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Public Editor Public editor: The problem with Ezra Levant’s complaint

Ezra Levant, Sun Media columnist and Sun TV commentator has complained about a recent Globe and Mail story.

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Ezra Levant, Sun Media columnist and Sun TV commentator, has complained about a recent Globe and Mail story. He has said The Globe story is wrong and that his column is completely correct.

So let's look at the facts from a journalistic point of view. Mr. Levant wrote a Remembrance Day column that said the Greater Essex County District School Board in Ontario circulated an e-mail that, according to him, says: "Teachers should be prepared to exempt Muslim students from Remembrance Day."

Problem No. 1: Nowhere does the memo state anything like that. So his lead paragraph is wrong.

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He backs up that assertion with this quote from the actual memo: "Some families may be reluctant to have their children attend your location municipality's ceremonies. Please note that meaningful alternate activities should be provided at the schools for those families who do not wish their children to participate in any Remembrance Day activities."

Do you see anywhere in that quote a suggestion that teachers should be prepared to exempt Muslim students? I don't and, as an editor, I would have asked him how you prove such a statement with no evidence in the memo.

Mr. Levant's column goes on to say that while the school board did not specifically point to any families, it pointed to two Muslim-themed websites.

Problem No. 2: This, too, is not correct. At the end of the memo, the school board says: "The Canadian War Museum has lots to offer with resources that are reflective of our Canadian nation – and our equally diverse local population." The memo then includes a link to the Canadian War Museum toolkit for teachers. It also includes a link to a website by an army chaplain on spirituality that references one Muslim-Canadian soldier's views on spiritual values and a separate link about the first Canadian Muslim woman to wear a hijab in uniform as well as photos of aboriginal, Asian-Canadian and African-Canadian soldiers and veterans.

Clearly that last thought in the memo relates to ways of promoting Canadian diversity.

You can read the full school board memo at the end of an article written last week by Simon Houpt of The Globe and Mail. The headline on it is: "Ezra Levant wrongly accuses Ontario school board of allowing exemptions for Muslim students on Remembrance Day."

In my view, the story is both accurate and fair. It includes the full memo, not just a selected paragraph, so that you can understand it fully yourself.

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After the article appeared, Mr. Levant reached out to Mr. Houpt to complain that the article was wrong. He offered e-mail correspondence between his producer and the school board.

Problem No. 3: The correspondence includes the producer asking about a policy exempting certain students from Remembrance Day activities. The board spokesman answers in a narrow way about the bureaucratic policy under which accommodations can be made: through religious accommodation.

At no point did the producer ask the key questions. 1. Why did you send the memo? 2. What do you mean in the memo by some families are reluctant to attend Remembrance Day activities? Why would that be? 3. Have there been any circumstances in which families have asked to have their children not participate in the activities? If so, was it for religious reasons and what religion was that?

Had those basic journalistic questions been asked, the story might have been quite different.

Nothing in the partial memo received by Mr. Levant or in the follow-up questions justified his conclusion because it is not based on the truth.

Mr. Levant also objects to the last line of Mr. Houpt's article in which he says Mr. Levant's column ends with a call to sign a petition at a website. There supporters can purchase T-shirts. They can also buy tickets to a speech with Mr. Levant and another Sun commentator. Mr. Levant says this is wrong.

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He does urge people to sign the petition at the website. The bottom of that website proclaims it as a project of another group with a direct link. That other group includes the same T-shirts and the sale of the tickets.

In my view, that is not a significant factual error and so no correction is needed.

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