Wendy Cukier

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Appearance of Wendy Cukier in interview about federal hiring policies

I am writing with regard to your complaint August 19, 2010, and request October 6, 2010, for a review by this Office concerning the appearance July 23, 2010, of Wendy Cukier on a CBC Radio program.

I have been working with my predecessor, Vince Carlin, to clear a backlog of files since assuming the post as Ombudsman. I regret the time it has taken to review your matter. Your patience is appreciated.

While I am identifying complainants on my website in new matters before this Office, your correspondence began long before this approach, so the review will not identify you. As well, the newly revised CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices guidelines are not in effect for this review, since your complaint came before they were published. I should note, for the record, that I do not believe the new guidelines would alter the review's basic findings.


The complainant wrote CBC concerning the appearance of Wendy Cukier on the All In A Day program on CBC Radio in Ottawa on July 23. (The segment was provided through CBC Radio's syndication service, so it was heard in other markets.) The segment in which she appeared concerned a decision by federal ministers to review federal hiring policies in response to a complaint that a position had been reserved for visible minority candidates.

The complainant noted Cukier was known to audiences as the president of the Coalition for Gun Control. In light of her stated criticism of the government's policies on guns, he asserted, there was no reasonable expectation she could provide a dispassionate and balanced examination of issues involving employment equity or hiring practices. Moreover, he asserted she had no qualifications to discuss what she was discussing.

Correspondence involving this file was less formal than usual as part of the process leading to a review by this Office. In part this caused delays and confusion about the status of the request. A show producer emailed the complainant July 26, 2010, to note Cukier's appearance was organized by CBC's national syndication desk, in effect not responding to the central criticisms.

The complainant asked the Ombudsman on August 19, 2010, for a review of the matter, citing several earlier complaints over a 17-year period regarding the issue of CBC's journalism concerning hiring practices.

CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices in effect at the time of this complaint (since updated) intersect with the concern.

The guidelines said that single programs could be based on an individual viewpoint, but that person must have “demonstrable expertise in the subject matter of the program.” Balance could be achieved over a broader period in a single program.

The guidelines extended into the appearance of guest commentators. The guidelines said they could state views as long as CBC “seeks to select commentators whose backgrounds qualify them to give expert opinion based on accurate information.” It added that “any relevant aspects of a commentator's credentials must be clearly summarized so that the audience may have a perspective from which to appraise the speaker's view.”

Conclusion

For nearly two decades, Cukier has held a national profile for her work as president and co-founder of the Coalition for Gun Control, founded in the wake of the 1989 mass killings at L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. The coalition has consistently pressed successive federal governments for tighter registration and ownership restrictions. Most recently Cukier was outspoken on the federal plans to scrap the long-gun registry.

Even a casual perusal of CBC's journalism online shows she has been regularly quoted on the issues of gun control. An overwhelming majority of her appearances on CBC have been in this area.

Still, her academic credentials involve different matters, perhaps of lesser visibility but clearly of scholastic prominence. Among other areas, she is a notable authority in the area of diversity. She has published scholarly research in the field and been cited as an authority on matters involving discrimination and employment. She also possesses a significant track record of accomplishment in the field of emerging technologies. She is the associate dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University and the founder of the university's Diversity Institute. She has been a columnist for the Metro newspaper, principally on matters of social justice.

The complaint raises an important question: Should advocacy in one field disqualify someone from participating in unrelated discussions more representative of one's scholastic career pursuits?

Those academic credentials qualified her more than adequately. Nothing in the interview suggested she was a gun control advocate. She was presented as professor at the Diversity Institute at Ryerson. The interview itself reviewed research into employment equity and Cukier presented evidence-based information throughout.

It is possible those who knew her from one field might be surprised to hear her discussing another field, but CBC did not violate its Standards and Practices in presenting her.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman