Fixing facts on Facebook.

The complainant, Jyothi Jayaraman, was one of 9 who objected to the explanation of the process of medically-assisted death. In the course of taking questions live on Facebook, the interviewee gave wrong information. CBC admitted fault and despite best efforts, came up against the limitations of making corrections on a platform they don’t control. It’s a sticky problem which requires some new solutions.


You were one of several people who complained about an interview with palliative care physician Louise Coulombe. CBC News provided content involving Dr. Coulombe on several platforms. The focus was the final stage of the life and the death of Diana Fitzharris, a woman with ALS, who died in a hospice where Dr. Coulombe works. The documentary, which ran on The National and was also posted on the website, is entitled A hospice story: The ‘amazing’ last days of Diana Fitzharris.” In addition, the producer of the segment, Diane Grant, hosted Dr. Coulombe on a live chat on Facebook. The conversation was also posted on YouTube. The segment provided a synopsis of the Fitzharris story and then opened up for questions from people following on Facebook. The discussion was framed as “What happens in the final stages of life? Palliative care physician Dr. Louise Coulombe takes your questions on death and dying.” In the course of this live interactive session, Dr. Coulombe was asked about Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). She described the process and the drugs administered by the attending physician. You said that she provided false and incorrect information:

Either she is completely ignorant of the subject (in which case she should have said so, including letting the listeners know that she was a Conscientious Objector) or she uttered falsehoods deliberately. All across Canada there are people who would like to make informed choices about MAiD and to have such a respected media outlet as CBC allow this to stand without correction is unacceptable. CBC needs to contact an expert in MAiD to give an accurate account of the process.

You are concerned that the Facebook post is still accessible with no correction or accurate information.


Raj Ahluwalia, who was acting Executive Producer at the time, responded to your complaint. He acknowledged that there were factual errors in Dr. Coulombe’s description of MAiD.

There are errors of fact in this answer, among them:

  • MAiD is a recognized medical procedure. A coroner reviews every case and would investigate any situations which were handled improperly.

  • Most of the MAiD cases in Canada do not involve barbiturates.

  • The procedure uses a combination of propofal, midazolam, and rocuronium. Doses of these medications are not, as claimed, 100 times the regular dose; in truth, it’s closer to two or three times the regular dose.

The end result of these inaccuracies is a distorted picture of Medical Assistance in Dying, which is the opposite of what we intended.

He explained that in a live situation it is sometimes difficult to catch and correct the error, and that the moderator was not able to do so. He added that it is not possible to edit the video on Facebook. As a remedy, CBC News staff “pinned” an editor’s note to the links of the content. He said this fulfilled the obligation to correct the record.


CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices makes it clear that the policies apply on all platforms.

There is no dispute that the Facebook segment contained inaccuracies. I accept that it is often too difficult to catch misstatements in a live situation. The moderator is not an experienced programme host who might have been able to intervene. Even with experienced broadcasters, errors also occur in conventional live broadcasts, but then there are prescribed remedies. The general principle, as outlined in the JSP, is this:

We make every effort to avoid errors on the air and online. In keeping with values of accuracy, integrity and fairness, we do not hesitate to correct a significant error when we have been able to establish that one has occurred. This is essential for our credibility with Canadians. When a correction is necessary, it is made promptly given the circumstances, with due regard for the reach of published error.

The fact that a situation has evolved so that information that was accurate at the time of its publication is no longer accurate does not mean that an error was committed, but we must consider the appropriateness of updating it, taking into account its importance and impact.

The form and timing of a correction will be agreed with the Director, in consultation with the Law Department where applicable.

And there is specific reference to archived material:

In the world of digital on demand, material may be accessible long after its original publication or broadcast. A dated story is not necessarily wrong. It is a reflection of the facts known at the time of publication. It can be an important part of the historical record.

But there may be times, in the light of new information, that archived material is substantially wrong. In those cases we review the material and take appropriate action that could include revising the original material, including a correction box or writing a fresh story.

Any changes to the original material will be noted to preserve the transparency of the process.

Decision to alter a story or its status should be done in consultation with the producer or editor.

Decisions to delete content should be referred to the Director.

In this case, the archived online material is not on a CBC-owned platform. I appreciate the reality that it is not possible to edit the material. This leaves a serious challenge to the programmers, who provided a remedy within the limits of the platform. However, when I click on the link to the Facebook page provided by Mr. Ahluwalia, I do not see the pinned notification, which reads:

NOTE: CBC News would like to acknowledge that there are some factual errors in Dr. Coulombe’s description of medical assistance in dying (or MAiD). MAiD is recognized as a medical procedure. Most of the MAiD cases in Canada do not involve barbiturates. Instead it’s a combination of propofal, midazolam, and rocuronium. The levels in the doses of the medication used is not 100 times the regular dose; it’s closer to two or three.

When I click on the YouTube link, I found the notation, but I had to click on “SHOW MORE” in order to see it. This remedy does not fulfill the spirit or the specifics of CBC correction policy and is unsatisfactory. It is far too likely that someone coming to either the YouTube or Facebook posts would be unaware of the correction. I acknowledge the effort, but it is not sufficient.

This is not a small error, as Mr. Ahluwalia indicated, there are many things wrong with it. While Dr. Coulombe is welcome to her views and to advocate against MAiD, CBC policy is clear that opinion expressed must fairly represent the facts. What she said did not:

Basically I’m not a proponent in it’s called MAiD, Medical Assistance in Dying. It is actually euthanasia, in Ottawa, Ontario basically it is an IV that’s started and if you look at this …(refers to a prop she has with her) the way the body shuts itself down. First of all it makes you sleepy when you don’t have reserve energy so it can take care of business, then it takes care of the heart and lungs, and then the brain stem. If you have physician assisted suicide or euthanasia what they do is they brutally try and stop the body from functioning so first they give a medication a hundred times the dose of a tranquilizer to see if they can put you to sleep and before they find out if you really go to sleep with this, then they give you a medication called a barbiturate that tries to stop the heart, its side effect is to stop the heart beating, so they give you a hundred times the usual dose to see if they can get your heart beating, but before they find out if your heart’s going to stop then they give you a paralysing drug and hopefully by then you are asleep that is going to prevent your breathing that is going to suffocate you to death, and that is essentially the way the body does it, but the body does it in a very gentle way and it’s calm and comfortable, this one is a hundred times the dose of three drugs to see if it can overwhelm the body’s fighting survival instinct and have you die quickly, and it works most of the time but it is not a medical procedure, it is basically three drugs into the IV trying to kill the body.

If CBC management chooses to use these platforms to provide content on matters of public controversy, they should find a solution to the challenge that the record cannot be adequately corrected. If there is no remedy that alerts people landing on this page that there is misinformation, then strong consideration should be given to removing the material. This is not a suggestion made lightly. There are two strong and competing values here - to preserve the record and to be open and transparent about changes and errors, and the need to ensure errors are corrected and noted. This format appears to demand a choice between the two. Management should look at weighing the benefits between the harm and the good, and in the long run find a solution to the problem before using the technology. Another way to avoid this situation would be to create guidelines for staff mounting these initiatives on Facebook and other social media.


Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman