Michael Enright on cigarette sales

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services


Michael Enright's essay about cigarette sales in Ontario

You wrote to complain about two elements of The Sunday Edition of February 1, 2009. You wrote, “I am concerned that (Michael Enright's) essay offended the principles and policies by suggesting that First Nation communities in this country engage in illegal activity…Mr. Enright suggested at the end of his ‘essay' that a better solution to curbing smoking would be to deal with the illegal sales of cigarettes on First Nations Reserves.” You continued: “I would also like to point out that later on his program in an interview about volunteering in third world countries he asked the guest why they didn't arrange these type of tours to First Nations. Again, I must question his characterization of First Nation communities.”

Producer Marjorie Nichol and, subsequently, Michael Enright replied. Ms. Nichol said that “Michael in no way meant to ‘sully the reputation'….of all First Nations Communities. It is certainly true that the vast majority of First Nations Communities have no involvement in the manufacture or sale of illegal cigarettes. Numerous studies have concluded, however, that a substantial portion, perhaps even a majority, of illegal cigarettes sold in this country have been sold through Aboriginal reserves.” Ms. Nichol also said that the later observation that far too many of this country's First Nations Communities live in unacceptable conditions is, sadly, simply a statement of fact.”

Mr. Enright took issue with your complaint as well.

You rejected their explanations, saying that “I do believe that your actions were irresponsible and you stereotyped First Nation reserves on two instances on the same program.”

You asked for a review. I am sorry that it has taken a bit of time to plough through a backlog of material.

It is a well-established principle of CBC Journalistic policy that anything asserted as fact by a CBC journalist must be provable as such. You appear to be asserting that the two propositions are not true. Were that the case, you would, of course, have a valid complaint against Mr. Enright.

However, it is a fact that illegal cigarette sales happen on some reserves. This appears to be well-documented. In fact, I have been in touch with non-First Nations people who have regularly made such purchases. Had Mr. Enright suggested or implied that illegal sales happened ONLY on reserves, he would have been in error. But, in fact, he pointed out that they happen on downtown streets as well.

In the other interview, discussing “voluntourism”—people traveling to less-developed countries and performing volunteer work as well as visiting—Mr. Enright asked why this kind of activity was not promoted at home, such as helping on those reserves where conditions were below standard. Unless you believe that all reserves and other identifiable areas in Canada are all functioning well, it was a legitimate question.

Some may feel that pointing to problems in any identifiable group or area may be demeaning, but the journalist's job is to shine a light on areas that some may want to keep in shadow. Problems will never be solved if they are ignored, or barred from legitimate discussion. Unless one believes there are no problems—in this case the facts do not support that hypothesis⎯the scrutiny is legitimate.


There was no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman