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The cover of Maclean's magazine Oct. 4, 2010 issue.

The Canadian Press

Maclean's magazine has been reprimanded by the Quebec Press Council for a controversial cover last year that called Quebec the most corrupt province in Canada.

Besides the headline, the publication triggered widespread outrage in the province by running a front-page photo of the beloved Bonhomme Carnaval snowman clutching a briefcase stuffed with cash.

In a March 18 decision that was made public Tuesday, the seven-member watchdog unanimously blamed the publication for the headline and "a lack of journalistic rigour."

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The council concluded that Maclean's did not prove Quebec was the most corrupt province and that the article was based on perceptions.

The magazine didn't collaborate with the press council and offered no defence against the complaints filed by Gilles Rheaume, a well-known militant Quebec sovereigntist.

A Maclean's spokeswoman said Tuesday the publication preferred not to comment. The council has asked the magazine to make the decision public.

A majority of council members also found that journalist Martin Patriquin and columnist Andrew Coyne did not show Quebec was the most corrupt province despite amassing several points of view about the existence of a series of corruption cases.

The council wrote that no thorough and rigorous analysis was done to compare Quebec with other provinces in terms of corruption.

Six of the seven council members also took Mr. Patriquin to task for writing that problems encountered by Premier Jean Charest's government were part of a "long line of made-in Quebec corruption that has affected the province's political culture at every level."

They said Mr. Patriquin displayed a lack of journalistic rigour.

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"We are forced to conclude that they (the comments) reveal prejudice and are all the more condemnable under the circumstances as they carry prejudices against all Quebecers," the council wrote.

That lack of rigour was also attributed to a column by Mr. Coyne.

But the council rejected a complaint that Maclean's caused damage by using Bonhomme on its cover.

The article and the accompanying column aimed to answer the question of why so many political scandals originated from Quebec.

They looked at a lengthy list of issues that had dogged Charest's Liberal government in recent years and also examined provincial scandals since the 1930s.

The article made brief references to the three B.C. premiers who were turfed by scandal within a decade, and the dozen members of Saskatchewan's Devine government who were charged in an expense-account scam.

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But the two stories offered a far more detailed exploration of Quebec's various scandals and pondered the question of why corruption should be so ingrained in one political culture.

The edition created a firestorm among the political class, with federal and provincial politicians of all stripes dismissing the piece as "Quebec-bashing."

After threats of lawsuits by Quebec City Carnaval organizers, the magazine published a letter expressing regrets if readers reached inappropriate conclusions about the iconic fictional snowman.

The magazine owner, Rogers Publishing, also expressed regret in the days following the publication.

It was not the first time Maclean's had made waves in Quebec. A year earlier, a headline splashed across the cover read Montreal is a Corrupt, Crumbling, Mob-Ridden Disgrace. The story appeared before Montreal's municipal election.

Mr. Rheaume said he's satisfied with the council's decision.

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"Canada's leading magazine has been called on the carpet for spreading prejudices against Quebec," Mr. Rheaume told The Canadian Press.

"That's quite something. It shows that when we talk of 'Quebec bashing', it's something that has been proven to be true."

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