Provocative Opinion

The complainant, Mike McEwan, thought an opinion piece critical of the systematic mistreatment of Aboriginal people was expressed in a way that bordered on “hate speech.” There is a big difference between strongly-worded criticism and hate. Calling European settlers colonizers doesn’t come close. The piece was the legitimate expression of the author’s views.

COMPLAINT

You were “shocked and disappointed by an Opinion column published on cbcnews.ca. The article was a response to a report about coerced sterilizations of Indigenous women. The piece was entitled Coerced sterilizations are more than an attack on mothers; they’re an attack on Indigenous nationhood. You said the article was offensive and “probably hate speech.” You cited the reference to “those of European descent” as colonizers and accused them of deliberate genocide. You believe the term “colonizer” is used by militants and radicals, and you thought it unacceptable.

It does nothing to advance the debate on FN's (sic) issues. In fact it does the opposite by promoting anger and hate on both sides of the discussion.

You also thought there was a double standard at play. You believed had anyone tried to use a term offensive to Indigenous people, it would not have been tolerated or published:

But would the CBC allow a white supremacist to use the 'N' word in an article just because it is "a word that is in common use in both her community and others"? Or if someone from European descent wrote an article and used a word to describe Indigenous people that they found offensive would that be allowed just because it is "a word that is in common use in both her community and others"? I don't think so and nor should it be, so why was this allowed?

You thought the writer was given a forum to make “false accusations”. You do not think that the forced sterilization justified an accusation of a “grand genocidal plan.”

The author uses historical fact to assert that I and others are still engaged in a coordinated and systematic campaign of genocide against the Indigenous peoples of Canada which is not only untrue, it is highly offensive. And it certainly does play on stereotypes and in doing so infringe on the rights of others. And the term 'Colonizer's is a highly demeaning term to both my race and ethnicity. The entire article borders on harassment in this regard and certainly meets the legal definition of it.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The managing editor responsible for the Opinion page, Steve Ladurantaye, replied to your complaint. He reminded you that this article was published on the Opinion page, which has a mandate to provide a wide range of views and perspectives from a broad range of contributors. He added that while opinion pieces should adhere to the facts, the writers are given leeway to express themselves in ways reporters would not be able to.

He acknowledged that the use of the word “colonizer” would make some people uncomfortable. That was the point of its use, he said. The writer is an Indigenous woman and it is a term used in her community:

To deny an opinion writer the ability to use a word that is in common use in both her community and others would be mistake, if for no other reason than it provokes many people into thinking about their own backgrounds and lineage and gives them an entry point into these conversations.

He did not agree that she had accused “those of European descent” of “deliberate genocide.” He noted her words were more nuanced, and referred to the forced sterilizations as “another genocidal tactic.” He added that over time, settlers engaged in activities that would meet the United Nations’ definition of “genocide”:

There is no doubt that white settlers engaged in activities that were specifically intended to erase the history and futures of Canada’s Indigenous people. The reference to residential schools is one example – a system set up specifically to erase culture and history – and the specter of forced sterilization is equally troubling and terrifying to a population that has been historically targeted by the government.

Mr. Ladurantaye rejected your characterization of the column as hate speech. He did not see any sort of double standard:

In other words, I don’t understand how the accusations could “be reversed.”

While this column was clearly opinionated, it relied on historic facts to build an argument. I do not see it include stereotypes or infringements on the rights of others. Nor does it demean any race or ethnicity. I am confident it lives up to our Journalistic Standards and Practices.

REVIEW

The Journalistic Standards and Practices to which Mr. Ladurantaye referred has specific policy about Opinion. Here is part of it:

Our programs and platforms allow for the expression of a particular perspective or point of view. This content adds public understanding and debate on the issues of the Day.

When presenting content (programs, program segments, or digital content) where a single opinion or point of view is featured, we ensure that a diversity of perspective is provided across a network or platform and in an appropriate time frame.

When we choose to present a single point of view:

  • it is clearly labeled, and

  • it does not misrepresent other points of view.

The author of this article, Andrea Landry, is an Indigenous woman, an advocate and teacher. Given the mandate of the Opinion section, it is appropriate that her thoughts be published there.

Her language is strong and it likely made some people uncomfortable. They may have, like you, strongly disagreed. There is nothing in the practice of journalism nor in the specific CBC policy on opinion that prohibits being controversial or even, as you say, offensive.

You assert this is harassment and hate speech, and cite from the definition of harassment under the Canadian Human Rights Act as the making of “unwelcome remarks or jokes about race, religion, sex age, disability or any other of the grounds of discrimination.” You may not have wanted to read it, but another important fundamental freedom enshrined in Canadian law is freedom of expression. This column falls well within acceptable speech - it is a big stretch between critical and hateful.

The CBC policy asks that opinions expressed are based on facts. The facts cited by Ms. Landry are historical ones. No less an authority than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, referred to the treatment of Indigenous peoples as “cultural genocide.” In her article, written after the release of a damning report of coercion of Indigenous women to be sterilized, Ms. Landry cites many other examples of systematic and systemic mistreatment of First Nations people - residential schools, the “sixties scoop”, and the unsolved and underinvestigated murder of Indigenous women. She also pointed out incidents of mistreatment of people in the healthcare system. Each one of the examples she gave are documented. Once again, you may not like the way she expressed her views, or disagree with the conclusions, but they are hers. They arise from her lived experience and her analysis of the treatment of her people, both historically and contemporaneously. She characterized some aspects of those policies and actions as genocide. She did not accuse all whites.

Indigenous motherhood is the ultimate weapon in destroying colonialism.

That's why the report on Indigenous women being coerced into sterilizations is not simply a violation of the rights of the mothers — women who were pressured into signing consent forms for tubal ligations in the midst of labour — but also a violation of Indigenous nationhood.

It is another genocidal tactic used against Indigenous nation-building: an act comparable to the murder of Indigenous children in the walls of residential schools. It is a routine that has been completed by the colonizer since contact occurred on these lands, only this time, Indigenous mothers are taking a stand by speaking out.

You may reject the term “colonizer” but that is what Europeans did in the lands they claimed.

It is how this writer views it, and she is entitled to that opinion, just as you are entitled to reject it. Your notion that there is some equivalence to using a racial epithet is false equivalence. She may be using it in a pejorative sense, but it is not a fraught and racially-charged word.

This column expressed views in a provocative way. I am fairly certain, and encourage CBC management, to ensure there are other columns published over time that will provide other views and perspectives. This one did not violate CBC journalistic policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman