Provocative, but Not Prohibited

The complainant, Fiena Dykstra, along with many others, objected to an Opinion column by Neil Macdonald. He called it moral dictation and condemned efforts of some who he said tried to impose their views of abortion and same-sex marriage by mounting political campaigns. He didn’t mince words, but it was written as an Opinion piece so he did not violate policy.

COMPLAINT

You said you and your family were “deeply offended” by an Opinion column written by Neil Macdonald. The article was written just after the election of Andrew Scheer. It was entitled Andrew Scheer says he won’t impose his religious beliefs on Canadians. We’ll See. You thought the column was “anti-Christian bigotry.” You considered it so offensive, you wanted it removed from the website and that Mr. Macdonald should apologize to Christians.

We are born in Canada CANADIANS, where freedom of speech and religion is OURS AS a fundamental right In Canada.

Faith whether it is as a Christian, or an atheist is a belief system....and He is bigoted to his belief system whether he likes to admit it or not.

You thought his comments about Mr. Scheer were inappropriate and unwarranted. You believe Mr. Macdonald was indulging in his personal views, and that CBC - as a national public broadcaster - should “speak for all Canadians or don’t speak at all.”

You also thought Mr. Macdonald was wrong about your beliefs. They are not based on faith, but on science:

I disagree that just because I'm a Christian I believe abortion is wrong, or why I believe euthanasia is wrong, or why homosexuality doesn't make sense...etc. Science proves these issues as being murder, harmful and not beneficial to society.

I have non-Christian friends who have the same understanding I do on these issues.

You were not alone in complaining about this column. In all, there were 29 complaints and others requested reviews as well.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Lianne Elliott, Executive Producer of CBC Digital News, responded to your concerns. She explained that Mr. Macdonald’s column was published in the Opinion section, and that the views expressed were his. She noted the Opinion section was created to provide an array of perspectives on a variety of topics, and that Mr. Macdonald's is just one of them.

She said that Mr. Macdonald was not questioning the right of believers in any faiths to practice their beliefs, but rather he was presenting the argument that “the notion that religion and state should be firmly separated is one of the cornerstones of democracy.” She added that he was being critical of those practitioners of religion who want to impose their views on others:

Religion most often involves a deep commitment to telling other people how to live their lives … they push for laws that amount to moral dictation”. The areas he specifically pointed to where this happens are in areas of morality – transgender rights, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, euthanasia and, yes, abortion. These are matters of faith, he wrote, where “‘faith’ apparently confers licence to discriminate, bully, marginalize and deprive someone of liberty (such as the liberty to end an unwanted pregnancy).”

She said Mr. Macdonald was making this point because Andrew Scheer had in the past taken positions on some of these issues, and his support seemed to have come from social and religious conservatives who shared his views. Mr. Scheer has promised not to introduce legislation on abortion or same-sex marriage - and Mr. Macdonald closed his piece by asking whether he will be able to keep matters of personal faith and public policy separated.

REVIEW

CBC News has policy dealing with Opinion:

CBC, in its programming, over time, provides a wide range of comment and opinion on significant issues.

We achieve balance by featuring multiple perspectives and points of view to reflect a diversity of opinion.

It is important to mention any association, affiliation or special interest a guest or commentator may have so that the public can fully understand that person's perspective.

You thought she was dodging responsibility when Ms. Elliott told you that the opinions expressed were Mr. Macdonald’s. You are right that CBC is ultimately responsible for all the content it publishes, however it is relevant from a policy perspective. Mr. Macdonald is a contributor to the Opinion section recently created on the CBC news site. That gives him far more licence to express a point of view, even one many may find objectionable.

You and many others who wrote on this matter objected to Mr. Macdonald’s tone; he states his case in provocative and unequivocal terms. In his view some people of faith want to impose their views on others. It is this subset he is taking on:

Religion most often involves a deep commitment to telling other people how to live their lives. In the U.S. — and to a lesser extent Canada — evangelical conservatives, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, are often a relentless and formidable political force.

He characterized their political activism as “moral dictation,” which in his view is unwelcome and inappropriate. Just as people with strong religious convictions have a right to express those views and lobby their elected officials, Mr. Macdonald has a right to criticize what he sees as the imposition of one’s beliefs in a public space. He could be wrong, and people reading the column might strongly object, but he is within the bounds of the CBC journalistic policy on opinion in doing so. He cited examples of times where he thought one group’s moral positions were being imposed on public policy, and he strong disagreed with it. He nowhere advocated that they not be allowed to express their opinions:

As a result, abortion, which the U.S. Supreme Court legalized decades ago, remains effectively inaccessible in several states. If Christian conservatives had their way, there'd be precious little access to contraception, either. Just look at the current assault on Planned Parenthood.

They fought bitterly against same-sex marriage, speciously and viciously arguing that it would somehow contaminate heterosexual marriage, or lead to pedophilia and bestiality.

They oppose transgender rights (transgender people are apparently freaks of nature or charlatans who must at all costs be restricted to a bathroom of society's choosing).

Their political lobbies want to force prayer back into school, and replace — or at least match — the teaching of science with superstition. (Yes, superstition. The word is defined as a persistent belief in something despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and there is overwhelming evidence of evolution. Humans and dinosaurs did not co-exist, as creationists would have us believe, and the Earth is a lot more than 10,000 years old despite what the so-called young earthers say).

He pointed out that in some cases these positions go up against legal restrictions. It is within this context that he wrote to express his concern about the positions taken by Andrew Scheer and to call him to account to stick to his commitment to leave abortion and same-sex marriage legislation as is. Opinion pieces, as outlined in the policy, must be based on analysis and facts. Mr. Macdonald laid out some of Mr. Scheer’s former positions and statements on these issues; he made reference to statements the Conservative leader has made in the past to back up his analysis.

Mr. Macdonald’s style is acerbic and seems designed to provoke. CBC News management has created a space within their website that allows for this kind of content. The result has, as in this case, disturbed a large number of people who disagree with this point of view. You said in your complaint that CBC must speak for all Canadians, and by mandate that is correct. However, the mandate does not say that should apply to each article, and certainly not one that is based on the opinion of the writer. While you do not agree, some Canadians might have. The ongoing challenge for the creators and curators of this feature is to ensure that over time most Canadians see themselves reflected.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman