He was born and raised in Prince George, in northwest British Columbia, and graduated from Simon Fraser University as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. Before becoming a full-time writer, he worked as an urban planner. In 2001, he co-founded (with Stan Persky) the website www.dooneyscafe.com (named after a restaurant on Toronto's Bloor Street West), which is described as "a news service" and to which he is a regular contributor. He has also taught cultural literacy in maximum security prisons. Virtual Clearcut: Or, the Way Things Are in My Hometown won the 2003 Pearson Prize for Canadian non-fiction.