Opinions that provoke.

The complainant, Stewart Loy, objected to a line in an opinion piece by Neil Macdonald which compared those in the Catholic Church hierarchy who resist change to combat a history of pedophilia to gun owners who resist further regulation of firearms. He took it to mean that gun owners were being compared to those who protected pedophiles in the Church. That is not the comparison actually being made. While the sentence in question is provocative, its inclusion in the article does not violate the rights of those expressing opinion to do so in strong and controversial terms.

COMPLAINT

In light of revelations of a pattern of sex abuse in the Catholic Church in the State of Pennsylvania, Neil Macdonald published an opinion piece condemning what he viewed as a lack of accountability and reluctance to change in the church hierarchy, including the Pope. In the course of that column he made some suggestions about how those who exercise authority in the Catholic Church might be more accountable, but surmised they would likely not take the actions he suggested:

But the privileged old men who run the church aren't going to allow any of that. They're a bit like gun control opponents, opposing an obvious solution on doctrinaire grounds.

You were offended to the reference of gun control opponents in this context. You said it was offensive to compare gun owners to those in the Catholic Church involved in protecting pedophiles in their ranks:

As a legal firearms owner, recreational shooter, and Director at my local conservation club, this paints a picture where we are thrown into the same bin as the Catholic church members who are protecting their pedophile members. If you do your research you will find that legal PAL/RPAL holders are run through the CPIC criminal database each day, while even convicted pedophiles are not subject to the same search.

You asked for a public apology and “punitive action against Neil Macdonald.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Steve Ladurantaye, Managing Editor @cbcnews, replied to your concerns. He explained that Neil Macdonald is an opinion columnist whose job is to “share thoughts on the news of the day.” He told you that Mr. Macdonald was not comparing gun owners to pedophiles, but rather those who refuse to reform the Church and those who resist further regulation of firearms:

What he is saying is that he believes there are obvious solutions to both issues, but those involved in each issue refuse to implement what he sees as obvious solutions. As an opinion columnist, it’s within Macdonald’s remit to make that comparison.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices does allow for the expression of opinion:

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.

About 2 years ago CBC news management launched an Opinion section on the CBC News website. It is clearly marked as such. Opinion pieces, by definition, are an expression of a point of view and are often written in provocative terms. Mr. Macdonald frequently writes pointed and acerbic columns. There are parameters for opinion writing as well, but one of them is not offending or angering readers. It is the nature of the material that it might do so.

While Mr. Ladurantaye noted that Mr. Macdonald was not comparing gun owners to pedophiles, your complaint specifically states that you felt he was lumping guns owners with those within the Church who were protecting them. In fact, reading the column indicates that he was referring not to the cover up - but to those who refuse to adapt and change Church practice and behaviour - so that there would not be a repetition of the cycle of abuse and cover-up. The context is important:

The right thing for the Pope to do would be to waive his sovereign privilege (he is a sitting head of state), and invite criminal authorities to freely and fully access church records worldwide, and drain the holy swamp. He might also consider at this stage ordaining women, because women are God's creatures too, perfectly able to spiritually guide the faithful, and, umm, don't tend to rape children.

But the privileged old men who run the church aren't going to allow any of that. They're a bit like gun control opponents, opposing an obvious solution on doctrinaire grounds.

If you read the full paragraph, he is comparing those who resist further regulation to those who resist solutions like allowing a full criminal investigation and ordaining women.

He is suggesting a course of action that would change Church practice. The subheading of this part of his column is “Resisting Change.” Mr. Macdonald implied, but did not explain, that his view regarding more stringent gun control would improve the broader problem of gun violence. I appreciate that both his views on the church and gun control are controversial. I appreciate the fact that you would find it insulting to be referenced in this context - although I disagree that he is comparing gun owners with those that protect pedophiles. As this was a clearly-marked Opinion piece, and although it offended some people, freedom of expression allows for this kind of provocative discussion and there was no violation of policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman