments in highly industrialized countries’ choosing high immigration levels to offset population decline due to low birthrates and an aging population. Demographers routinely refer to highly industrialized countries’ high immigration levels as “replacement migration”. Ford also says she elaborated in her conversations with Jivraj, “express[ing] a sense of sadness at the loss of indigenous customs and languages, at assimilationist policies in Xinjiang and the Tibetan plateau, and the slow disappearance of other global cultures.”
But Press Progress wasn’t done spreading the innuendo on thick. The nameless author cited the New Zealand mosque shooting and the terrorist’s manifesto, “that was also titled ‘the great replacement,’” which had only happened the week prior. A clear exploitation of a tragedy by attaching it to Ford privately saying “demographic replacement” two years prior.
Finally, in the third message Ford said:
I think it is unlikely Western culture will survive without Western peoples. Why would another race want to cast away their own culture to adopt someone else’s on such a massive scale?
Certainly a controversial statement, but again, this was in a private debate with a Muslim friend who happened to share the same views about the need for immigrants to assimilate.
Bizarrely, the Press Progress article casts aspersions on Ford for her inactivity on social media after the Christchurch tragedy. The nameless author mentions how “political leaders” had “denounced racism and anti-Muslim bigotry” after Christchurch, but that “Ford’s social media has so far remained silent on the subject—although the Facebook Messenger messages may shed some light on her thinking.”
Ford admits that the messages leaked to Press Progress were clumsily worded but that she was imprecise with her language because she was in a private conversation with someone she thought she trusted.
“‘White’ peoples is also clumsy and imprecise language: I know as well as anyone that the boundaries of racial categories are in constant flux, and the idea of a pan-European white race is a relatively recent social construct.”
While attending the Sorbonne in Paris, Jivraj experienced the tumultuous debate firsthand. “I was in this group of people openly talking about, ‘Fuck France. Fuck the West,’ all of that stuff,” he told The Walrus back in 2015. His time in Europe was a formative experience for him. He is a vocal critic of immigration without assimilation, calling for immigrants to drop their “cultural baggage at the airport,” including religion, language, and clothing. Jivraj argues Western countries should embrace a multi-ethnic monocultural civic nationalism in order to avoid tribal fighting between different cultures coexisting within a society. Jivraj has expressed these ideas in debates and columns. Of Ismaili Muslim background, Jivraj is not religious and is a staunch critic of radical Islam.
“I could certainly see and conceive of cases where there are comments and statements that are so disturbing, combined with other statements that have been made orally, that frankly you find so nauseating, so disturbing, that they could incite a deep level of regret, and force you to make a very difficult choice,” says Jivraj when asked in a phone interview if someone in a situation like his should publicize private conversations they feel uncomfortable with. “I think that I could empathize with that situation.”
So was Press Progress’s source really a concerned Muslim “whistleblower” who believes Ford sympathizes with white supremacists? Or was it someone with an axe to grind who went to the NDP’s hatchet men whom were all too eager to do the deed?
If you’re explaining, you’re losing
After the Press Progress story disseminated on social media, journalists from mainstream media outlets reached out for comment and were preparing follow-up stories. Rather than provide journalists with a comment, Ford posted a response to the Press Progress hit piece with a Facebook post saying that her messages had been taken out of context. The Facebook post also explained why she was stepping down: that even though she didn’t believe her comments crossed a line, she did not want to be a distraction and hurt the party’s chances of winning the election.
In politics, if you’re explaining, you’re losing. In Ford’s case, the party brass likely saw it was too difficult to defend her and told her to drop out—it took her several thousand words to explain herself in her essay. This dissection of what happened is similarly lengthy. If Ford stayed on the party’s roster, journalists would have likely bombarded Kenney with questions of why he was keeping on a white supremacist for days on end in a 28-day campaign. Easier to cut your losses than try to explain controversial private conversations taken out of context.
Yet there are consequences to this political calculus.
Ford’s relative silence and dropping out of the race resulted in an echoing of Press Progress’s hit piece by mainstream news outlets like the Toronto Star and CBC.
The following morning the CBC published a follow-up story entitled “Star UCP candidate who resigned over white supremacist comments also questioned value of Pride parades”.
In the article the same Press Progress source gave CBC a conversation where they asked Ford for her “take” on Pride parades. Ford then said she was “playing devil’s advocate” and asked, “Why would one march in Pride?”
From there, the character assassination was complete. A follow-up CBC article described Ford as one of “Two Calgary candidates [that] dropped out of the election after racist and homophobic opinions were revealed in posted comments by Eva Kiryakos and private messages by Caylan Ford.”
Canada’s public broadcaster was now essentially labeling Ford, an alumnus of Oxford University and advocate of religious and ethnic minorities, a “white supremacist.”
Would CBC have ever run this story of a private conversation, where the source elicited a response to debate the merit of Pride parades and the subject’s response was to play devil’s advocate, if the shoddy Press Progress story hadn’t first been published?
In what was likely a calculated political move, Kenney and other Conservative politicians denounced Ford’s comments alongside the other parties. This cowardice and political pragmatism will only embolden hyper-partisan outlets like Press Progress to further push the envelope in peddling innuendo.
After staying silent to interview requests for two weeks, Ford went on the popular radio host and former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s show to tell her side of the story.
A journalist from The Star Calgary denounced Smith for letting Ford tell her side of the story and tweeted: “Why in the fresh hell are we giving airtime to an unapologetic white supremacist so she can continue to deny [that] she was deeply disturbing and problematic?”
Progress Alberta, a registered third-party advertiser affiliated with the NDP that regularly promotes Press Progress stories, made a petition calling for Global to take action against Smith for giving a “white supremacist” a platform and claimed that if no action was taken they would resort to “contacting advertisers, boycotting advertisers and media campaigns targeting advertisers.”
Press Progress even called out two other UCP candidates in an article entitled “Meet 30 Candidates for Jason Kenney’s UCP Who Got Caught Promoting Hateful and Extremist Views” for liking one of Ford’s tweets.
The left had played judge, jury and executioner, and any questions to the contrary or defence of Ford were unacceptable.
In this brave new world of social media, hyper-partisan press (e.g.The Rebel and Press Progress), and drive-by smears, the traditional gatekeepers are often no longer holding journalism to a high standard. Too frequently, trusted media institutions are following the yellow journalism of some of the least ethical new partisan press. This will only further degrade people’s trust in media.
As for political parties responding with the knee-jerk reaction of throwing any maligned candidate overboard, it’s only going to encourage more hit pieces with thinner and thinner evidence of wrongthink.
Is it any wonder, then, why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is currently decrying white nationalism as basically the greatest threat to Canada in the lead-up to the federal election?
“I’ve spent my life studying totalitarian systems and trying to understand how they take hold in what are otherwise people who are very civilized, good, and normal people,” said Ford in an interview with The Post Millennial. “How do you end up being run by tyrannical systems? And one of the things is if you believe that your opponents are evil, if you believe that your goal is not to persuade or debate ideas with them but to crush them, then you start stumbling into a bad place you don’t want to be.”