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The complainant, Chris Warfe, thought Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos either missed an important fact or deliberately tried to misconstrue comments made by Olivia Chow during a panel about the Ontario election. It had to do with Doug Ford’s role as executor of his late brother’s estate and a lawsuit launched against him by his widow. He thought the host had conflated facts that needed to be separate and supposed it was deliberate. It was a live interview and the host’s intervention was understandable and appropriate.

COMPLAINT

A day before the Ontario provincial election, Power & Politics broadcast a segment with its “Ontario Panel,” including former NDP Member of Parliament, Olivia Chow. In the course of that conversation, Ms. Chow brought up recently revealed information and allegations about Doug Ford regarding his role as executor of his late brother’s estate. Rob Ford’s widow had filed a lawsuit against him because she alleged he was in breach of trust as executor. Other details emerged about the filing of the will itself in estates court. In particular, a one-page document had been filed in March 2018 indicating that the value of the estate was greater than the initial amount of $921,738 because an insurance policy worth about $220,000 and a bank account that held more than $2,000 had come to light. According to a report in the Toronto Star published June 5, the estate documents did not show a detailed accounting of the late mayor’s financial affairs, nor any payout to his beneficiaries. Ms. Chow raised the matter in the course of the conversation with Ms. Kapelos. You thought she had “deliberately misconstrued” what Ms. Chow was saying. You said Ms. Chow was referring to Mr. Ford’s failure to fulfill his duties as executor. Mentioning that the matter was part of the lawsuit was wrong, you believed, and explained that while it is related to it, it is actually a separate matter.

At about the 37 minute point in the show she prevents Olivia from continuing by conflating Doug Ford’s failure to perform his duties as executor with the lawsuit. These are separate things but Ms. Kapelos has given the wrong impression and confused the two things misleading the audience.

You based this position on information provided in the Toronto Star article:

The filing in estates court is what matters and it is not contested, or have to be proven in court. It is a simple statement of the value of the estate that must be filed before any moneys are normally released from the estate. The Star article seemed to indicate this document was filed late and the information in it was less than comprehensive. This is proof of Mr. Ford’s failure to do the decent thing and fulfill his position of trust. Which is the point that I believe Ms. Chow was trying to make before she was prevented from doing so.

You wondered if this was an act of bias or lack of knowledge of what was in the Toronto Star.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of Power & Politics, Amy Castle, replied to your concern. She pointed out to you that in filing the lawsuit against her brother-in law, Renata Ford alleged that Doug Ford is a “negligent business manager” and, along with his brother, allegedly attempted to prevent her and her children from getting the proceeds of an insurance policy and to deprive them of shares in the family company. She alleged Mr. Ford is in “breach of trust.” She further explained the Toronto Star reference:

With information found in the lawsuit’s statement of claim, a reporter from The Toronto Star read Rob Ford’s will, which, as you point out, had been filed in estates court. On June 5 the Star published a report detailing what is in that will, which describes Rob Ford’s holdings in generalities. The story also said that in the statement of claim, Renata Ford has asked Doug Ford for an accounting of the estate and to pay out money owed to the will’s beneficiaries.

Given that context, she said the point Ms. Chow was trying to make was "pretty clear that she is referring specifically to Doug Ford’s alleged failure as executor of his brother’s will." She also explained since virtually all of the information was gleaned from a statement of claim which has not been proved in court, it was important for Ms. Kapelos to provide clarification for this. She did so by intervening and stating “I will point out that it’s allegations in the lawsuit at this point.” Ms. Castle did not think this was intended, nor did it misconstrue, the point Ms. Chow was making:

Her interjection was intended as a clarification. She did not misconstrue information. Both the Rob Ford will and the Renata Ford lawsuit are before the courts – albeit two different courts. The allegations about Doug Ford’s “breach of trust” with respect to his obligations as executor of the will are contained in the lawsuit’s statement of claim. We (including Ms. Chow) cannot say that is true since none of Renata Ford’s allegations have been proven in court. We do not know, for example, as Ms. Chow suggested, that Renata Ford has “not gotten anything in the last two years.”

REVIEW

This is the relevant part of the conversation between Ms. Chow and Ms. Kapelos:

OLIVIA CHOW
And today we learned that she has not gotten a penny from Rob Ford's estate because Doug Ford has been managing it. So I just can't imagine what she's going through. He's remortgaged her house, and lately in the last few days, but it sounds really desperate. And if Mr. Ford has actually -- Doug Ford has actually done that to a widow and the two kids, what's he going to be doing with the rest of the Ontario families? And that's what's weighing on my mind and I hope that's what people are thinking about because it's pretty -- you know, you have to be pretty desperate to file a lawsuit and to admit that you have not gotten anything in the last two years. And that's not -- that's a fact. That's from the -- another court that has put out Rob Ford's estate.

VASSY KAPELOS
Yeah. I will just point out that it's allegations in the lawsuit at this point.

OC
No. It's actually the will --

VK
The content of the lawsuit right now are allegations. Denise, beyond that, does Olivia have a point? Is there something in the pit of PC voters' stomach when they get into the ballot box and they're wondering about checking the box on Doug Ford and wondering about his own personal credibility.

It is true that Ms. Kapelos interrupted Ms. Chow, who appears to be bringing up the issue of the will. The matter the Toronto Star piece reports is that Rob Ford’s will described his assets in generalities. It is referenced in a document which determined his worth as just under $1,000,000. However, $220,000 was added on to it later from a life insurance policy that had been overlooked. I understand you were interested in hearing the details of the documents filed in estates court. The fact is that the two are inextricably linked by Renata Ford’s allegations. Statements of claim can say anything and therefore it is important in the interests of fairness and accuracy - if not legal liability - for journalists to remind people that the allegations have not been proven in court. Ms. Kapelos was being responsible by doing so. This was a discussion about the state of play on the eve of the election, and Ms. Chow and others were pointing out that in light of the lawsuit and information about his brother’s estate, there could be questions raised about Mr. Ford’s character. There were two other people involved in this panel discussion and they too were cut off as Ms. Kapelos tried to ensure they each got a chance to bring their perspectives.

It might be frustrating that Ms. Chow was not able to finish her thought, but to see it as a deliberate misdirection is to forget that this was a live panel involving two other participants. I note she actually puts Ms. Chow’s point to the next guest:

Denise, beyond that, does Olivia have a point? Is there something in the pit of PC voters' stomach when they get into the ballot box and they're wondering about checking the box on Doug Ford and wondering about his own personal credibility.

I spoke to Ms. Chow about her perceptions of the interview. She said it was “no big deal” and had no issue with how it was conducted. She said the point she was making, based on the filings in estate court, was that Renata Ford had not yet received any money. That point is clearly made at the beginning of the conversation.

It is not a violation of policy to prevent a guest from completing a thought. This would only be an issue if one of the panelists was consistently interrupted and unable to put across their perspective. Watching it in its entirety, this was not the case.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman