CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin responds to a complaint that a reference to terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo was unnecessary in a story about neighbourhood access to a private school playground.

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The complainant, Jennifer Farr, was concerned that the mention of the presence of a security guard at a Vancouver French school, hired in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, makes it more vulnerable to terrorist attack. The story was actually about a dispute over neighbourhood access to the private school’s playground. She wanted the reference removed. I didn’t think that was necessary.




CBC News published a story on February 24, 2015, about a dispute over use of a playground attached to a private school in Vancouver. The story, entitled “Restricted playground access sparks angry exchange between school principal, parent”, recounted a confrontation between the principal of the Cousteau International French School and local parents. The school is leasing the site of a former public school. While it still was a public school, according to the story, neighbourhood parents had fund-raised to build the attached playground. Some of them felt their children should still have unfettered access to it.


The school principal is quoted in the story as having security concerns for the students currently attending the private institution and as saying that neighbourhood children can use the facility after 5:00 p.m. What concerned you most about the story is a reference to the fact that the school has hired a security guard since the January Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris because it comes under the jurisdiction of the French Ministry of Education.


You feel by having mentioned this there is even a greater likelihood of an attack, and the students are being put under unacceptable risk. You want that reference taken out of the story because you don’t think it is relevant and does more harm than good:


…it greatly concerns me that there is a reference to the Paris attacks and discussion about how this school is a target….When I now google “North Vancouver Terrorist Attack”, this is one of the first stories that appears. Since children do not have voices that can be heard, I am contacting everyone I can to take this reference out of the story. In my opinion, previous to the story being published, there was no concern about terrorist attacks. The online story now makes it a target…


You believe that the ethically correct thing to do is to eliminate these references because the health and safety of people must be paramount “if there is even the slightest chance that a safety issue may arise.” In a phone conversation with me, you reiterated that you feel the very mention of the fact that the school has a security presence makes it more of a target. Nothing is more important, you said, than the safety of our children.




Brodie Fenlon, the managing editor of CBCNews.ca, replied to you after a phone conversation. He told you he also consulted with Jack Nagler, the director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, about your concerns. He told you that he and Mr. Nagler are “of the same mind that the facts you would like removed from the story are not only accurate but integral to the story. Moreover, there’s nothing in the story that reasonably exposes children at the school to greater risk. We will not be changing the story.”


Since he had dealt with you directly, he told you that if you wished you could send a formal complaint to this office.


To continue reading this column, please go to ombudsman.cbc.radio-canada.ca where it was originally published.