Statement by The Globe and Mail to the Ontario Press Council Sept. 9, 2013.
My name is John Stackhouse, Editor-in-Chief of The Globe and Mail. With me here is Sinclair Stewart, The Globe and Mail’s Editor of News and Sports, and Greg McArthur, an investigative reporter and the lead writer of the article that we have been called to discuss today.
Mr. Chairman, let me begin by thanking you and the Press Council for convening this hearing. And Ms. Harrison, we appreciate the opportunity to discuss these important questions around the use of anonymous sources. I will speak to the principles and practices of our journalism, to our approach to the story being discussed today, and to the four questions raised by the Ontario Press Council.
As you know, unlike some newspapers, The Globe and Mail is a voluntary member of the Ontario Press Council and we believe in and have invested in the transparency of our journalism and how it is crafted. We have a public Code of Conduct and a senior position of Public Editor, who deals with such issues raised by readers. The Globe and Mail has very high standards for its work and we are happy to have this opportunity to explain those.
Journalists in a democracy play a vital role in bringing stories of public interest to light and I am proud of the work our journalists have done. This story, at its heart, is about the actions and background of a public figure who has much power and responsibility over the lives of our readers and the functioning of this city. This story met a very high standard of public interest, which I will explain, and was subjected to the most rigorous standards of reporting that we could apply, including repeated efforts to get a response from members of the Ford family, multiple interviews with key sources and additional, corroborative interviews with those sources by senior editors and legal counsel, all over an 18-month period. I am proud of those standards, the rigorous process applied to this work of investigative reporting, and the outstanding and important journalism that it produced.
While we understand that some people don’t like critical stories written about politicians or other community leaders, it is the responsibility of journalists to document facts that perhaps those leaders don’t want to be known. Public leaders have many opportunities to tell their story and those stories are covered as well, but the voting public and society at large needs to know much more than what elected officials want published. Ultimately it is up to the public to decide what to do with the information, but journalists need to be impartial witnesses and publish as much reasonable and defensible information as they can so that citizens, who do not have access to the same resources to question and challenge authority, can make up their own minds.
Ms. Harrison said this article could be used in a partisan way. It is important to note that there were no motives, partisan or otherwise, in our work. In fact, unlike some media, we have written positively as well as critically about the Fords, and have even, in the past year, published an article by Doug Ford on the issue of public transit. Our work on this story was driven only by the principles of full disclosure in matters of public concern, of which the commercial trafficking or drugs surely is one.
Mr. Chairman, this investigation began, as much great journalism does, with some simple questions about public officials. Our reporters and editors wanted to better understand the newly elected mayor, his powerful brother and the events that shaped them. We did not start research on this story with any expectation, especially that it would become about Doug Ford’s ties to the drug trade. Surprisingly, at the time, there was little information on the public record about the Fords’ family background. This was especially curious given Rob and Doug Fords’ repeated statements about their family’s integrity, and given that family’s long and admirable history in public life.
Starting in late 2011, our reporting began to explore that family background, and the more people we spoke with, the more it became apparent that the drug trade had been a part of the lives of Doug Ford and his siblings, and that they were known for that amongst their peer group in central Etobicoke. Given the serious public concern about drug trafficking in Toronto, and given Doug Ford’s own statements against the drug trade, we felt this information was irrefutably in the public interest.
The facts were established, through multiple interviews with multiple, independent sources, all of them anonymous. Of course, this panel understands the role of the Canadian constitution in the use of anonymous sources, but perhaps it is worth repeating for the public record that the Supreme Court of Canada has stated its views about the press and its constitutionally-mandated role under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In two recent important court cases, both involving direct and active efforts by The Globe and Mail, our courts have recognized the benefit to the public of the media using anonymous sources to tell stories that are in the public interest. In 2010, hearing a case about The Globe and Mail and its coverage of the so-called sponsorship saga, the Supreme Court bolstered the ability of journalists to protect confidential sources. Writing for the court, Mr. Justice Louis LeBel said “some form of legal protection for the confidential relationship between journalists and their anonymous sources is required.”
Earlier this year, in a separate case involving our coverage of a corporate takeover battle, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that The Globe and Mail should not be forced to identify confidential sources. That court said: “The public interest in free expression must always be weighed heavily in the balance.”
In addition to the law, The Globe and Mail has its own published Code of Conduct, written by senior staff and approved by the publisher. It states that anonymous sources may be used when they convey important information that cannot be obtained for attribution elsewhere and when they are not used to voice opinions or ad hominem attacks.
The importance to our democracy of confidential and anonymous sources cannot be overstated. As the Supreme Court of Canada recognized in a case involving the National Post – a case in which The Globe and Mail played a significant, supporting role – many important matters of public concern were revealed only because of secret sources, often internal whistleblowers. Those cases included:
1. The tainted tuna scandal of the mid-1980s, which led to the resignation of the federal Minister of Fisheries.
2. The story that Airbus Industrie paid secret commissions in the sale of Airbus aircraft.
3. Stories dealing with the City of Toronto’s health inspection system for restaurants.
4. Stories about the fall of Nortel Networks that contrasted optimistic public forecasts by company executives with internal discussions warning of a potential devastating market downturn.
Each of these stories based on anonymous sources is unique, yet each one offers information that is demonstrably in the public interest and therefore necessitates the use of unnamed sources.
Let me turn to the four questions you have asked.
1. Did the article deal with a matter that is in the public interest?
Yes, absolutely. This point was discussed by senior editors in numerous meetings before there was a decision to publish. Doug and Rob Ford have great responsibility in the City of Toronto. While Doug Ford is a city councillor, an important role in its own right, he additionally wields much power as a close, perhaps the closest advisor, to the mayor. He often speaks for the mayor, and for the city. Further, he has expressed an intention to run for provincial office as a member of the Ontario legislature and has publicly challenged the Premier. Doug and Rob Ford have influence over wide areas of public life, from taxes and budgets to transit and policing. They have campaigned on anti-drug platforms and have spoken about the need to stop drug-related crimes without acknowledging their family’s history with the drug trade. Rather, they have campaigned on the good works of the Ford family, and what the Ford name means to the city. City council and the society at large, we believe, need to understand the background of their leaders. They need to know that the story of the Ford family is more complex than the family itself has promoted, and that the facts of that story pose questions about their independence to take on the drug trade.
2. Were adequate efforts made to verify the allegations?
This story was 18 months in the making, in large part because the reporters (on the advice of editors, and in some cases, legal counsel) were sent back multiple times to corroborate details and further authenticate information provided in previous interviews. More than 100 people were approached. Many refused comment. Many referred to second-hand information about the Fords’ role in the illegal drug trade. Our reporters searched only for people with direct knowledge – those who had purchased hashish from Doug Ford, supplied him with hashish or witnessed him possessing large amounts of the drug. Eventually, the reporters located and interviewed 10 people who said they had such knowledge.
Mr. Chairman, it may be worth reiterating at this point that the focal point of our investigation was never the recreational use of drugs or some fleeting misjudgment of youth, as has been suggested by the participants, perhaps as a way of diverting critical public attention; this was about a serious and sustained commercial activity, something most of us associate with criminals.
Some of our sources were interviewed more than five times and the reporters went back to them repeatedly to run new names and anecdotes by them, in order to test the credibility of these sources. Some of our sources met with senior editors and, on three occasions, with legal counsel for The Globe. Each person who was quoted anonymously said they were afraid to attach their name to the story, citing the influence of the Ford family or problems they may face in revealing their own involvement in the drug trade. One person sought legal advice and was advised that there is no statute of limitations for drug trafficking offences in Canada. Another source who wanted to go on the record sought the approval of his immediate family, who convinced him not to consent to his name being published. One concern that came up with several sources was how the disclosure of their identity might affect their ability to travel to the United States.
After repeated, unsuccessful efforts over many months to convince sources to agree to the use of their names, we faced a dilemma: we could publish the story citing only anonymous sources, knowing the facts of the story are both true and in the public interest, or we could not publish at all. The latter option would have been journalistically and socially irresponsible.
Accepting this, we set extraordinary standards for the extent, documentation and validation of each interview. In addition to these direct sources, the reporters worked for months to seek all available public information, including court documents, related to the cases cited in the story. Additionally, as many of the events documented in the story occurred before the advancement of the Internet, they spent months examining microfiched newspapers, yearbooks and old phone directories for further contacts and information.
3. Was Mr. Doug Ford given adequate notice of the allegations and a reasonable opportunity to respond and did the newspaper include that response in its reporting?
Yes. Rob and Doug Ford (representing his family as well), were approached numerous times, directly and through spokespeople or legal counsel, and they declined to respond to interview requests. A senior editor visited Doug Ford privately, well before publication. After that meeting, more interview requests were made, and again, Doug Ford declined to respond. Throughout the reporting process, Doug Ford threatened legal action. As the article says, “The Globe wrote to Doug Ford outlining what the sources said about him, and received a response from Gavin Tighe, his lawyer, who said simply that the allegations were false.” After publication, The Globe published two articles and one video in which Doug Ford denied the allegations. The Globe and Mail has quoted him at every opportunity and made every effort to obtain his statements.
It is perhaps worth noting here that despite off-hand denials of the story’s central facts, no formal effort, to our knowledge, has been made to refute the story, and that the standard channels for redress, up to and including the public courts, have not been sought.
4. Was it appropriate for the newspaper to include references to other members of the Ford family?
The Globe and Mail did not arbitrarily decide to make Doug Ford’s family and siblings a significant part of his political biography; Doug Ford made his family the centrepiece of that biography. As it says in the article, the Ward 2 Councillor repeatedly cites his family’s contributions to the community when promoting the Fords as a political brand. On his website, it says: “Doug Ford and the Ford family have been lifelong residents of Etobicoke, where they have been highly involved members of the community.” Or while campaigning, he has said: “I’m not here to hide that the Fords have given back to the community for 55 years” and “When my neighbour calls me, I’m standing at their front door. I would never let our reputation down as a family.”
What our research found is, Doug Ford’s version of his family’s reputation is inconsistent with the recollections of many people who grew up with the four Ford siblings. When it became clear during the research that Doug Ford’s description of his family was seriously incomplete, there was an obligation to set the record straight.
As to Randy Ford, his story is inextricably linked to Doug Ford’s. Almost every source with knowledge of Etobicoke’s drug scene in the 1980s raised Randy’s history when asked about Doug. Randy’s reputation for violence was cited by several sources as one of the reasons people were fearful about standing up to the Fords at that time. The Fords have publicly involved Randy in their campaign, posing with him in photographs and bringing him along for a campaign-style tour with a Toronto Star reporter. As for Kathy, her troubled past cannot be ignored. Furthermore, much of it was already on the public record. In January, 2012, her long-time boyfriend and a convicted drug dealer was accused of bursting into the mayor’s home and threatening to kill him. When Rob Ford was a city councillor in 2005, Kathy Ford was shot in the face.
The background of the siblings is highly relevant in both cases. As is established in our story and elsewhere, the Ford siblings are close, and have exceptional influence on one another. This is a material relationship, in our view, for the mayor and his councillor-brother.
********* Mr. Chairman, let me thank the council again for giving us this opportunity to explain our journalism in a public and neutral forum.
In conclusion, I would like to stress the following:
– the facts established in our reporting are extremely serious and important to the people of this city, especially now when the public and its police force are facing evidence of an extensive drug trafficking network in northwest Toronto.
– the facts printed in the Globe could be corroborated only through anonymous sources, and was done so through extraordinary and extensive interviewing by our staff and lawyers.
– the use of such sources has been accepted by the courts of Canada, and is established in our published code of conduct.
– even for those concerned about the use of anonymous sources, the only serious alternative – that is, to not publish the story – would have been irresponsible, journalistically and civically. It is up to the people of this city to decide who their leaders are, but it is up to the media to give that public as complete and accurate information as they can. That is what we did, and what we will continue to strive to do, with the diligence, integrity and public concern that The Globe and Mail is known for.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to explain our work.
We look forward to further questions.Report Typo/Error
Follow us on Twitter: