By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman
CBC News in Montreal published a story about SNC-Lavalin and illegal political contributions they had given to the Liberal and Conservative parties over a 7-year period. The complainant, Beverly Akerman, thought the headline featuring Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre made it sound like he knew about the payment to his riding association when he was an MP. I agree that the headline implied guilt and there was a violation of policy.
You were concerned that a CBCNews.ca article highlighting illegal contributions to political parties made by SNC-Lavalin singled out one Member of Parliament even though many other riding associations and Liberal Leadership candidates received payment as well. Elections Canada had recently informed the recipients the contributions were not legal. The article was titled “Denis Coderre’s riding association received illegal funds from SNC-Lavalin while he was Liberal MP.” You thought this unfairly targeted Mr. Coderre, currently the Mayor of Montreal, in a “pre-election period.” You noted the next municipal election is just a year away and it felt like a “political smear campaign.”
You stated the article also featured a large photo of Mr. Coderre, with the words “illegal funds” above it. You thought it left a clear impression that he was guilty. You asked since there were other riding associations mentioned, why those MPs were not named as well. You noted the cumulative effect of the story on other platforms contributed to the impression Mr. Coderre was culpable.
What I find incredible is the way Denis Coderre’s name is highlighted, creating the suggestion that he did something wrong in his riding having accepted $1000 of this amount. Meanwhile, none of the actual SNC-Lavalin miscreants are named, and no other politician singled out (leadership campaigns are mentioned, but way down in the story)!
The Managing Editor of CBC Quebec, Helen Evans, responded to your complaint.
She explained the story was based on information from the Commissioner of Elections Canada about the illegal contributions made by SNC-Lavalin employees and senior executives to various political parties between 2004 and 2011. She told you CBC Montreal found out which Montreal ridings were involved. She added that the information released did not provide a lot of detail, but one of the Liberal associations which received money was in Mr. Coderre’s riding at the time he was a Member of Parliament for Bourassa. She thought this noteworthy.
We specifically noted it in the story because we feel this information is in the public interest, especially since Coderre is now the mayor of Montreal.