Tamil refugee claimant

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complainant felt that a series of interviews about a Tamil refugee claimant who faced deportation was evidence that CBC only talks to people in favour of immigration. There was no violation of CBC policy.

The Current devoted a segment of its November 13, 2012, edition to the story of “John” (a pseudonym), a Tamil refugee claimant who faced deportation. There were also interviews with his employer, his lawyer and a spokesperson from a British charity about evidence of ongoing torture of Sri Lankans who return to their country. You felt that this series of interviews is proof that CBC only talks to people in favor of immigration. “Most CBC programmes that deal with the immigration issue deliberately weight their content so that CBC ideology dominates.” You believe the host did not ask each of the guests the questions that would have revealed that the refugee claimant was a fraud. “If the host had probed more, she would probably have discovered that John had been told by previous refugee claimant relatives in Canada that he could get away with lying to Canadian authorities, particularly those whose ideology matched that of the CBC.” Overall, you thought Anna Maria Tremonti did not ask the appropriate questions to disprove John’s claim or to probe the faults you believe exist in Canada’s immigration system.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of The Current, Jennifer Moroz, apologized for the delay in the response, which she said had been written earlier, but inadvertently not sent. She refuted the claim there was bias in this story treatment. She explained what the programmers did to achieve balance, and the thinking behind it: “We could not help that the Government of Canada would not comment on John's case. Nor could we, in good conscience, not run what we deemed a legitimate story because of the government's refusal to participate. What we did do is try to incorporate the government's position into the segment – running the Toews clip and including the Border Services statement. You'll also note that in her interview with John's lawyer, Ms. Tremonti sought to tease out the government's legal argument for deporting John – as well [as] the lawyer's own rebuttal to that argument.”

She explained that the interview with Keith Best, head of the British organization Freedom from Torture, was done because his organization had research that confirmed that returning Sri Lankans were still being tortured. She said this was relevant to the discussion because the refugee claimant believed that he might be tortured if returned to his country. The adjudicator in his case found that he would not be at risk.

The segment on The Current presented one case study arising out of an incident in August 2010 when a cargo ship was intercepted off Canada’s west coast with nearly 500 passengers on board. From the outset, the Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, announced that some of those on board included “suspected human smugglers and terrorists.” Since then, as of January 2013, approximately 60 people have had their refugee claims accepted, over 70 have been rejected, 26 were deported because they were crew members or found to be members of the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group classified as a terrorist organization in Canada. The government has also changed immigration legislation to deal with illegal migrants. That is the backdrop to The Current episode. Its focus was a decision to reject the claim of one refugee and whether that decision was reasonable, based on available facts. The issue came down to a “risk assessment” – whether or not the claimant faced possible ill-treatment if he returned to Sri Lanka.

CBC Journalistic policy stresses balance and fairness:

Fairness

In our information gathering and reporting, we treat individuals and organizations with openness and respect. We are mindful of their rights. We treat them even-handedly.

Balance

We contribute to informed debate on issues that matter to Canadians by reflecting a diversity of opinion. Our content on all platforms presents a wide range of subject matter and views.

On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held these views are. We also ensure that they are represented over a reasonable period of time.

Since those in a position to defend the decision to deport this asylum seeker declined to participate in the program, the journalists had two choices: to try and represent that view by other means, or to drop the story. There are times an issue is so contentious, it might be better to defer the discussion. As Ms Moroz explained, in their judgment the story could still be told. They attempted to achieve balance in this case by including a previous statement from the Public Safety minister and by reading a statement from the Canada Border Services Agency. Ms Tremonti also asked the claimant why he feared going back, pointing out that the war in Sri Lanka is over. There was also some discussion with the claimant’s lawyer about the legal process and the case against his client.

Your certainty that this claimant was perpetrating fraud is not one that was shared by the refugee board that heard his case. It accepted he had been tortured before he fled Sri Lanka. While you are correct that there have been bogus claims, it was not the focus of this discussion. The introduction to the piece did talk about the number of claimants who had been denied, so that context was provided. The fact that Ms Tremonti did not pursue that issue in her line of questioning does not imply bias. There was no violation of CBC policy.

Esther Enkin CBC Ombudsman