Cartoonist Michael de Adder has been let go from Irving-owned Brunswick News Inc. just days after his cartoon depicting U.S. President Donald Trump playing golf next to the bodies of two migrants went viral.
The cartoon, released on Wednesday, shows Trump looming over Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his young daughter, Valeria, who drowned while trying to cross into Brownsville, Texas.
The original image of the Salvadoran father and daughter made headlines early last week, bringing to light once again the issues around migrants risking their lives to enter the U.S.
“It was terrible,” de Adder, who is from New Brunswick, told the CBC News on Monday afternoon. “I gave them 17 years.”
BNI is based in Saint John, N.B., and runs almost all of the print publications in the province, including three daily papers.
“All they had to do was tell me why I was fired. They didn’t tell me,” de Adder said.
“No matter how hard I pressed there were no answers given … I don’t know if it’s about Trump, really. I think it’s about Trump. It’s the most logical answer.”
When he asked his editor whether it was a cost-cutting measure, or his online social media or even “gross incompetence,” de Adder said, he was told no.
“I really wasn’t interested in playing the role of disgruntled former employee.”
BNI denies the claim that the reason for terminating its freelance contract with de Adder was the cartoon.
“This is a false narrative which has emerged carelessly and recklessly on social media. In fact, BNI was not even offered this cartoon,” said the company in a tweeted statement on Sunday.
“The decision to bring back reader favourite Greg Perry was made long before this cartoon, and negotiations had been ongoing for weeks.”
But de Adder disputes BNI’s reasoning and said he was told by the company that they would not run cartoons about Trump.
“It got to the point where I didn’t submit any Donald Trump cartoons for fear that I might be fired,” he said on Twitter, adding that in the past two weeks he drew three viral Trump cartoons.
“And a day later I was let go. And not only let go, the cartoons they already had in the can were not used. Overnight it was like I never worked for the paper. Make your own conclusions.”
On Twitter, de Adder also said that every Trump cartoon he submitted for the past year was axed.
This raised some red flags for Wes Tyrell, president of the Association of Canadian Cartoonists.
“This is a smelly circumstance,” Tyrell said. “Trump cartoons have been the bread and butter for just about every publication out there since 2016, 2015. Why are they not running them?”
He said it’s especially concerning to see editorial influence creeping up on cartoonists.
“To me, that’s a form of censorship. And it’s unacceptable.”
But de Adder said he doesn’t believe it was entirely censorship.
“They wanted to manipulate the content,” he said.
“The Irvings don’t want Justin Trudeau re-elected and they will not print a cartoon that’s slightly pro-Justin Trudeau. And they won’t [print] a cartoon that’s slightly against Andrew Scheer.”
He also said the paper wouldn’t run cartoons he drew of the province’s premier, Progressive Conservative leader Blaine Higgs, a former Irving Oil executive.
Editorial influence over cartoonists is not just a trend in Canada.
Starting this month, the New York Times will stop running daily political cartoons in its international edition altogether.
Last year, staff cartoonist Rob Rogers was fired from his job at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for his depictions of Trump.
“I think it’s really a terrible thing for a newspaper to start getting involved in micromanaging the cartoonists,” said Rogers, who noted the trend was “disturbing.”
“The president is dictating very negative attacks on the media. He’s calling us the enemy of the people. And I believe that that is something that a newspaper publisher should be fighting against.”
Rogers said in his case, the company was willing to sacrifice the following he had built around his local cartoons “just to satisfy something that they felt about the president. And I thought that was really tragic.”
According to his website, de Adder freelances for the Chronicle Herald of Halifax, the Toronto Star and Ottawa Hill Times.
In an emailed statement from the Ottawa Hill Times, editor Kate Malloy said the paper will continue to work with de Adder “for many years to come.”
“He’s one of the most talented editorial cartoonists in the country. He pushes the envelope, but that’s what a great editorial cartoonist does,” Malloy said.
“We’re lucky to have such a talent.”
“No disrespect to this other cartoonist at all, but this is an inoffensive, non-provocative, run-of-the-mill individual, cartoon-wise. Mike de Adder is an entirely different level,” Tyrell said.
“He’s undeniably the voice of New Brunswick.”
But de Adder said he doesn’t regret sharing the Trump cartoon.
“I regret that I won’t have cartoons in newspapers in my hometown that friends and family can see.”