CBC Ombudsman: Journalistic Judgment: Reporting on RCMP concern about rifles converted to automatic weapons
The complainant, Rida Mirza, challenged the conclusion of an RCMP lab study that there is an increased risk from rifles converted to automatic fire.
By Esther Enkin, for the CBC
The complainant, Rida Mirza, challenged the conclusion of an RCMP lab study that there is an increased risk from rifles converted to automatic fire. He thought it was propaganda that CBC took this report at face value and that there is no issue. Disagreeing with an article doesn’t make it wrong. CBC News got the information through Access to Information. It is legitimate journalism to report what a major law enforcement agency believes is a risk.
You were critical of a news piece published on CBCNews.ca entitled “Rifles converted to automatic fire an increasing risk, RCMP internal report warns.” You said it was a “propaganda piece” and was “dishonest and defamatory.” The article was based on information from an RCMP lab report which the CBC News team had obtained under an Access to Information request. The report examined the risk posed by the potential to convert semi-automatic weapons to become fully automatic ones. The report concluded that the number of weapons that could be altered had increased a lot in the last 10 years. It also raised concerns that, while converting firearms in such a fashion is covered under the criminal code, the new weapons might not be covered in the current legislation.
The article was accompanied by a photo of RCMP officers carrying a coffin. You cited the use of this photo as evidence that this was a biased and sensational article. You thought it was completely misplaced and irrelevant in this context because “not a single mountie has been killed by an automatic select fire rifle.”
You were quite emphatic that it is illegal to convert a weapon. You rejected the statement that this was not the case for all weapons, and that it was wrong to simply accept the report’s conclusion that newer weapons might not be covered under the criminal code:
Is the CBC the propaganda arm of the RCMP? Didn’t the CBC think that in the interests of information and helping the public at large understand this issue – that if it’s illegal to convert firearms to “full auto” then how does it suddenly become legal to convert a ‘newer firearm’? Newsflash – it’s illegal to convert firearms to full auto – no ifs, ands, or buts. Newer firearms made since 1995 are not immune to the existing laws where Automatic Firearms are Prohibited.
You thought the title of the article, “Rifles converted to automatic fire an increasing risk, RCMP internal report warns,” set the wrong tone, and accepted that there actually is danger. By framing the article in this way, you said CBC is blindly accepting RCMP propaganda:
This implies that converted firearms are a current Public Safety issue.
This begs the questions – A- Whether Automatic Firearms have even been used in Canada in the commission of a crime? B- have any Police Officers ever been murdered in Canada by an individual using a converted Automatic Firearm?
You said CBC News staff did not provide enough information for people to understand the issue, which you actually characterized as a “non-issue.”
The Senior Producer for political coverage on CBCNews.ca, Chris Carter, responded to your complaint. He pointed out that this was a narrowly focused story about an RCMP lab report. Portions of this report had been made public through a CBC Access to Information request.
He began by explaining why the particular photo of Mounties carrying the coffin of a colleague was chosen to illustrate the story. He disagreed that it was gratuitous. He told you this was a photo of the pallbearers carrying the coffin of one of the three RCMP officers shot and killed by a lone gunman in Moncton in 2014. He pointed out the caption below the story explained the connection. When the RCMP investigated the case, they discovered that the gunman had considered converting his weapon to fire like an automatic. He went on to explain:
. . . because of this knowledge, the force “launched a series of lab tests on popular semi-automatic rifles” which found that “illegal upgrades” were possible on those weapons. Our story is about the RCMP’s report on the results of those lab tests.
Mr. Carter said he agreed with you that it is illegal to convert guns to automatic weapons. He told you the story was clear that this is the case. He pointed out that the regulations in the Code have not been updated since 1995, and so there was concern expressed in the RCMP report that there were types of weapons now on the market that would fall through the cracks, and that it would not be illegal to alter them.