The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.

As Feds Probe whether Media Giants Conspired, More Smoke

Torstar CEO, on morning 41 papers swapped, promised severance packages to employees ‘affected’ by sales to Postmedia.

By Bryan Carney 6 Dec 2018 |

Bryan Carney reports for The Tyee and is director of web production.

The Tyee has obtained more in-house communications whose contents raise questions about whether Torstar and Postmedia knew each company intended to close newspapers it acquired in a blockbuster swap last November — a potentially illegal activity.

The Competition Bureau is investigating the deal, which saw the two Canadian media giants exchange 41 papers and then close 36 of them causing 291 people to lose their jobs. Tuesday the bureau made public it is probing whether the swap violated conspiracy provisions of the Competition Act, which carry the most severe penalties under the Act, including prison time. No one has been charged and no wrong doing has been proven, the bureau stressed.

On Tuesday The Tyee revealed it had obtained termination notices issued by Postmedia to three of its workers the day of the deal announcement, Nov. 27, 2017. Each said Postmedia had been informed the new owners of their newspapers, Torstar and its subsidiary Metroland, “Would not require your services.”

The dismissed workers’ newspapers were closed after the deal went through.

In timing and message, the pink slips were similar to one handed to John Hammill, an earlier whistleblower who was a regional sales manager for Postmedia’s Ontario newspapers in Orillia, Barrie, Collingwood, Bradford and Innisfil. On the day the deal was announced, all five papers moved to Torstar ownership, their closing was announced, and Hammill was fired by Postmedia. Hammill wondered how the two companies could maintain they’d been in the dark about each other’s plans, so forwarded his termination notice to the Competition Bureau, which considers it evidence in its probe.

Regarding the closures by Torstar and his company, Postmedia’s CEO Paul Godfrey said at the time, “We didn’t know what they were going to do. They didn’t know what we were doing to do.”

Torstar has maintained, “We are confident that we conducted ourselves legally, ethically and in the long-term interest of the markets we serve.”

Today, The Tyee adds another piece to the who-knew-what-when puzzle, an email sent to all Torstar staff from President and CEO John Boynton at 10 a.m. Nov. 27, 2017 explaining the deal that day with Postmedia.

The letter (reproduced at the bottom of this story) names all the papers shifting to Postmedia ownership without stating any will be closed. It does say, “Approximately 200 Metroland and 50 Metro staff will be affected by the sales to Postmedia. The employees will receive severance packages.” In fact, 244 Torstar employees lost jobs when Postmedia acquired and then folded the papers where those people had worked.

A former employee of Ottawa Metro, which was owned by Torstar and transferred to Postmedia and then shut down, told The Tyee that he and fellow workers received, three days in advance, notice of an all-staff meeting scheduled at 9 a.m. on Nov. 27, 2017, when the deal was announced. The Tyee has seen the email. At that meeting, the source says, he and other staff were let go.

‘Their theory is going to be this is a sham merger’

The Competition Bureau faces a steep task in attempting to prove a criminal conspiracy occurred in the crafting of the Torstar-Postmedia deal, said Michael Osborne, partner at Cassels Brock law firm specializing in competition law and editor of Canadian Competition Law Review. Under the Competition Act, the crown would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an agreement between competitors to fix prices, allocate markets or restrict output, Osborne explained.

“Their theory is going to be that this is a sham merger, and that this is really some kind of market allocation or output restriction agreement to close a bunch of newspapers in each other’s markets,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Competition Bureau announced it had obtained a court order to interview one former and five current Torstar employees under oath. They are:

Those witnesses are constitutionally protected from being prosecuted using compelled testimony that is self-incriminating. However each could help build the bureau’s case by providing evidence to bring charges against another, Osborne said.

“You can conduct an examination of Paul and find out everything that Sally did, and you can conduct an examination of Sally and find out what Paul did. And you can use both of their evidence against the companies that employ them. But you can not use Paul’s evidence against Paul or Sally’s evidence against Sally,” Osborne explained.

Osborne, as a close observer of Competition Bureau enforcement over the years, noted that interim commissioner Matthew Boswell, appointed in May by the Trudeau Liberal government, may be signalling a more aggressive approach than his predecessor in combatting monopolistic practices.

“This is certainly a case to watch,” said Osborne.

960px version of 1-3.jpg
960px version of 2-3.jpg
960px version of 3-3.jpg

Read more: Media

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll