Pay the piper.

The complainant, Christopher Budgell, wanted to know why Sunday Edition host Michael Enright was able to attend the Canadian Institute for Advanced Legal Studies’ week-long lecture series in Cambridge, England. He thought it inappropriate for a journalist to be there and was a conflict of interest. He also wanted to know who paid his expenses. His inquiry led to the correction of a violation - CBC repaid the expenses. Attendance at the conference was consistent with CBC practice and in no way compromised him.

COMPLAINT

You were concerned that Michael Enright, host of The Sunday Edition, participated in a conference sponsored by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Legal studies. You pointed out he had also participated in an earlier conference in 2015, and you had communicated your objections then as well. At the July 2017 conference, Mr. Enright chaired a panel with two judges. You explained your concern:

I'm raising this issue again, given that Mr. Enright was on the programme again last year, acting as a moderator for a panel composed of two SCC justices, one of whom is now the Chief Justice of Canada. As Chief Justice he is also the Chair of the Canadian Judicial Council that I am alleging has been contravening the Judges Act since 2003, when certain changes were made to its by-laws.

You thought Mr. Enright’s presence at these conferences “have never been intended to be part of his mandate at the CBC. I.E., no specific programming has resulted. But obviously he is invited because of his reputation as a journalist. That, in effect, benefits the conference organizers.”

You asked if Mr. Enright had paid his own expenses to attend the conference. You added even if he had you believed his participation “compromises him as a journalist.”

As well as noting you believe the Canadian Judicial Council to be in violation of the Judges Act, you shared your views that contrary to the public’s view of the judiciary as serving the public interest, you have “seen a great deal of evidence of the judiciary's vigorous promotion of its own interests and consider that the bi-annual conferences in Cambridge and Strasbourg are an outstanding example.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Lynda Shorten, Director for Network Talk on CBC Radio, replied to your inquiries and concerns. She apologized for the delay in responding to your inquiry. She told you that through an oversight the Institute had paid Michael’s expenses for the 2017 conference. Your inquiry prompted the check and when the error was discovered CBC reimbursed the full cost, along with that for Mr. Enright’s partner. She noted that he did not receive a fee for his appearance “or any other compensation of any kind.” She also told you she did not agree with your assessment that any appearance at this event compromised him as a journalist:

Our journalistic hosts, producers and reporters cannot do the job we ask of them from behind a desk. We look to them for facts, context and insight. They have to know what questions to ask, and to whom those questions should be addressed. They have to know where the tensions are, the inconsistencies. Where, in short, the story is. Which means contact with people involved in those stories.

She added that Mr. Enright has a long-standing interest in legal matters and the influence of judges in our democracy. She said this has led to ongoing treatments of legal issues on the programme. She pointed out that because of his attendance at this conference, the Sunday Edition obtained an interview with the outgoing Supreme Court Justice, Beverley McLachlin.

REVIEW

The issue you raised is about potential conflict of interest and adherence to CBC standards and practices. There was a violation of policy in accepting payment of expenses. The new CBC policy has been in effect since 2014. When radio management became aware of the error, all the expenses were repaid. I have seen evidence of this transaction. It would be helpful for CBC management to reiterate these policies to staff on a regular basis, and to remind staff they are obliged to clear speaking engagements with their managers. To have an organization pay for CBC journalists could create a perception of conflict of interest - which, of course, is not permitted.

There is no violation of policy or any reason why Mr. Enright should not attend a conference of this calibre. CBC journalists are encouraged to connect with communities and to educate themselves if they are specialists. This was not a lobby or advocacy group. Here is a bit of background about the Conference and the Institute. According to its website, the Institute was started by The Right Honourable Paul Martin, former Canadian Prime Minister and Canada's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Years before that Mr. Martin had studied at Cambridge University:

The Canadian Institute for Advanced Legal Studies was the dream of The Right Honourable Paul Martin, Senior. Mr. Martin was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge University. When he returned to England many years later as Canada's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, he conceived the idea of a meeting in Cambridge which would provide lawyers and judges an opportunity to attend lectures and to engage in discussions beyond the scope of their daily work. From this idea, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Legal Studies was established. The first meeting in Cambridge was in 1979 at Queens' College. The Cambridge Lectures have continued every two years at Queens’ College since 1979.

In 1984, the Institute established a similar series of lectures in the French language in Strasbourg, France. Les Journées Strasbourgeoises are held every four years.

Over the years, many leading lawyers, academics and judges from around the world have participated in The Cambridge Lectures and Les Journées Strasbourgeoises.

In addition to the lecture series, we also provide scholarships in Mr. Martin’s name to Canadian law students for study in the University of Cambridge Master of Laws programme. Each year, two Canadian students receive full funding through the Institute’s scholarship fund for this programme.

As of 2014, we also provide a French Language Scholarship to Canadian law students for study in law at a French language European university. Each year, one Canadian student receives funding through the Institute's scholarship fund.

The weeklong meeting in 2017 had a varied programme dealing with international legal issues, matters and developments in law and jurisprudence in various countries, and included academics and jurists from many countries. To be exposed to these thinkers and discussions can only enhance a journalist’s knowledge. While there is always the need to guard against “cronyism”, journalists also rely on networking and meeting individuals who might one day be sources, or at the least important contacts for further information. I note that Ms. Shorten told you it was as a result of this conference that Mr. Enright was able to obtain an interview with outgoing Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin.

Mr. Enright hosted one session in the week, something billed as a “fireside chat.” He told me he interviewed two justices, Richard Wagner and Andromache Karakatsanis, for about 40 minutes on a wide range of topics - including a more personal look at how they handle the stress of their jobs, how hard it is to write a dissenting opinion and other aspects of the justice system. There is no mystery or sub-text here. A skilled interviewer with a record of interest in legal issues was asked to participate in a high level scholarly event where jurists reflect on their work and societal issues that may affect it.

The violation of CBC practice was corrected with the repayment of expenses. There is no other violation of CBC policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman