Not all the facts all the time.

The complainant, John Melnick, thought an article primarily about the political fallout to the Gerald Stanley trial misrepresented what happened on the Stanley farm, and in so doing was biased and contributed to racial tensions in Canada. In fact, the quick précis of events had more than one perspective and was adequate given the focus of the piece. Balance and truth are iterative in reporting. There were many other reports with much more detail.

COMPLAINT

You objected to an article entitled Tories accuse PM of ‘political interference’ after comments on the Boushie case.” (Feb.11, 2018). The article focused on some of the political fallout after Gerald Stanley was found not guilty of charges that he had murdered Colten Boushie. You thought the story missed important details about the case, and omitted important aspects of the evidence revealed at trial:

The last three paragraphs of this story contain statements at odds with the entire body of evidence and are considered pejorative as they are incomplete and paint a picture of Indigenous youth out for a Sunday drive stopping in at a farm home to ask for help.

You said the details included were “cherry picked” and CBC’s own coverage contradicted the account in this article. You cited another report (Feb.6, 2018), which provided a broader and more complete picture of what occurred on Gerald Stanley’s farm the day of the confrontation with Colten Boushie, the passengers in his car, and his subsequent shooting. You stated the article published first sounds more like rabble rousers bent on mischief and frightening the living daylights out of a normal farm family going about their business on a summer afternoon.” You consider this important information in discussing the incident. The lack of this detail in the second article made it inaccurate and undermined the integrity of CBC News. You said it was irresponsible to run it. Even though the focus of this article was the political context, addressing accusations that the Prime Minister was interfering in the justice system, there was no excuse for leaving out “salient details.” You said there was a danger to this kind of “one-sided” reporting - you believe it leads to racial tensions in Canadian society:

You bear a huge responsibility not to fan the flames of racism and you had better live up to that. And I don't care if the Canadian press originated the article - you ran it and therefore you own it.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Chris Carter, the Senior Producer of Politics, responded to your concerns. He told you he carefully examined the three paragraphs you cited as lack of balance and creating a false picture, and he did not agree with your assessment. He pointed out that the story was not focused on what precisely had happened, nor the evidence that came out in the trial. Rather, it focussed on the political reaction to the verdict:

The CP story you are writing about is not an attempt to describe in detail the elements of the case or to decide who was right or wrong. Rather, it is about the reaction to the outcome of the trial -- in particular, reaction to the way the prime minister and some of his ministers had responded following the not-guilty verdict.

He added the three paragraphs you cited were a brief précis of events to provide some context to the political reactions. He stated that the three-paragraph synopsis presented key facts, including aspects that represented the different sides of the case. He considered that it fulfilled the need to provide a short version of what had happened in a fair manner:

This summary includes a key fact that was not in dispute (“Boushie was shot in the head while sitting in an SUV that had been driven onto Stanley’s farm”), as well as two key bits of testimony representing both sides of the case: The account of one of Boushie’s friends (the SUV driver) and the account of Gerald Stanley himself.

You’ll note the testimony cited from the SUV driver acknowledges that the group had been drinking and had tried to break into a truck on a neighbouring farm before driving onto the Stanley property. That is rather different than saying they were out for a “Sunday drive,” as you suggested the story did.

He observed that this was a highly controversial story, and that CBC News had reported on many aspects of it - including articles which presented accounts of testimony in the trial - as well as other eyewitness and police observations. Since the testimony and the facts of the trial were not the focus of the article, it was not possible to include all the details.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices states that balance is achieved by presenting a range of perspectives and views on matters of controversy over a reasonable period of time.

Mr. Carter pointed out that the focus of the political piece was reaction to the Prime Minister’s statements, and the review of what happened was there to provide context - that is a legitimate journalistic approach. Not every story can have every detail. Here are the three paragraphs in question:

The trial heard that Boushie was shot in the head while he was sitting in an SUV that had been driven onto Stanley's farm near Biggar, Sask.

The SUV driver testified the group had been drinking during the day and tried to break into a truck on a neighbouring farm, but went to the Stanley property to ask for help with a flat tire.

Stanley, 56, testified that he fired warning shots to scare the group off. He said the fatal shot occurred when he reached into the SUV to grab the keys out of the ignition and his gun "just went off."

This account stated what had happened - that Boushie was shot in the head. It also provided the defence that the shooting was accidental and mentioned that the group had been drinking and had tried to break into a truck on another farm. It is true it did not provide other details that came out in court, but I do not agree that it somehow whitewashed the situation. It presented the bare minimum of information to provide the context for the political comments that make up the bulk of this report. This article was written once the verdict was in and the extensive coverage of the trial was over. You mentioned that you personally wonder if Mr. Stanley should have been charged with murder. You drew some conclusions from information provided over a period of time. Coverage of a story is iterative, especially one as controversial and polarizing as this one. I fail to see how this brief account at the end of a story that deals with the political fallout fans racial tensions.

The article began by quoting the Conservative party leader’s reaction to the prime minister’s comments about the verdict. It went on to explore what might be considered an appropriate response from elected officials in the context of this verdict, citing multiple experts. It is understandable it did not focus on the accounts of events revealed in the trial.

As you pointed out, that detail was available in an article published five days before.

The article pointed out that some detail is still unknown or contested, and then went on to recount testimony from the Stanley family and the passengers in Boushie’s car that day. The evidence is laid out for readers to draw their own conclusions. While the February 11 article has nowhere near the same amount of detail, that does not make it biased. The fact that a range of articles and treatments are available fulfills the journalistic policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman