The union representing Evan Solomon, the prominent broadcaster fired by the CBC this week, is rushing to his defence and arguing he was singled out for harsh punishment due to pressure from past network scandals.
In a statement released Wednesday, and headlined “Excessively hard judgment,” Canadian Media Guild national president Carmel Smyth raised concerns that “there may have been a rush to judgment here and a disproportionate response.”
Mr. Solomon was abruptly dismissed on Tuesday as allegations emerged that he profited from an art brokerage business through which he traded on his journalistic contacts to arrange lucrative sales between a Toronto dealer and prominent Canadians he covered and interviewed in his role at the CBC.
The star host’s ouster from the CBC is once again putting a spotlight on the public broadcaster’s handling of a troubling disclosure concerning a high-profile employee, including how far senior managers probed what he told them. And it highlights the corporation’s challenge in striking the right response to the newest in a series of scandals that have dogged the CBC since October, shaking public trust in the broadcaster.
The CBC confirmed that Mr. Solomon disclosed in April that a company he owned with his wife, Tammy Quinn, had a business relationship with an art dealer. But it appears Mr. Solomon, who hosted Power & Politics and The House, did not tell the CBC the whole story, saying he was not active in the business. The corporation appears not to have inquired further.
“We told him, and he assured us, this could not conflict in any way with his work for CBC News,” said Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor-in-chief of CBC News, in a memo to staff on Wednesday.
In her statement, Ms. Smyth countered that Mr. Solomon’s apparent conflicts of interest “at worse may have been an unintentional breach of corporate policy” that didn’t impact his journalism, adding that other factors may have led the CBC to “single out” a respected journalist.
The corporation also fired former radio host Jian Ghomeshi last October over allegations of sexual assault, and its senior business correspondent, Amanda Lang, was ensnared in a controversy over paid speaking engagements in the months that followed.
Now, the public broadcaster must cover Parliament Hill without Mr. Solomon’s extensive network of contacts.
The information that appeared to change CBC managers’ minds came on Monday, when the Toronto Star presented the broadcaster with allegations that Mr. Solomon had collected at least $300,000 in fees for arranging art sales between collector Bruce Bailey and two powerful public figures, former Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.
Mr. Solomon and Mr. Bailey did not return requests for comment Wednesday.
The CBC launched an internal review on Monday, and uncovered further details about Mr. Solomon’s art brokerage business, according to CBC head of public affairs Chuck Thompson.
“During our review, additional information came to light beyond what had been brought to our attention on Monday,” Mr. Thompson said, but declined to comment further, saying, “I’m not going to get into any details with respect to our internal review.”
Mr. Solomon was given time to respond. But on Tuesday afternoon, the CBC decided to dismiss him – before The Star published its report on Mr. Solomon’s alleged business dealings, according to Ms. McGuire’s memo – ruling he had broken its policies on conflict of interest and ethics as well as journalistic standards and practices.
Mr. Solomon’s ill-fated partnership began in the fall of 2013, when he allegedly began introducing Mr. Bailey to acquaintances whom Mr. Solomon had covered and interviewed on TV and radio for CBC. Mr. Solomon allegedly charged a 10-per-cent commission for brokering the sales, according to The Star.
Mr. Balsillie, the wireless magnate, met Mr. Solomon a couple of years ago. “He approached me to go on his show. I declined,” Mr. Balsillie told The Globe and Mail Wednesday.
Mr. Balsillie has amassed an impressive art collection over the last 15 years, mostly of international works.
By last year, Mr. Solomon was helping broker at least one sale to Mr. Carney, the former Bank of Canada governor.
“Governor Carney has no enduring professional relationship with Mr. Solomon. He never comments on matters relating to his personal life,” said a Bank of England spokesperson.
With a report from David Parkinson
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article said Jim Balsillie’s art collection is especially Canadian works. In fact, it is mostly international.