Beware Clickbait

The complainant, Craig Gaebel, objected to a story and its headline regarding a charity’s connection to Prime Minister Trudeau and his wife. He believed there was a hidden agenda and the headline was misleading. I thought the article provided the necessary information but agreed the headline oversold the connection.


You objected to an article which linked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to a charity contest which excluded the residents of Quebec. The story was entitled Charity with ties to Trudeau excluding Quebecers from contest.” You thought the “story is very blatantly trying to confabulate some sort of fault on the PM for a charity he is ‘tied to’ simply obeying the laws of Quebec.” You said this was a case of the reporter pushing a personal agenda instead of presenting the facts.

The story concerned a charity, Plan International Canada. It was mounting a national contest to give away tickets and trips to Toronto so young people could attend a presentation by former first lady, Michelle Obama. The contest was open to all Canadians aged 14 to 24 outside of Quebec. The article explained that the rules for mounting these kinds of contests were different in Quebec, and because of Quebec’s regulatory demands it prevented Plan International Canada from being able to include Quebec residents.

You believed it left a false impression that Mr. Trudeau had anything to do with the rules of the contest, given his “roots and feminist inclination.” You thought the article implied there was an intention to disadvantage women or Quebecers when it is just as likely it was an oversight or a lack of time to go through the process for approval to hold the contest in Quebec as well.

You think the writer was trying to find “victims” in the story, showing her bias:

...the media should report on the events without trying to tell Canada what they need to think about it -- for that was VERY evident in that story.

There were other complaints about this story as well, mostly questioning the tenuous link between the Trudeau family and the charity.


Chris Carter, Senior Producer of Politics, responded to your complaint. He told you it seemed a “startling omission for a high-profile national charity” which received significant federal government funds, and that had associations with both the Prime Minister and his wife, would exclude the province of Quebec.

The Trudeaus have chosen to associate themselves with PIC. It’s a relationship that works for both; it advances the Trudeau’s oft-stated goals of empowering women and advancing inclusion, while raising the charity’s profile. And that’s what made PIC’s decision to exclude residents of Quebec – almost a quarter of Canadians – both puzzling and a matter of some public interest.

The fact that so many people were excluded, and that the prime minister had associations with the organization, made it newsworthy. He added this was not the personal agenda of the reporter or the editorial staff - the article featured a woman who was surprised and felt offended by the exclusion. He told you the report also pointed out that the charity could have sought permission to run the contest in Quebec by applying to register. He added the article made it clear that neither the prime minister nor his wife were involved in the decision to forego applying for that permission. He pointed this reference:

However, the Prime Minister’s Office said the Trudeaus had nothing to do with organizing the event or the contest. It referred all questions to Plan International Canada.


The definition of what is newsworthy - for that matter in the public interest - is somewhat subjective. I accept that the Ottawa news bureau considered it newsworthy and legitimate. The facts of this story are correct and meet the criteria for public interest. The Trudeaus have done work with this charity and they have associated their name with it. It is equally true that Plan International Canada ran a contest which excluded Quebecers, based on the regulations in that province. The reporter also included the voice of a Quebecoise who was disappointed to be excluded. The article also explained, although rather far down, that the problem is one of Quebec law:

Under Quebec law, most contests must be registered with the provincial agency that oversees gaming and alcohol. However, Joyce Tremblay, spokeswoman for the Régie d'alcohol, des courses et des jeux, says it never received an application from Plan International Canada.

Tremblay said it approves around 9,000 each year and approval is usually simply "a question of days."

In a statement, Plan International Canada said it has a policy of inclusion and had hoped to make the offer open to all youth in Canada between 14 and 24 years old.

"After consultation with a legal expert in this area, we were extremely disappointed to learn that Quebec's regulatory demands and requirements for contests in that province prevented our being able to include Quebec residents in the limited time frame we had to plan and execute the contest. As a result, our contest for tickets to hear Michelle Obama speak was not eligible to be open to residents of Quebec," the group said.

PIC said it will strive to include all Canadian youth, including Quebecers, in the future.

The article also reports that Plan International Canada receives federal funding and has done so since before this Liberal government. It also outlines the Prime Minister’s and Ms. Grégoire Trudeau’s involvement. I do not see bias in this story, but I do agree with you that there is a degree of hype, and it begins with the headline. Headline writing is always a challenge - it has to be short, sharp and pithy. It is designed to convey information about the story and to draw readers to the article. In this day and age, that is no small feat. You referred to “clickbait” and I agree that this headline veers into that territory. While it is true the Trudeaus are associated with the charity, and have shown support for it, they have no part in its governance or in programming decisions. The headline overstates the relationship and leaves the impression the ties are closer than they are. The ambiguous impression is mitigated by the clear statement in the body of the story that the charity acts independently:

However, the Prime Minister's Office said the Trudeaus had nothing to do with organizing the event or the contest. It referred all questions to Plan International Canada.

It is not false that the charity has ties to the Trudeaus - but one could argue it is equally newsworthy that an organization that gets federal funding is not able to provide equal opportunity to all Canadians. The headline overstated the story.


Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman