December 11, 2020
This is an open letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault, the Prime Minster of Canada Justin Trudeau, the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada Chrystia Freeland, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) regarding the dangerous decision to pursue ‘branded content’, also known as ‘paid content’, ‘sponsored content’, and/or ‘advertorials’.
I’m a former CBC reporter who covered federal and provincial politics at CBC News and CBC.ca, as well as elections and economic segments for the Connect with Mark Kelley show. I will be forever indebted to them for providing my first shot at investigative journalism, before budgets were drastically cut to unsustainable levels that brought my craft to its knees. Over the years I’ve watched several intrepid reporters trying to come to terms with the effect of those cuts, as we found ourselves and the facts replaced by a stronger emphasis on editorial opinions. It’s true that fact-checking costs money and requires a strong cadre of producers with dynamic experience to support original content, but this death by a thousand cuts has finally hit rock bottom to the point that it will destroy the CBC.
I won’t waste everyone’s time banging the identical drum as www.stoppaidcontentoncbc.ca, though I do support every last word they’ve said. I believe I have a unique and legal angle to contribute that the Canadian government must thoughtfully consider. I believe it so deeply that I’m writing this despite recovering from eye surgery, because I became legally blind during the pandemic unexpectedly. I’m attempting to work through complete double vision as an artificial transplant begins to settle and this is my first experience with dictation software. The white computer screen is still overpowering and I won’t be healed until February, so please forgive any typos or grammatical errors. But let that sink in that I would accept these consequences to share my counsel with you before I’m truly able to be back on the scene.
The open letter signed by a growing number of past and present CBC staff soundly explains the problem with CBC Tandem from a journalist’s perspective regarding trust and reputation issues. It makes reference to fake news, leveraging the CBC’s reputation to benefit advertisers, and confusing the public by letting ads masquerade as articles that mimic the news. (1. original / archive)
Plenty has been written about the damage caused by advertorials, but in the era of digital revolution and disruptive innovation, most mainstream media executives care very little when tasked with finding a magic wand to resolve the logistics of collapsing revenue streams. The situation is so dire that it gives new meaning to the slur presstitute. Fear has chipped away at integrity enough that we can sell our souls to put food on the table, or deal with toxic workplaces for taking a stand in the name of truth and transparency. We were once paid for our integrity but now it’s becoming somewhat of a liability in the battle against fake news and profit margins. For context, it’s considered scandalous that so many CBC journos would speak out publicly against the Tandem project that it’s a news story in itself. (2. original / archive, 3. original / archive, 4. original / archive, 5. original / archive, 6. original / archive)
In any event, I made similar complaints in a Twitter thread that focused on selling the CBC’s reputation. I further condemned advertorials as blatant fake news because their entire purpose is meant to trick readers by hiding the fact that it is an ad behind the veneer of a news article. If advertorials weren’t meant to mislead anyone, then why do they to pretend to be something they’re not?
Letter continues below…
I didn’t have much space to elaborate on my concerns about the conflict of interest element that was introduced by CBC Tandem and I will do so now, because it’s dangerous to the Government of Canada in countless ways that even threaten our democracy. CBC is a Crown corporation and despite arms-length firewalls, it is funded by the government and public tax dollars. For better or for worse it’s a representative of the government and when anything goes wrong, blame is directed toward the prime minister. The board that oversees the CBC is appointed by the Governor in Council as well. (7. original / archive)
That sets up a formal legal relationship between CBC and the Government of Canada, with appointees swearing an oath to the Crown. Despite everything we’ve done in our democratic landscape to insulate the CBC to achieve press freedom, the rest of the world still views it as a state broadcaster. In that vein we’ve also done everything possible to distance ourselves from other state broadcasters such as Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea that are captured by political masters.
Our love was never for sale, at least until the CBC Tandem division was created. Now anyone can purchase the CBC’s integrity and by extension, that of its journalists. But that still isn’t the biggest problem confronting the government as a result of this development. The dark corner I’m trying to illuminate is much more ‘insidious’ than anyone’s reputation.
As an investigative reporter I spend ninety percent of my time researching and only ten percent of it actually publishing. In the bulk of my work I’ve discovered severe issues that are threatening western democracies, disorienting the public, and skewing the development of public policy. It would be impossible for me to recount the number of times I’ve come across opinion editorials (OpEds) insufficiently referenced in government studies on any given issue. So long as someone can get their viewpoint printed in the news, it’s assumed to be factual as a footnote that nobody verifies from a mountain of consultative submissions the government merely itemizes in transcripts and final reports.
There is no label to distinguish OpEds from bona fide news in our research systems and much of the public can’t tell you the difference between a columnist and a reporter. Even if a politician understands, the public isn’t taught to be skeptical about these footnotes because telling voters to be wary of government decisions based on that very material would weaken faith in our democracy and the process by which we evaluate issues. With no intention of being partisan, I came to understand this during the Harper administration. What I’m about to say next is motivated only by experience and the time frame any cobwebs of naïveté were being swept away from my vision.
In all my investigations during Conservative rule, I kept stumbling on right-wing organizations that held campaigns and competitions to flood Canadian media with OpEds in support of their various causes. Some of them even paid activists if they could manage to get published, so a politician could cite the opinion and present it to a House of Commons or Senate committee with the same effect as something factual. This happened on multiple issues, including but not limited to Indigenous rights, pro-choice rights, gay rights, gun rights, and climate change. This tactic of inorganic manipulation was successful and responsible for repealing human rights that used to protect Canadians against hate speech. (8. original / archive)
Since I discovered that deficiency in 2014, I watched the practice become adopted by left-wing organizations that sought to fight fire with fire. It’s quickly becoming a standard practice for various groups to pre-write letters of complaint and OpEds that supporters only have to sign and click to send through an agency’s automated system. Fake news was already automated in Canada before the term was coined or widely understood. It also taints nearly every government report on ideological wedge issues.
In addition to grassroots being harnessed to deceive legislators on an industrial scale, we also have partisan think-tanks that have grown more audacious. They too are spreading false information through Canadian media that becomes cited as fact, to form the basis of public policy on matters so integral to government as income tax. (9. original / archive, 10. original / archive)
Advertorials must be outlawed by the CRTC as a matter of false advertising. We already have tools to deal with it because it’s an unabashed and purposely misleading product. Even if the message is true the medium is not, inverse of ‘the medium is the message’. Something that isn’t fact-checked news should not be made to appear as if it is.
No democracy can afford the steep cost of advertorials becoming the basis of public policy. We don’t even have the manipulation of OpEds under control and this practice of influence deception will explode if given another avenue. Corporate retailers aren’t the only advertising clients and to ignore the rest would be worse than foolish, regardless of which side you might find yourself on pertaining to any issue. This will remove the science from poli-sci and turn back time to govern by folklore. If you have trouble believing, then enquire with climate scientists who spent the last decade contending with this exactly. Instead of making progress on carbon emissions we ended up with a new generation of flat-earthers and Creationism being taught in public schools again.
On that basis then consider that foreign governments are advertisers too. The Digital Cold War is upon us and most developed countries have entire units that pursue influence campaigns throughout the military-intelligence complex. Years ago I might have hesitated to make that statement and contemplated a more moderate description, but Canada was compelled to set up a task force to monitor that threat during the last federal election and it played a role in undermining Brexit in the United Kingdom, as well as a past election in the United States. None of us has devised a perfect solution yet and advertorials are set to open the floodgates.
If that wasn’t enough to give you pause for thought, then weigh the CBC’s relationship with domestic political parties and triangulate it with the government. From experience I can tell you how hard it is to avoid accusations of political bias at a Crown corporation. An inordinate amount of social media vitriol is hurled at CBC journos by partisans of every stripe, because tax payers sense their ownership of Crown reporters and they’re emotionally driven to have their own views reflected by them. As the line between advertising and journalism blurs, it further complicates this sticky wicket by lowering the bar for professionalism and respect. Most of us have received the odd death threat, a few of us have actually been assaulted, and female reporters have heard everything that would turn your hair blue about their sexuality and sometimes their children. Allowing political parties and/or fronts for political parties to purchase CBC advertorials will exacerbate these symptoms and increase the fever pitch.
Letter continues below…
Source: Michael DeAdder, Twitter
Advertorials present a tantalizing opportunity for dark money in politics, but even on the surface it creates a curious conflict of interest with registered partisan entities. Whether it’s the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens, or Bloc, they could theoretically skirt advertising limits by using operatives to place advertorials on their behalf. Elections Canada doesn’t have the resources to police clandestine party spending and it would technically be subsidized by the Government of Canada because it’s the government that funds the CBC. I will leave that part for legal scholars to hash out, but I know enough to be sure that it doesn’t pass a sniff test. At the very least no sitting government would wish to subsidize an opposition party’s partisan propaganda. I’m not sure the public would be fine with paying taxes so the CBC could publish counterfeit news articles on behalf of anti-vaxxers either.
In the best case scenario, CBC Tandem is inviting public controversy every time it has to make a decision to run an advertorial related to any issue. They’ll be hauled in front of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal if they decline pandemic hoax pieces, anti-abortion pieces, anti-Indigenous pieces, anti-Muslim pieces, anti-immigration pieces, anti-climate pieces, anti-science pieces, or any of the opponents on the pro side. One way or another, one of these clients would be in a position to at least claim discrimination, often related to a religious belief. A Charter challenge could also result regarding the freedom of expression and Canada lacks a full skeleton of precedents to clearly define what press freedom is. What we do have though is a handful of constitutional activist organizations that prowl for opportunities to file cases like these, in the longstanding effort to shape our legal rights in the direction of libertarian ideology. The way journalism dealt with this problem is ‘both-sidesing’ everything, but that option isn’t available in the purchased marketing scheme.
Advertorials have no business defining Canadian law and the Canadian identity, but that’s exactly what they’re poised to do irrespective of the media agency that initiates open season on our Constitution. It doesn’t seem wise for CBC to become that brand new battleground that is muddled between journalism and advertising, or to waste its lean budget on successive legal challenges. It already can’t afford to perform regular, substantive, investigative journalism anymore, because the type of work that I do is cost prohibitive when it requires a small team of lawyers to vet it. I’ve been sitting on a major data breach investigation because everyone is constrained by budgets and adopting advertorials is not the path to pay for it. On the contrary and due to being in everyone’s political crosshairs, it could be a way to eventually bankrupt the CBC. I’m curious if there was a risk analysis performed for the Tandem project and if these perils were appraised holistically.
It would do no good to implement an advertorial policy that blanket-banned issues advertising in favour of retail products only. That’s because products are related to lifestyles and lifestyles are related to social issues. Take for example the gun. The morning after pill. Religious books and courses. Bicycles. Oil stocks. Green energy products. Indigenous cigarettes. Kotex. Natural medicines. The list goes on. So is CBC prepared to be the site of protests when those items are politically weaponized? And do executives believe it will boost the credibility or safety of its journalists?
It remains to be seen what the ramifications of advertorials might be from another perspective still. Based solely on retail products, who bears the legal onus when a consumer is harmed by a dangerous item that was misrepresented by what appeared to be a CBC article to a 65-year-old audience member? If the CBC was to indemnify itself in advertorial contracts, would it also not be jeopardizing the collective reputation of all reporters? After all,
It’s also CBC staff that would write or collaborate on the counterfeit article, with final approval that lacked legal fact-checking to verify the claims made by a Crown corporation on behalf of its private ad clients. In essence that further implies government confidence in the client, even if tacit to a layperson. It creates stark inequality between company divisions as well, despite products that appear to be identical as articles except for a miniature sticker that says ‘branded content’ in a diminished corner. For that matter the term ‘branded content’ is deceptive and it’s meant to soothe the reader’s skepticism by avoiding words like ‘paid’ and ‘advertisement’.
This is a concept that hasn’t been legally tested and I was all for CBC setting journalistic standards, until this development posed a risky gamble to everyone who is still working there. If something looks too good to be true it usually is, and trying to take this easy way out of a funding shortfall is a catastrophe waiting to happen. There are no easy answers to the ripple effects of COVID-19, just as there are no simple steps to combat disruptive innovation in a digital revolution. These are both once-in-a-lifetime challenges that no echo chamber in a boardroom can solve by putting lipstick on a pig. I applaud CBC for its general open-mindedness but respectfully and with great concern, this Tandem advertorial venture needs to be put on ice.
I stress this is not a problem unique to the CBC and while they must cancel this project to maintain their own house, the government and/or CRTC must also act swiftly to prohibit the use of advertorials by any media organization in Canada. It must be a level playing field and one that is based on principles of the Fourth Estate, instead of a product that by its definition is masquerading as something it’s not. To put it plainly, advertorials are promoted and sold as counterfeit news articles, when the real news is in the fight of its life to save its own reputation and viability. Talk about inviting a ‘FOX’ into a henhouse.
May my letter greet you well and please don’t take it personally. This is just so important that it needed to be addressed frankly, as the implications of ignoring these impacts could cause irreparable harm on a grand scale. The startling and vast majority of Facebook users already can’t tell the difference between journalism and fake news. Neither can students. At the end of the day we need everyone to comprehend the facts to develop sound public policy, more than anyone needs a shot at quick money to make the business of journalism an easier ride. If we value our democracy we will have to commit to defending it with tax dollars to fund the CBC away from temptation and the advertorial mirage. (12. original / archive, 13. original / archive, 14. original / archive, 15. original / archive)
In closing, I kindly leave you with a sample of public sentiments to assist with your deliberations.
Yours very truly,
In a stunning twist to the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, new details emerge from the reporter who broke this story that cast doubt on the professional integrity of his investigation. On or about December 11, 2014 and after charges were laid against Ghomeshi, Jesse Brown provided a friendly interview to Ed The Sock that raises considerable issues (clip appears below).
Ed The Sock is a provocative puppet personality and a former fixture at CityTV. The character was played by Steven Kerzner who no longer stars on MuchMusic, but he maintains an obscure podcast to keep in touch with nostalgic fans. Kerzner previously ran for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario before supporting the NDP, as well.
With fewer than 1,200 listeners, Brown admitted numerous details he withheld from the Ghomeshi exposé, that was eventually published in conjunction with the Toronto Star. A hearty dose of laughter accompanies this discussion about Brown’s “recriminations”, that may precipitate a need to examine his involvement.
Personal & Professional Conflicts at CBC
Jesse Brown begins by confessing he is a personal friend to Kathryn Borel, the former CBC producer who alleges Ghomeshi threatened to “hate f–k” her during a business meeting at Q. It is unknown whether Brown failed to disclose his personal conflicts, or if the Toronto Star agreed to withhold the information in light of Ms. Borel’s intention to remain anonymous at the onset. Neither Brown nor the Toronto Star would respond to questions about this matter.
Not only were Brown and Borel friends, but they were also coworkers. Jesse Brown failed to disclose his relationship with CBC as a radio host, in competition with Ghomeshi, at the very time Borel confided in him about the alleged harassment. The three were CBC colleagues and Brown now admits he was the employee who didn’t come forward to report the abuse. He goes on to suggest that all men need to have this conversation, about why they remain silent as he did and what is required of men to protect women in modern times.
From Brown’s perspective and due to the shrinking pool of available jobs in journalism, he felt that reporting Ghomeshi would result in losing his position for rocking the boat and forcing CBC to confront its workplace issues. No events were mentioned to cause this apprehension, but Brown freely admits his own ambition was a factor in staying quiet, as the only person who also confesses to knowing about Borel’s predicament. Every insult and allegation leveled against Q staff and CBC producers was ultimately directed inward.
CBC Complaint & The Missing Witness
The other part of Brown’s explanation for remaining silent raises issues for the internal investigation. CBC hired an outside lawyer to determine what went wrong, because Borel claims to have submitted a complaint that was ignored by the union and broadcaster.
However, the Canadian Media Guild denied receiving a complaint that included sexual harassment allegations and CBC is under fire for failing to discover corresponding records that identify her claim. In the audio clip, Jesse Brown mentions that Borel never made a complaint and he was sworn to secrecy because she didn’t wish to come forward. He says it wasn’t his place to betray Borel’s wishes and he supported his friend by instructing her to keep notes, at least.
Brown adds there was a witness to the former producer’s allegation; but none was mentioned in the Toronto Star report, witnesses were excluded from the Ghomeshi narrative and Brown is continuing to withhold that name. Without it, neither the CBC nor the police and Ghomeshi’s lawyers can investigate.
Kathryn Borel also approached foreign press at The Guardian to finish telling her story, instead of sharing with the immediately concerned Canadian media. In her editorial, Borel adds new sexual assault allegations that accuse Ghomeshi of massaging her upper body and thrusting his private area into her backside (clothed). She claims there was a witness to this event in support of Brown’s recent interview, but doesn’t disclose that name either.
The Toronto Star and Jesse Brown declined to comment about their knowledge of Borel’s newly published allegations. It’s unknown if Borel withheld this information in her anonymous account, or if the investigating reporters withheld these details since the beginning. The more fulsome description that was published in another country isn’t aided by Brown’s confession that he “amended details” about all the women’s stories, due to his self perceived “license” to direct, craft and alter their reports.
This is also the first time a friendship between Kathryn Borel and Jesse Brown was disclosed, by the complainant and not the journalist. Furthermore, Brown admits he was the one to solicit Borel’s allegation for the news. He explains sharing her story with the other women and offering to seek his friend’s support to bolster their claims.
Based on Jesse Brown’s confession, there appears to be a conflict of interest to protect his old job while selectively blaming former colleagues and censoring the bulk of details that include his direct involvement. Ethics forbid this behaviour and the failure to disclose, but Brown admits he is new to investigative journalism and believes that online reporting is allowed to play by ‘different rules’ than the mainstream is required to uphold. These rules are understood by journalists as libel law and issues that concern truth in reporting, vetting and verification.
Were The Women Using Jesse?
In this interview with Ed The Sock, Jesse Brown elaborates on the other female complainants. He describes the initial email from the first woman and says it led to consecutive interviews with the others. Brown nor the Toronto Star would comment if the first complainant coordinated the others, or if these women approached Brown independently.
But he did accuse the females of “using him”. When Ed The Sock realized the inappropriate nature of this comment, he guided Brown to describe the event as washing each other’s hands, as opposed to being used. Brown responds by agreeing and admits his professional position was compromised, that he crossed into “sticky territory” as a supportive and friendly therapist. There were questions if the women were “pissed off”, that Brown used their friendship to obtain a story – one they didn’t wish to be told. He describes a process of having to remind the complainants about his status as a reporter, when they shared details about their relationships with Ghomeshi.
To achieve the females’ consent, Brown admits he amended details and yet there were still “certain places they didn’t want him to go”. He admits altering more than their names and “all sorts of stuff” was withheld. This suppression occurred in concert with censorship that Brown demanded, because to him this wasn’t about a sex scandal. In his license and authority to reconstruct the narrative, he admits fighting with the Toronto Star to bury and exclude information that would shift from his focus on violence and CBC as a sick institution.
Regarding acts of sexual violence, Jesse Brown reports the women questioning their memories and if they could trust their recollections. According to the interview, he describes having to “push and pull” the complainants to obtain their information and admits “media proofing” them prior to the Toronto Star‘s publication.
Strombo Equated With Ghomeshi, Levant On A Pedestal
Expanding on Brown’s view about the real problem surrounding Jian Ghomeshi, he blames the CBC for creating stars when they’ve done nothing to earn that prestige. To him, this wasn’t about the criminal charges and rather the success of talent that he doesn’t deem worthy. Brown goes on to discuss his greater performance and believes he lost his position at CBC because they’re not looking for skilled staff of his caliber.
For some time Brown rants about the employment of George Stroumboulopoulus and claims the same case can be made against him as Ghomeshi. It’s not that Brown is alleging sexual misconduct, but this drives the point home that his concerns about Ghomeshi didn’t focus on the women or the alleged assaults. To him, this was strictly about the future of CBC, his own access to employment and ratings.
It’s Ed The Sock who feels compelled to defend George Strombo and he appears surprised by Brown’s attack. The clash occurs again when Brown slurs “they could never wash the CityTV off” and then accuses CBC of poaching unmerited celebrity from competitors like MuchMusic and bands like the one Ghomeshi starred in.
To provide context, Jesse Brown lavishes Ezra Levant with admiration for his exceptional talent at pushing everyone’s buttons. Two weeks before this commentary, Levant lost an $80,000 lawsuit that was filed against him for defamation. The judge cited his “reckless disregard for the truth”, but this had no effect on Brown’s perception of successful news personalities, versus the substandard celebrity he attributes to the CBC and the vast majority of Canadian entertainment.
Politics & Jeffrey Dvorkin
In another interview with J-Source that slightly pre-dates the Ghomeshi story, Brown describes himself as a bitter and disgruntled, ex-employee of the CBC. He says Canadaland was losing money and the show’s more generous sponsorship had come to an end. At the midpoint of a Ghomeshi investigation, Brown told The Walrus he was struggling so badly that filmmakers and comedy writers were being added to cover the gap in entertainment. He felt the podcast had become poisonous to his connections and career.
These commentaries span a few months and mere weeks before the Ghomeshi story broke, he lamented about a need for stable funding to continue. Brown attributes some optimism to daily encouragement he received from other journalists, specifically naming Jeffrey Dvorkin.
Dvorkin hails from Calgary, Alberta and now serves as the Director of Journalism at the University of Toronto. Before that, he held positions in Canada at CBC Radio and on the stateside at NPR. In 2010, he accepted an assignment from the U.S. Department of State, to lecture Niger and Guinea on the role of press in elections. This was followed by a similar mission to teach Turkish reporters about their powers in 2011, despite the widespread incarceration of journalists and a government-media scandal that ensued.
Dvorkin is also a major force behind the push to remove CBC from television airwaves, converting solely to internet production and the often debated Canadian Netflix. He was making this case at the same time Jesse Brown began the Ghomeshi investigation.
Before any news about the sexual allegations surfaced, Dvorkin appeared on Canadaland to encourage support for the dismantling and reconstruction of CBC. During this interview with Jesse Brown, Dvorkin scoffs at senior CBC staff for suggesting that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals would restore funding to cure their ills. He closes by citing cuts from Liberal governments as the reason he left CBC for greener pastures in the United States.
This viewpoint appears to influence Jesse Brown’s position, as heard in the audio clip with Ed The Sock. At length, he parrots the same talking points and goes on to assert the CRTC should plan for obsolescence too. This rant is peppered with much criticism for Canadian talent and programming, with a dig at ACTRA forming part of the exchange.
It should be noted that Lucy DeCoutere, one of the Ghomeshi complainants, is also one of these Canadian actors that Brown carelessly disparages with gusto, in addition to his description of feeling used.
Friends & Eyes Wide Shut
Less known is Brown’s entry into the lucrative tech business, as the co-creator of Bitstrips. This app was once popular on social media and allows users to express their lives in cartoon caricature versions of themselves. It’s still popular in the school system and the company received a $3 million investment, but articles about Bitstrips fail to mention Brown and he’s the only source to assert this relationship. He declined to answer questions from FreeThePressCanada about this issue.
In his other pursuits, Brown’s investigation of Ghomeshi benefited from an allegation that arose from Professor Jeremy Copeland. The Toronto Star published that Copeland shunned his students from pursuing internships at Q due to inappropriate behaviour, but Western University denied this was possible and so did the student newspaper. Other journalism programs then came forward to deny issues or complaints about Ghomeshi at their facilities. The matter was never questioned or readdressed by the press.
Cautiously and coincidentally, Jeremy Copeland worked with the U.S. government to fill a similar role as Jeffrey Dvorkin. The former was the American spokesperson for out-of-country voting in Iraq and he trained Iraqi journalists how to cover their election after the war that responded to 9/11 attacks. The same as Turkey, this country descended into chaos and lost the battle for message control. Both are now mired by ISIS and political-media issues, along with the greatest threat to the survival of journalists.
Jesse Brown describes this cast of personalities as the media version of Eyes Wide Shut in his discussion with Ed The Sock. He claims the community is Toronto-centric and he singles out neighbourhoods from Beaches and the Annex, as those who know and contribute to the decline by playing along. Brown believes they’re all friends or married to one another and he admits being part of this dysfunctional but influential posse, that determines the narrative for Canadian views.
Brown describes the group as inbred and David Akin reminds everyone that Sun TV was pursuing a ‘hotbed’ of sexual harassment suspicions at CBC since the year before. He used the Ghomeshi scandal to suggest that CBC mislead parliament when it responded to accusations in the last round. In that example, the broadcaster was accused of processing 1,454 sexual harassment complaints in Toronto and Ottawa alone (proven untrue, see link for details). Regardless, Ezra Levant from Sun TV appeared on Canadaland a few days ago.
Cash Flow Returns, But Politics Remain
In Jesse Brown’s history with the CBC, he once faced a dispute about the right to republish work from The Contrarian on his own website. The broadcaster has a policy to archive online materials after a period of 2 years, thereby causing the content to become inaccessible. As Brown attempted to save his creative input from the compression pile, he received a takedown notice from CBC management and today these shows are nowhere to be found on the internet. When the same issue arose regarding Jian Ghomeshi and the public’s sensitivity toward archiving programs from Q, Brown was at the forefront pushing for this content to be relegated in the same manner.
After the Ghomeshi story broke, the Globe and Mail reported Brown’s income had risen to more than $9,000 per month. The Columbia Journalism Review went one step further and tracked these increases on a monthly basis since October – the same month Brown’s crowdfunding campaign went live and the Ghomeshi allegations were published.
One month after that major headline, Ed The Sock was a guest on Jesse Brown’s Canadaland in a role reversal. During this interview, Steven Kerzner (aka Ed), is asked about sexual misconduct allegations involving Moses Znaimer at CityTV. Odd behaviour is discussed, but Kerzner declines to contribute to any rumour mills.
When Brown visits Kerzner less than two weeks later, they discuss Jesse’s pitch to all the major publishers for an earlier version of his media criticism program. Brown reports he was prepared to be ‘more responsible and sober’ and ‘not a satirical’. These blanket denials to provide him with a venue resulted in the establishment of Canadaland, described in the audio clip as kicking people in the shins, in lieu.
When the income generated by Brown’s podcast hit the $10,000 per month benchmark, he intended to hire staff. Brown declined to answer questions about his income, but Sean D. B. Craig was employed to break the Amanda Lang story on behalf of Canadaland more recently. Craig is unknown as a journalist and no bio can be found online. Originally he promoted himself as a CBC producer on social media, but later apologized for the humorous misrepresentation, due to the commotion and confusion it caused. Brown then introduced his new hire as a “pinko comrade”. The term pinko is commonly directed toward supporters of the NDP, both fondly and as a slur.
Jesse Brown, CBC, the Toronto Star and lawyers for Jian Ghomeshi were contacted.
The CBC was approached with this audio clip and a proposal to run the story. Director of Government Relations, Shaun Poulter, was exceptionally helpful to facilitate contact with others at the broadcaster. The Head of Media Relations, Chuck Thompson, also took a concerned interest to facilitate discussion. The latter agreed this information should be forwarded to the external investigator, but a decision to print the story would need to come from the news department directly.
Thompson involved the senior producer of CBC News, Ian Kalushner. After three days of debating the story without hearing the file, he declined any proposition to provide coverage. Mr. Thompson was then re-approached and encouraged to review the clip before another publication was canvassed, in lieu of the broadcaster’s response.
At this time Thompson attended the news department to discuss the clip with Kalushner. A compromise was reached and the reporter regularly assigned to the Ghomeshi file was asked to evaluate the evidence, as the most knowledgeable person about these developments on staff. CBC News expressed hesitation to publish freelance work, despite the fact that FreeThePressCanada had a history of reporting politics for the broadcaster in years past.
After another five day lapse, CBC journalist Ioanna Roumeliotis accepted the file for review. Both she and producer Ian Kalushner responded,
“You would be accurate to describe my assessment of the audio clip as material that is not newsworthy.”
Chuck Thompson responded,
“… I don’t make editorial decisions for CBC News and I know you have been in touch with them. It’s their call as to whether or not they want to go further with what you have discussed.”
Jesse Brown was notified about the impending article and presented with 42 questions for comment. He declined to provide answers and politely rebutted,
“The story of my investigation of Jian Ghomeshi is an important one that I will tell the public in detail.
It will take a lot of work and care. Here’s what I need to be mindful of:
Protecting my sources’ identities. Presenting a full account may expose them, so I need to go over everything very carefully, consulting with them where possible to remove identifying details.
Legal concerns. The professional and personal behaviour of many people will be discussed, so this story needs to get lawyered.
Accuracy. This is a complicated story, key aspects of which unfolded rapidly. I need to go over hundreds of notes and emails and dozens of public documents. Since I see no immediate urgency in reporting this story as soon as possible (I’m not finished with the investigation of Jian itself yet!) I’m going to take my time and tell it as precisely and as well as possible.
Finally, I am in the news business, so of course my intention is to save all this stuff for my own report.”
The Toronto Star was provided with a similar opportunity to comment and 25 related questions. Multiple attempts were made to contact investigative journalist, Kevin Donovan, and the newspaper’s editor, Michael Cooke. Both were informed they are the only source that refuses to respond, beyond Mr. Donovan’s messages to inquire about the nature of these questions on social media.
That silence was broken by an unrelated Toronto Star columnist, Jack Lakey, who proceeded to insult and intimidate FreeThePressCanada for approaching his colleagues to send the email inquiry.
Henein Hutchinson LLP accepted the audio clip quite recently. The law firm representing Jian Ghomeshi hasn’t received a reasonable amount of time to examine and comment. If a statement is forthcoming, this article will be edited to include that response.
The Clip: Jesse Brown & Ed The Sock
Please be advised this audio contains profanity and racial, religious jokes that some may find offensive. Originally published by Ed The Sock’s Soundcloud account, December 11, 2014. This is re-posted for news reporting and fair comment purposes (original source).
Also, this investigation isn’t meant to detract from the seriousness of allegations against Jian Ghomeshi, a police investigation, or the equitable court process. It is not meant to discourage victims from seeking justice, through professional, compassionate and capable members of law enforcement. This investigation only reflects the techniques of a journalist and ethical reporting. No inference or suggestion about the female complainants or Jian Ghomeshi is made by FreeThePressCanada.
A photo of Canada’s Attorney General and Justice Minister, Peter MacKay, recently went viral on social media. The government’s top legal bureaucrat was seen posing with Canada’s National Firearms Association, sporting a t-shirt in support of the group’s endeavours. The graphic on this gifted apparel melded the country’s maple leaf symbol with a rifle, and everyone in the shot was smiling. Going by the acronym “NFA”, it is the northern counterpart to America’s NRA, that holds considerable influence over gun control laws on the stateside.
The NFA was identified by mainstream news as a social force behind repeal of the Long Gun Registry. The Quebec government was also mentioned for a temporary injunction to halt that repeal, with its case to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. Despite this acknowledgement, the most important information that raises questions about of conflict of interest appears to be overlooked or censored.
On Docket 35448, Attorney General of Quebec v. Attorney General of Canada, et al, the NFA is listed as a party to the proceeding, that will argue constitutional matters in relation to gun control. Quebec wishes to keep a registry and the federal government is strongly opposed, with the NFA in its corner.
On June 5, 2014, Canada’s National Firearms Association received Intervener status from the Supreme Court. It came with instructions to pay the Attorney Generals (Canada and/or Quebec) any monies required to cover the cost of additional disbursements that may arise from the gun lobby’s participation in the hearing. The NFA is forbidden from introducing new evidence, or supplementing the appellant and respondents’ records.
On July 31, 2014, the NFA filed its documents including a Factum and Book of Authorities. On August 14, 2014, MacKay’s office did the same and the following day the case to suspend Quebec’s gun registry was set to proceed with appeal. It was less than two weeks later that the infamous picture was discovered, indicating a personal-political relationship between NFA members and Canada’s Attorney General.
Given the longstanding ruckus between Peter MacKay, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court of Canada, the public has little patience for the appearance of impropriety. Going forward it will be important to learn if or what gifts might have changed hands between these judicial parties, and the appropriateness of campaigning for one another while legally opposing a provincial government.
More to the unsavoury appearance, the Twitterverse discovered additional photos of NFA members who posed with the Attorney General. On veteran Kurtis Gaucher’s Facebook page, he’s found casually bragging about 4 ounces of marijuana. Perhaps Gaucher has a medical prescription, but in light of MacKay’s vehement stance against the substance, it sparked renewed publicity across social media.
On Ericka Clarke’s Facebook account, a photo of the woman holding a significant weapon was discovered. Her social media has since been closed to public access and the option to contact was removed. Before this occurred, a Twitter member took the liberty of pointing out the irony with a Buddies, Bullets & Bongs meme that is quickly gaining traction.
In the meantime this relationship is clouding another Supreme Court case regarding constitutional rights within the provinces. The Attorney General of Canada appears to support ‘gun toting drug slingers’ over public safety, according to the consensus of popular social media. With a little less tongue-in-cheek, the Supreme Court may need to ask if the fees it assessed were paid to the government in promotional t-shirts, however.
Will the Ethics Minister Investigate this MP’s Failure to Disclose Her Income?
Surprising developments continue to challenge the Harper government and it doesn’t appear the recent cabinet shuffle was enough to contain the party’s troubles. In July, the prime minister embarked on a public relations makeover to soften the blow from repeated allegations of criminal activity and impropriety against a growing number of Conservatives.
To quell chatter about Duffy and the senate spending scandal — followed by charges against Del Mastro, the Prime Minister appointed a fresh batch of faces to populate his inner circle. In this rejuvenation process, a faithful MP from Simcoe-Grey was promoted to Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women. It seemed a safe bet, as the member was not only a minority female but also a paediatric surgeon who proved her loyalty by supporting the export of asbestos. Surely her silence in the face of criticism from the health care industry could merit responsibility for two portfolios in a beleaguered government.
Doubly minted Minister Kellie Leitch keeps a low profile with the local public, but she’s been a staple in the Conservative party since the days of her youth. The doctor wasn’t familiar to residents of Simcoe-Grey until the 2011 federal election, because she normally hailed from Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto and the University of Western Ontario in London. Leitch’s life was centred many hours away and she survived this controversy with stellar endorsements from CPC stars like Jim Flaherty, Peter MacKay, Hugh Segal, Julian Fantino and Stephen Harper. The campaigning efforts of Pamela Wallin weren’t quite as glowing, since her visits have become a point of contention in the senate investigation (see April 26 and 29, expanded to include Jan. 17).
This prominent attention must have felt remarkable. In a rural region known for farming and rustic getaways, the area was transformed into a political Hollywood for the election. The only caveat is it required this much effort to help Leitch overcome the toxic atmosphere she was about to inherit. Her predecessor in Simcoe-Grey was also a Minister for the Status of Women, but Helena Guergis was in the process of being turfed as her replacement was parachuted by the Prime Minister. It was a timely campaign of false and tawdry allegations. Ms. Guergis saw her career destroyed to create a vacancy in the riding and much of the local executive quit to protest their loss of democracy.
Amid the many accusations against Kellie Leitch, it became apparent she would need to open up and endear herself to the locals. In a rare interview with the tiny Wasaga Beach newspaper, a limited number of constituents received a glimpse into the world of our prospective Labour Minister. This included a rare epiphany explaining just how far she traveled. In her own words, Kellie Leitch professes it wasn’t in her plans to become a doctor and she was keen to build on her father’s legacy as a founder of Fort McMurray.
The Alberta oil sands are more than a stone’s throw from the shores of central Ontario and according to Leitch, her family should be credited with bringing the oil rush to Canada because they’re the ones who built the infrastructure to make the harvest area inhabitable. This MP was proud of the environment she helped create, despite Neil Young’s comparison of Fort McMurray to Hiroshima. Of course the latter was banned from the former’s radio station, so perhaps Minister Leitch will never hear about the opposition.
This brings us to the ethical hurdles facing the Conservative party and whether Harper’s judgement would improve in time for the cabinet shuffle, meant to save the government’s reputation. These new ministers should be impervious to criticism, or rather investigation. Ideally they would lead the way by filing items properly and insulate the Canadian Parliament from any more questions of fraud or conflicts of interest. Or contempt. Or bribery. Or voter suppression. Or criminal charges. With such a turbulent track record, it only seems reasonable the Prime Minister would benefit from hindsight and wisdom in selecting his next executives.
It was previously reported that Minister Leitch was in good standing with the Ethics Commissioner and she did not declare any additional income in her report for the public registry. This is the information she provided to media in a congenial, receptive email. But that registry and the Canadian Securities Regulators at Sedar appear to have a different opinion.
The following is a public version of events, expressed in a timeline with commentary:
May 4, 2010 — Kellie Leitch causes a stir with Conservatives in Simcoe-Grey, when she attends private meetings as a star candidate who was parachuted from Toronto.
May 6, 2010 — Kellie Leitch becomes a paid trustee at Dundee REIT (see also May 10, 2010 – report of voting results). As part of a Declaration of Trust, she must agree to a non-competition clause with the company. She is not permitted to acquire an interest, even indirectly from commercial real estate, without first allowing Dundee the option of purchasing said investment (see page 37).
Dundee REIT is a subsidiary of Dundee Corporation and Ned Goodman is the owner, occupying a seat at the same table as MP Leitch. Mr. Goodman is better known as one of the richest people in Canada (see page 18). The REIT is better known for its main accounts, as landlord to the Government of Canada, Government of Ontario, Government of British Columbia, Government of Alberta, Government of Saskatchewan, Government of Quebec, Government of Northwest Territories, Enbridge Pipelines and SNC Lavalin. This is in addition to the Canada Revenue Agency, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Cities of Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta Health Services, CAE and Ministry of the Attorney General (see page 20).
In media it’s not mentioned that Dundee REIT is behind the Toronto Pan Am village, but annual filings detail the company’s $15 million investment, with an expected profit of $50 million when the properties are finally sold (see page 12).
In the same report Mr. Goodman shares his executive insight with underlings like Minister Leitch. He says,
“Inflation is a certainty because without any other reasons, and there are many, it is a political and financial tool that allows for de-leveraging of debt and payment of deficits. In addition, politicians very seldom get elected by causing deflation. Almost everyone likes inflation. If you are a government and inflate prices, then you keep people struggling and working hard to keep pace with inflation. The poorer the people are, the more likely they can be kept under control. In addition, inflation for rich people is taxable and deflation is less so. No government ever has an incentive to deflate, but has incentive in fact to inflate. Voters prefer inflation to deflation.” (seepage 19)
He would have said this while also acting as the Chancellor of Brock University.
May 10, 2010 — The appointment of Dr. Leitch to Dundee REIT is confirmed by Sedar.com (see May 10, 2010, report of voting results).
May 2010 — Kellie Leitch is slated to receive 4,607 deferred REIT units for her services as a trustee in the first year (see April 18, 2011, management information circular – within report, view page 6). Her access to sensitive information about the company and advice from owners like Mr. Goodman is granted (view page 9). The compensation structure is outlined and as a trustee, Dr. Leitch will play a role in determining these amounts, including the amount of payment due to Mr. Goodman and approval of deferred units like she received (view pages 12-13). In addition to receiving property investments and a personal stake in government tenants, Leitch receives $21,000 in cash for meeting fees (see page 18). It’s important to understand this compensation was negotiated at the onset, but actual payment would be received into the next year. The deferred units go through a 5 year vesting period, with parts maturing at each anniversary. This would provide Dr. Leitch with steady income for a minimum of 5 years (view page 16).
May 2010 — Dundee REIT confirms it will invest $20 million to construct a building for the Government of Canada in Yellowknife, fully leased to the government for 10 years (see May 6, 2010, interim financial statements – within report, view page 21).
December 31, 2010 — Kellie Leitch is confirmed to receive $21,000 in cash, for her services at Dundee REIT (see page 18).
March 21, 2011 — Much of the Conservative riding executive quits in Simcoe-Grey, due to the ouster of Helena Guergis and the parachuting of Kellie Leitch.
March 31, 2011 — As Defence Minister, Peter MacKay visits the riding of Simcoe-Grey to campaign on behalf of Dr. Leitch. On the same day, Dundee REIT releases a business update to Sedar.com that includes important information about its trustees. Leitch is legally reported to live in the municipality of Toronto (see March 31, 2011 – annual information form – within report, view pages 30, 31). This supports the accusation that she was parachuted to another riding.
April 12, 2011 — Leitch’s business partner and Dundee Corporation owner, Ned Goodman,purchases considerable interest in resource extraction from the Ring of Fire – a point of deep contention for Northern Ontario Native communities.
April 19, 2011 — Peter Cosgrove donates $1,000 to the election campaign of Kellie Leitch (see entry 29). If this was a misspelling, a fellow trustee at Dundee REIT also goes by the name of Peter Cossgrove.
May 2, 2011 — Michael Knowlton donates $250 to the election campaign of Kellie Leitch (see entry 69). He was the president, COO, executive vice president and CFO at Dundee REIT. He made this contribution two weeks before retiring from the president’s position.
Most donations were recorded at the last minute. Forty per cent arrived on Election Day and this indicates Leitch was in contact with her business partners from Toronto, while the riding of Simcoe-Grey was busy voting. No trustees at Dundee REIT are residents of this riding, according to available financial records. In addition to these individuals, the majority of political donors hail from the Toronto area and their contributions were accepted on May 2, 2011.
The return submitted to Elections Canada includes donor names such as Lara Zink (136),Dori Segal (106), David R. Wingfield (133), Kevin Warn-Schindel (128), Linda Rorabeck(100), Lori Turik (122), Kim Shannon (107), Michael S. Ras (95), Partick Meneley (83),Frank Magliocco (77), Onorio Lucchese (75), Blair Levinsky (73), William E. Lardner (71),Landon French (49), Victor Dodig (40), Bradley Cutsey (34), William J. Corcoran (28) andRita Ciccolini. It is this calibre of GTA powerhouses that funded an election campaign in rural Ontario.
(To view a candidate’s return within the Elections Canada database, a fresh search must be performed. Once the information for Leitch, Kellie, in the riding of Simcoe–Grey is displayed, select Form 2A to browse donations. Screen captures of this information are also provided below. Please be advised there is nothing improper about the donations, but they did arise from out of town, predominantly on the day of election.)
May 2, 2011 — Kellie Leitch is elected Member of Parliament for Simcoe-Grey, defeating Helena Guergis as a new face for the Conservatives.
May 12, 2011 — Ten days after the election, MP Leitch accepts paid re-appointment to the Board of Trustees at Dundee REIT (see May 16, 2011 — report of voting results). This happened at a specially scheduled event, in the Toronto Board of Trade, East Ballroom. It would have been clear to everyone that Kellie Leitch was celebrating her election, when she accepted their overtures to oversee a business that relied heavily on the favour of federal government (see pages 1, 6).
May 16, 2011 — Kellie Leitch is recorded in the Canada Gazette as being elected to Parliament. According to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, she has 60 days from this moment to file her private interests with the Ethics Commissioner for inspection. Since Dr. Leitch was immediately appointed to parliamentary secretary, her ability to engage in private employment would not have been appropriate (seeitem 7). She would not have been able to engage in contracts with the government for which she received benefit, without the Commissioner’s permission and only if the arrangement wouldn’t affect her parliamentary obligations (see items 16, 17, 18). MP Leitch was also required to disclose any income greater than $1,000, including its source, for the 12 months preceding election (see item 21).
May 25, 2011 — MP Leitch is appointed to parliamentary secretary by the Prime Minister.
July 16, 2011 — MP Leitch was due to submit her disclosure of private income and conflicts of interest to the Ethics Commissioner, in keeping with the 60 day mandate. She failed to do this within the required time and remained engaged with Dundee REIT as a parliamentary secretary.
August 15, 2011 — Dundee REIT acquires the Blackstone portfolio for $703 million (seepage 23). It was the largest portfolio ever purchased by a REIT in Canada and this transaction contained significant addresses in the heart of Toronto’s financial district (Bay Street).
2011 — Dundee REIT becomes landlord to the National Energy Board, numerous oil and resource companies, WSIB and Government Services for the Department of National Defence (see pages 20-26). Due to the nature of their tenants, Dundee’s liability for environmental protection and the cost of remediating contaminated sites is considered (seepage 27).
September 22, 2011 — Parliamentary Secretary Leitch resigns from her position at Dundee REIT. The company attributes this departure to her successful election nearly five months earlier. They note she attended four of five regularly scheduled meetings, meaning it’s probable that some of them occurred while she was a Member of Parliament — unless all the company’s business was conducted prior to May 2nd and the federal election. Leitch accepted remuneration for her service in 2011, in the form of $6,000 cash, 35,000 REIT units and 110,000 deferred REIT units, for a reported value of $151,600 (see April 11, 2012 –management information circular – within report, view page 20 – or see alternate source atpage 20, here).
September 26, 2011 — MP Leitch discloses her private interests to the Ethics Commissioner on the public registry. She reports a blind trust and income from the University of Toronto, University of Western and the Ministry of Health. She does not report the $21,000 plus $6,000 received in cash, for her previous twelve months at Dundee REIT, or the current term. She does not report her significant interest in the company’s contracts with government tenants or the oil and resource industries. In fact, there is no mention of Dundee REIT, even though this report is filed four days after resigning the private position and two months after the parliamentary due date.
September 29, 2011 — Three days later, MP Leitch makes a correction to her Ethics disclosure. This time she adds ownership of the Khristinn Kellie Leitch Medicine Professional Corporation, but still there is no mention of Dundee REIT.
2010 – 2011 — During the first year of Dr. Leitch’s tenure at Dundee REIT in 2010, the Government of Canada leased 333,187 square feet from the company (see page 21). Although she was elected to Parliament in May 2011, MP Leitch didn’t resign the position with Dundee until the end of September. During this period of dual representation, the Government of Canada became the company’s largest tenant, increasing their lease to 1,209,973 square feet in 2011 (see page 19). That’s an unprecedented increase in the company’s history of 263 percent, around the same time this parliamentary secretary was working for both entities. Since her departure from Dundee REIT, the federal government expanded their account to 1,658,129 square feet.
2012 — Dundee REIT releases an annual report that cites considerable political influence on their business ventures (see page 44).
As the current Minister of Labour, Kellie Leitch could impact the employment concerns of Dundee REIT. She will continue to receive income until her payment cycle completes in 2016, with incentive to meet their needs. There is no concern from government to abstain from voting in parliament, on matters that affect the company or any of the tenants. There is no mention of the environmental pressures to keep many of these clients profitable. The REIT units owned by the minister are more than security investments and there is nothing to indicate the Ethics Commissioner identifies these holdings as remuneration. Minister Leitch could choose between cash and securities, opting for the latter as a lion’s share of compensation. This relationship is further complicated by Dundee’s political interest in the outcome of government decisions from a number of different perspectives.
January 17, 2012 — Dundee completes their acquisition of the Whiterock portfolio, becoming a landlord to the Government of New Brunswick, Government of Nova Scotia, Quebec public health, Air Canada, provincial hydro organizations, the US Bank, TD Canada Trust, Royal Bank, Molson, PEI Liquor Control Commission, Nova Scotia Liquor Corp and the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (see last pages, B-1 to B-4).
February 14, 2013 — MP Leitch makes the last update to her ethics disclosure file. This time she adds publicly traded securities and an extra blind trust to the assets column. It’s likely these securities arise from her payment at Dundee REIT; but still there is no cash declared, no mention of remuneration and no mention of the company or its interests.
July 15, 2013 — MP Leitch is appointed to Minister of Labour and Minister of the Status of Women.
Minister Leitch has been contacted for comment, but none has been forthcoming. The only question that remains is if the commissioner will evaluate these potential conflicts of interest, the primary address of MP Leitch on Election Day and the apparent failure to disclose earned income.
***February 13, 2014 UPDATE: It is now known that MP Leitch donated to the Rob Ford election campaign. In his financial documents, it lists her home address in the City of Toronto. FreeThePressCanada will not disclose the exact location, but the election documents are a matter of public record, stored online.