Journalist Robert DeVet remembered as fearless advocate for the marginalized

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Robert DeVet, seen here, founded the Nova Scotia Advocate in 2016. (Simon De Vet - image credit)
Robert DeVet, seen here, founded the Nova Scotia Advocate in 2016. (Simon De Vet - image credit)

Robert DeVet, founder of the Nova Scotia Advocate and a "renegade" journalist whose work challenged the status quo, died suddenly Monday in Annapolis Royal, N.S. He was 66.

DeVet launched the Nova Scotia Advocate in 2016 to be a voice for seldom-heard Nova Scotians. The online publication, funded entirely by reader donations, aimed to fill the gap left by other news media and tackled issues including poverty, gentrification, racism, prisons and disabilities.

Gary Burrill, leader of the Nova Scotia NDP, said the style of journalism DeVet practised has a long history in the province dating back 100 years to publications coming out of industrial Cape Breton and the work of James Bryson McLachlan, a coal miner, unionist and editor of the Maritime Labor Herald.

Nicola Seguin/CBC
Nicola Seguin/CBC

"A kind of journalism that is unabashedly committed to and engaged on the side of people who have been relegated over to the side and marginalized in their experience," said Burrill, adding that DeVet never asked him softball questions even though both men came from the progressive left.

DeVet served as owner, publisher, head writer and editor of the Advocate. The retired civil servant was present at almost every protest or demonstration in the Halifax area for many years, Burrill said, taking photographs and interviewing participants for the Advocate.

Prior to founding the Advocate, DeVet reported for the Halifax Media Co-op.

Burrill said he last saw DeVet about six days ago when the journalist was at Citadel Hill covering a climate justice protest and trying to climb the hill ahead of much younger protestors to get a better angle for photos.

Simon De Vet
Simon De Vet

Ingrid Waldron met DeVet in 2016 when he came to interview her about the ENRICH project she had started three years earlier. The community-based project is dedicated to investigating the cause and effects of toxic industries situated near Mi'kmaw and African Nova Scotian communities.

She said although DeVet had a gruff demeanour, she was struck by his sensitivity and empathy for the marginalized.

Describing him as a "'renegade"' and a "rebel," Waldron said DeVet was always determined to do his own thing in the way he wanted and "wouldn't take nonsense from anyone."

"What I really loved about him is that he was like a journalist advocate," she said. "He was using his journalism to advocate for communities and I really appreciated him for that.

"For sticking with the topic, for sticking with communities, for going beyond."

Waldron said what set DeVet apart from other journalists was his willingness to do a story about a community and track that story over time. Something, she said, most journalists don't have time to do.

Waldron's sentiments are shared by Fiona Traynor, a community legal aid worker at Dalhousie Legal Aid Services in Halifax.

She first met DeVet when they worked together on income assistance and welfare reform with a community group. Traynor said DeVet covered stories about marginalized people and communities in Nova Scotia in an in-depth way that "mainstream media" couldn't or wouldn't.

Jack Julian/CBC
Jack Julian/CBC

"He interviewed people whose lives were directly impacted by government systems, political systems and oppression and injustice and neglect," said Traynor. "And in that, he brought their voices to life and he brought the issues up that needed to be publicized."

Traynor said DeVet's death is an "immeasurable loss" for communities and the province, and leaves a gap she is not sure will ever be filled.

In a post Friday on the Nova Scotia Advocate's Facebook page, DeVet's son said the Advocate would cease publication but will be maintained indefinitely as an archive.

The Advocate was a "labour of love," wrote Simon De Vet, adding that 100 per cent of reader donations, minus a small amount for website expenses, were used to pay freelance contributors.

De Vet said his father put an enormous amount of work into the publication, personally editing every article and carefully curating everything that went online.

"My father ran the Advocate in a way that reflected his own beliefs," he said. "He was never neutral, and would proudly hold signs and chant at the rallies he attended."

De Vet said he hopes his father showed there is room for many kinds of journalism in Nova Scotia.

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