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CBC ombudsman: It’s critical all sides get their say even if you aren’t sure who’s got it right

It is important that CBC continue to provide a range of perspectives and views and experiences, writes CBC ombudsman Esther Enkin.   By Esther Enkin, CBC ombudsman Go Public, one of CBC News’s investigative features, ran a series of stories involving employment and recruitment practices to bring temporary foreign workers to some McDonald’s restaurants across Canada.…

It is important that CBC continue to provide a range of perspectives and views and experiences, writes CBC ombudsman Esther Enkin. 

 By Esther Enkin, CBC ombudsman

Go Public, one of CBC News’s investigative features, ran a series of stories involving employment and recruitment practices to bring temporary foreign workers to some McDonald’s restaurants across Canada. Linda West, the head of a recruitment company involved in hiring some of the workers, complained that she and her company were misrepresented in the stories. She also said that the stories lacked balance because they did not address the value the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has for employers, and how important it is in some parts of Canada. I found that her perspective was represented. And as for the bigger picture, the series was on one aspect of the program, but CBC has done other stories and reports that look at the bigger picture. CBC policy requires balance over time.


In April of this year, CBC News launched an investigative series on the hiring of foreign workers. Through its Go Public feature, it revealed questionable hiring practices at some McDonald’s restaurants in Victoria. Based on the evidence of employees, the story stated that Canadians were getting fewer shifts than foreign workers, and were having their hours cut back to accommodate them. There were also questions raised about the failure to hire qualified Canadians. Very soon after publication of the stories the employment minister, Jason Kennedy, announced the McDonald’s franchises in question would be audited. Subsequently, other employees at McDonald’s in other locations in Canada also came forward.

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As more details became public, the government ultimately suspended the restaurant industry’s access to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Go Public also did a series of stories about the working and living conditions of a group of foreign workers from Belize. Those workers had been recruited to Canada for employment at McDonald’s by your company, Actyl. Former employees spoke to CBC News about the promises they said you had made to them about potential for overtime work. They also said you had told them their employer would reimburse them for expenses incurred preparing documentation needed to get their work permits. You said you told the reporter, Kathy Tomlinson, that Actyl is a “no-fee” agency, and you denied making any such statements. You felt this was not reflected adequately in the article.

In a later email, you stated that while the reporter says she saw receipts for expenses the prospective workers had, they did not have Actyl’s name on them. In a conversation with the news director, you questioned why the allegations were mentioned at all since you had denied them.

You also pointed to some errors in the initial stories about the Victoria franchises. The story said that Canadians could only apply for part-time work through your job site, but the truth is they can apply for full-time positions as well. You were also unhappy about a quote referencing how often your company posts on the site Kijiji to recruit Canadians for jobs at McDonald’s. You mentioned that even though Service Canada, the agency that has oversight over the program, doesn’t consider it a job site, you do post jobs there. You also mentioned that you exceed the government’s guidelines by advertising on government websites for as long as it allowed. That information, along with the fact that you do post on other websites, was shared with reporter Kathy Tomlinson in an email, and you thought it should have appeared in the article, instead of the paragraphs that were published.

You were concerned that you were mentioned in the context of the Victoria stories at all, as your organization was not responsible for recruiting those workers in the first place, and you felt that was not clear in the story.

You also felt that the entire series was biased, because it did not mention any of the positive impacts that the Temporary Foreign Workers Program has had and some of the benefits it brings to Canadian workers and employers. You thought it unnecessarily focused on some isolated negative experiences. You felt there were not enough details about how the program works, and the need it fulfills. You were concerned that your commitment to hiring Canadians was not adequately reflected in the stories.


The News Director for British Columbia, Wayne Williams, responded to your concerns, based on your written complaint and subsequent phone conversations. He addressed the two quotes from the story you found problematic. He agreed with you that the story was not clear enough about whether Canadians can apply for jobs available to foreign workers, and whether Canadians can apply for full and part-time work. He told you the story was amended, and the clarification box stated, “Canadians can apply for both full-time and part-time positions.” He acknowledged that you had told him you do advertise on Kijiji, but that when the reporter went on Kijiji, she did not find any of the McDonald’s job postings:

Specifically we wrote, “Many of the open jobs currently on the Actyl site are not advertised on popular Canadian job sites like Kijiji”.

Why is that so? Immediately after that, we paraphrased your explanation this way, “Linda West of Actyl said that is because those McDonald's locations already have government approvals to hire foreign workers”.

Following that we added a direct quote: “‘We never give up on trying to recruit Canadians’, West said. ‘We have adverts up for over a year without Canadians applying’”.

He stated that there would be no revision of this part of the story because he thought it accurately reflected what you had said.

He addressed your concern about your company being mentioned in a story where you were not the recruiter. He pointed out that the language in the story made that quite clear:

The story closely focused on a franchise outlet in Victoria, British Columbia. The Actyl Group was only included — and then in the last part of the story — as an example of one company that does recruitment on behalf of McDonald's. The story does not say or imply that the Actyl Group has any connection to the franchise that is the focus of the story. In fact, it directly says the Actyl Group largely recruits for restaurants in other provinces.

To help readers understand how the Temporary Foreign Workers Program works and why McDonald’s uses temporary foreign workers, the story included background information about the program and the recruitment process.

In responding to your questions about the receipts and the allegations from the workers about promises you had made, he pointed out that the story does not say the receipts had your company’s name on it, and that your denial of these claims was prominently stated in the story. He explained that the story focused on the working and living experience of several workers at an Edmonton McDonald’s, and it is fair to present their views as well.


You have several concerns about a series of stories that went through many iterations as developments occurred, and as workers in other McDonald’s came forward with more information. 

To continue reading this review, please go to the CBC ombudsman's website where this was originally published.

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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.