By Kathleen Copps, Free Omar Khadr Now Committee | October 03, 2020
To Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsperson
Re: CBC Ombudsperson’s Response to Kathleen Ruff
Dear Ms. Enkin:
From its very title, “The Contentious Case of Omar Khadr”, your dismissal of Kathleen Ruff’s complaint reflects an erroneous assumption that details of the case are open to legitimate debate. This opinion is further revealed in your statement: “It is unrealistic, and not required by policy, to provide all sides of an issue in one short radio news script.” A request for factual reporting cannot be dismissed as one side of an issue.
Kathleen Ruff (former B.C. Human Rights Commissioner) rightly claimed that by referring to Omar Khadr as “a Canadian who pleaded guilty in a U.S. military court to war-crimes charges”, the CBC ignored crucial facts and thereby contributed to misleading and biased reporting. The terms “pleaded guilty”, U.S. military ‘court’ (in fact, there was no court; only an extra-judicial military ‘commission’) and “war crimes” all imply a lawful legal process-which Omar Khadr was denied. A news item which refers to a guilty ‘plea’ without mention of its inadmissibility in a Canadian court, is grossly misleading and disreputable reporting. You quote Jack Nagler (Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement) that: “Breaking news is not the place for context or nuance”. We agree. It is therefore particularly critical that ‘breaking news’ be scrupulously accurate and not carelessly convey information in direct contrast to the truth. In any case, Omar Khadr’s legal status cannot be considered a part of breaking news. As you pointed out, you have had 12 years to familiarize yourself with the illegalities surrounding the case.
By leaving out essential details (for example: the illegitimacy of the military commission, use of torture to obtain information and extract confessions, violations of Canadian and International guarantees for due process etc) the CBC presented another misrepresentation of the facts. How can a news article which highlights Omar’s “guilty plea” not point out that the procedure was a judicial sham, a U.S. military kangaroo court deemed illegal by both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Geneva Conventions, that he had been tortured, that he was 15 when he was taken captive, that the Canadian Supreme Court has found our government to have been complicit in the violation of his fundamental rights and that the UN Committee against Torture has ruled that Canada redress the violation of those rights?
You rejected Ruff’s complaint because: “Practically speaking, it’s impossible to include all or even a good part of that disputed and often contradictory information in one brief radio news report.” Ms. Ruff did not request that contradictory information be included in your report: ironically, it was her request for the facts that you dismissed.
“The stronger one’s convictions about an issue, the stronger the conviction that one’s views should be emphatically reflected.” How disturbing that the CBC, our national public broadcaster, can reduce Ruff’s insistence that the international right to a fair trial and freedom from torture, are merely her personal and subjective “views”. How can we then differentiate your news organization - with its mandate to inform and enlighten Canadians - from other media outlets with much less lofty goals? Why should we care about the future of the CBC if it is not committed to reasonable and accurate reporting in a case that according to Constance Blackstone (Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Ottawa) enshrines the defining moment of our time.
Your rejection of Kathleen Ruff’s complaint is highly troubling because it attests to the fact that the CBC does not appreciate either the unique nature of this case or its relevance for the future of human rights in Canada. A young Canadian, the only Westerner to be released from Guantanamo and imprisoned in his native country, is, two years later, still behind bars and subjected to overt government intervention to keep him there. The fact that you see the case as “contentious” is because CBC has abrogated its responsibility to “inform and enlighten” citizens regarding our government’s complicity in the detainment and torture of a juvenile, their defiance of a unanimous vote of parliament, their refusal to abide by a Supreme Court ruling, their violation of the fundamental rights of a citizen, their maintenance of an illegal incarceration and their unrelenting efforts to demonize Omar Khadr and promote irrational fears and racial bigotry
Please review your dismissal of Kathleen Ruff’s criticisms and offer some reassurance that the CBC is committed to factual reporting and not manufacturing a mythical debate which promotes a continued travesty of injustice for Omar Khadr.
Free Omar Khadr Now Committee
FREE Omar Khadr Now Campaign
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“Some cases enshrine the defining moments of their time. Omar Khadr’s is one. Future generations will rightly judge our shocking dereliction of responsibility in this matter [and] our collective Canadian failure to extend justice and humanity.” - Constance Backhouse, Distinguished University Professor of Law, University of Ottawa.