Open letter to all Canadian Association of Journalists & Radio Television Digital News Association members

The following was letter was sent to all Canadian Association of Journalists & Radio Television Digital News Association members:

As we mark #MentalHealthWeek in Canada, I am writing to ask you for your assistance in keeping people safe and alive.

Media gets a bad rap these days - often unfairly. As a former journalist, I appreciate the many challenges of the job. These challenges only grow with each passing year and as resources become ever tighter.

You’re now competing with anyone that has a phone and a social media account for clicks, likes, eyeballs, and time. People who once reliably looked to you for an account of what happened in their world on a given day - and what information they needed to know to go about their lives - are now getting their ‘news’ from any number of sources.

Viral videos and trending posts are appealing sources of content for your own reporting. I get it. But, respectfully, I’m writing to ask you to resist the temptation when it comes to broadcasting and amplifying images that show people illegally accessing railway property and performing dangerous, potentially deadly activities on railcars and rail infrastructure.

In just the last few weeks, in markets large and small from coast to coast, media outlets have run literally dozens of stories about content creators who’ve posted videos of themselves ‘train surfing,’ scaling and jumping off rail bridges, riding between cars, or otherwise putting their lives at risk for clicks, likes and followers.

Tragically, some of these instances have had deadly consequences. Young lives are being cut short; others forever altered. I’m asking that we not encourage this behaviour nor incentivize copycats by giving such videos even wider audiences. For people struggling with their mental wellness, this could have deadly consequences.

At Operation Lifesaver Canada, we work to bring such videos to the attention of social platforms, especially when they clearly violate terms of use or community standards. To the social media giants’ credit, they will sometimes take action and remove such posts.

But if they’ve made it into your reporting - even with legal and safety risks properly contextualized - there is a chance these videos will continue to be seen and prompt others to create their own dangerous re-creations, even if the original has been deleted at source. 

I am asking you, in the interest of saving lives and preventing track tragedies, to avoid platforming illegal and dangerous acts around rail. 

Canadian journalism has a generally proud tradition of treating difficult subjects with sensitivity and care. In newsrooms where I began my career, important policy conversations around language choice, verification and reporting policies, and more were the norm. The goal of these discussions and reporting guardrails was ensuring our various audiences were all served as well as we possibly could serve them. Their needs mattered above all. I am confident that that commitment to public service remains alive and well today.

Thank you for everything you do, day in and day out, to tell Canadians’ stories responsibly and in the best interests of your diverse audiences.  And thank you in advance for joining Operation Lifesaver in working to keep people safe, to support mental health and wellness, and to reduce preventable tragedies.


Chris Day
Interim National Director
Operation Lifesaver Canada