Rex Murphy, 1947–2024. (ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo)

Rupa Subramanya: The Man Who Made Me a Journalist

So many of Canada’s commentators are cowards—but Rex Murphy was never afraid to call it as it is.

When I first came to Canada as an international student in 1998, I religiously watched the CBC’s 10 o’clock news on my grainy, third-hand television set. But it was the commentary segment afterward that I looked forward to, because it helped me make sense of my adopted country. It was called Point of View, and it was delivered by Rex Murphy—who died last week at the age of 77, and who has always defined what Canada is for me. 

I never imagined that one day, he and I would become friends.

Rex was from Newfoundland, Canada’s easternmost province, and his accent sounded vaguely Irish, which I found intriguing. But it wasn’t his voice that drew me to him; it was what he said. Rex didn’t conform to fads, and he didn’t care about being unpopular. For instance, he consistently defended Newfoundland’s traditional seal hunt, reminding critics that it is “no more cruel or messy than many other types of animal slaughter.”

Despite the fact that he was speaking on the state-owned national broadcaster, Rex routinely challenged the establishment. In 2015, the conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper wanted to pass draconian anti-terror legislation that would curb civil liberties, and Rex, who was right-leaning, wrote that “every clause should be fought over, every potential advance on the liberty of the citizen should be examined.”

Watching his commentary segment was an education. Having been born in Bangalore, I went to high school in the United Arab Emirates, where few citizens dare criticize the powers that be. It was liberating to be in Canada, where someone like Rex could fire with both barrels, unafraid of offending anyone in power. Those were different times.

Canada feels more censorious every day. If Rex were starting out in journalism now, I wonder if he would have a chance. By 2020 he was retired, with a column in the National Post; after the BLM protests, he wrote: “Canada is not a racist country, despite what liberals say.” Staff at the paper revolted, and a disclaimer was added at the top of the piece: “Upon review, it was determined that there was a failure in the normal editing oversight that columns should be subjected to.”

I ultimately got a column of my own in the National Post in January 2021, and the following year, he and I found ourselves at the same event in Toronto. Rex was one of the reasons I wanted to become a journalist, so I was eager to get a selfie, and to my great surprise, he told me he had been wanting to meet me. He had been impressed by my Free Press coverage of Canada’s Freedom Convoy and those who had lost jobs for being part of it. He himself had criticized the dominant narrative about the truckers, which came from the top: “The choice was to portray this protest of ordinary Canadians as the actions of an ‘intolerable minority.’ To play the game of division and marginalization.” 

Rex and I kept in touch. Like me, he described himself as an “accidental journalist.” We both saw ourselves as outsiders and misfits, and often complained about the lack of courage in the Canadian media. I’ll never forget how cuttingly Rex characterized one well-known commentator, as having “refined smug to a transcendental essence.” 

Once, when I was experiencing some particularly nasty attacks on X, he said to me: “A person with a spine—someone who prints or says what she sees and really means—will attract the venom of those with no spine, less intellect, and who will say anything. Illegitimi non carborundum.” 

He encouraged me to call it as I see it—no matter how much controversy that might cause.

During his more than half a century as a journalist, Rex stayed true to who he was—but the culture around him changed, and Canada, especially the national broadcaster, became intolerant to diverse points of view. After he finally retired from the CBC after more than two decades, Rex told me over dinner that the head of the organization had given him a gift card from Starbucks as a farewell present.

But Rex kept speaking out. On May 7, 2024, he published his last National Post column, in which he called out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his prevarications over October 7: “Where, most progressive of all progressive PMs, was your soul-tormented outcry?”

Rex died two days later, calling it as he saw it to the very end.

Rupa Subramanya is a reporter for The Free Press. Her first report on the Freedom Convoy was “What The Truckers Want.” You can follow her on X @rupasubramanya.

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