CBC responds to my complaints filed with the CBC Ombudsman over coverage of Roxham Road border protests

Below is the response I received to the complaints I filed with the CBC Ombudsman which you can read here and here

Dear Mr. Skoreyko

As the person responsible for CBC News coverage in Quebec, Editor in Chief and General Manager Jennifer McGuire has asked me to address the concerns about our article titled “Far-right groups, counter-protesters rally over asylum seekers at Canada-U.S. border,” as outlined in your emails dated May 21, 2018. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so.

In your first email, you ask why the author ‘described the anti-illegal border crossing group as “far-right” while describing the pro-illegal border crossing group as “counter-protesters.”

The events of May 19 were initially organised by several groups that, according to the views expressed on their social media pages, oppose immigration in Canada and express anti-Muslim views, two of the main criteria for defining groups as “far-right.”

As we outline in our article, another group of people were also at the border that day: quite literally counter-protesters who gathered to express opposition to the protest organisers. This is why we refer to the group that way.

You’ll notice that in the article in question, the first quotes come from protesters who explain their points of view in their own words. The idea was to profile individuals who are protesting, and not the groups.

There is also a quote from a counter protester, and from a group who held an event earlier in the day and apart from the events at the border protests.

The journalist, Jonathan Montpetit, strives for a balanced view of how the events unfolded, and why.

You ask why our journalist identifies Jaggi Singh as an “activist”, and not as a member of the “far-left.” Jaggi Singh is a well-known activist who has spoken out for many causes, and has been allied with the far-left. There is nothing inaccurate about describing Singh as an activist. It is true, though, that he could have been identified as a far-left activist.

In the same vein, you ask “how can one side be “far-right” yet the other is not “far-left”. Again, in the article, Montpetit strives to quote individual protesters, and not group leaders and organisers. Some of the groups who appear at the counter-protest, though not all of them, have far-left views, as defined by the tactics they use in protest (wearing masks, vandalism of property, etc.) Undoubtedly some of the protesters at the demo organised by far-right groups were not members of those groups.

In your second email, you ask why the journalist “omitted mentioning in his story that a female journalist was repeatedly assaulted by pro-illegal border supporters even though it was clearly done in front of the media and police.” There was, as you’ve said, a confrontation between Faith Goldy and the counter-protesters. All journalism demands the selection of pertinent information. We are always making decisions around the details to include in a story, and in this case we didn’t include the confrontation because no charges were laid. We have since checked with Quebec’s police force, the Surete du Quebec, who say that based on the video, there is no evidence that would support assault charges.

In your second email, you also say that our journalist “gleefully mocked” Faith Goldy on Twitter.

While I respect your view, that is not a description I share. Jonathan Montpetit did tweet that the “highlight” of the demo was watching Goldy be “scolded by an SQ officer for using her cell phone while driving.”  And that is accurate. The SQ did warn Goldy not to use her phone while at the wheel. To describe the incident as the “highlight” of the afternoon was an obvious exaggeration intended to be understood as humour. While social media is an important, if informal way for journalists to communicate information, CBC’s same journalistic standards apply. And while the use of humour is not banned, when it is used, there is always a risk that it can be misunderstood. I have reminded Mr. Monpetit of that risk.

But you are wrong to assume Mr. Monpetit sent the tweet aware of what you described as the repeated assaults on Goldy. At the time he sent the tweet, he was not aware of the incident(s).

Finally, it is also my responsibility to tell you that if you are dissatisfied with this response, you may wish to submit the matter for review by the CBC Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body reporting directly to the President, is responsible for evaluating program compliance with the CBC’s journalistic policies. The Ombudsman may be reached by mail at Box 500, Terminal A, Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6, or by fax at 416-205-2825 or by email ombudsman@cbc.ca.

Helen Evans
Managing Editor, CBC Quebec

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