Conservative heritage critic refuses to apologize for accusing CBC of being 'on the side of terrorists'

‘She has made unbelievably horrific allegations. She needs to retract. She needs to apologize,’ said NDP House leader Peter Julian

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OTTAWA — The Conservative critic for Canadian Heritage is accusing CBC of being “on the side of terrorists” after an internal memo from the public broadcaster asked its journalists to refrain from using the term “terrorist” to describe Hamas in their coverage.

Rachael Thomas made those comments in a parliamentary committee meeting Thursday, in another attempt to summon top CBC executives to admonish them for the broadcaster’s decisions in its coverage of the Israel-Hamas war.

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“For the CBC to make this decision is absolutely irresponsible, and it is to peddle disinformation. And it is to be on the side of Hamas, which is to be on the side of terrorists, which is to be against the Jewish population, which is wrong,” said Thomas.

Bloc Québécois MP Martin Champoux, himself a former journalist, interjected to say that CBC reporters are risking their lives to cover the conflict in the Middle East and that those “extremely grave and dangerous accusations” could put them in harm’s way.

“To suggest that reporters from Radio-Canada, CBC or any other media are taking the side of terrorists is an attack on their security, an attack to their integrity, and these are statements that are very serious, and could have very serious implications,” he said.

“I’m asking Ms. Thomas to retract and to withdraw her statement,” added Champoux.

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Thomas said she would not retract her statement and later doubled-down on her argument.

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“The point is simple. The CBC itself said that to call Hamas terrorists was to take sides. So if they’re not going to call Hamas a terrorist organization, are they not left taking a side still?”

Champoux’s calls for an apology were echoed by the Liberals and the NDP.

“These are not comments that can be excused. We can’t turn the page. She has made unbelievably horrific allegations. She needs to retract. She needs to apologize,” said NDP House leader Peter Julian, who said she put journalists on the ground “in incredible danger.”

Taleeb Noormohamed, who is parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, said Thomas’ comments would only increase divisions over the Israel-Hamas war.

“What she’s also doing — perhaps wittingly, perhaps unwittingly, I don’t know what she’s thinking — is to foment a remarkable amount of discord in communities where we already have a lot of anxiety. It is not helpful … and it is extremely dangerous,” he said.

“People’s lives are literally hanging in the balance over every word people are seeing, not just abroad, but in this country.”

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Thomas’ comments came after a week of procedural chaos in the parliamentary committee on Canadian Heritage, where the Conservatives are attempting to summon CBC executives over the public broadcaster’s journalistic standards and principles.

CBC Headquarters
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Toronto headquarters. Photo by Aaron Lynett /National Post

The president and CEO of CBC, Catherine Tait, is already scheduled to appear in front of the committee members next week, but only for one hour.

Conservatives are asking for Tait to answer questions for no less than two hours, and also want to invite George Achi, the CBC director of journalistic standards, and Jack Nagler, CBC English Services Ombudsman, to speak on the issue separately.

The party made a similar request at the public accounts committee last week, but it was shut down by the Liberals, NDP and Bloc.

In an editor’s note, CBC’s Brodie Fenlon explained that including attribution when using the word “terrorist” has been the broadcaster’s policy for decades and is mirrored by other news organizations. The BBC had a similar policy, but recently dropped it following criticism.

Fenlon also said that CBC News had teams of reporters on the ground hours after the attacks on Oct. 7 and that the work of its journalists in describing the atrocities speak for itself.

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“Our focus is to report the facts of such atrocities with accuracy, clarity and detail; to convey the scale and scope of violent acts wherever they occur; to quote the people affected, and to convey the views of officials and experts on these events. We bear witness,” he wrote.

The Conservatives, and Thomas in particular, have also taken issue with CBC over its initial reporting of last week’s explosion of a Gaza hospital. An article posted on the day of the explosion blamed an Israeli airstrike, citing the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Health Ministry.

Israel denied those claims and instead blamed a misfired rocket from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a distinct organization from Hamas. Canada has since sided with Israel, after having conducted its own independent review and analysis of the intelligence.

It is not the first time that Thomas has been asked to withdraw comments.

At the last committee meeting, Thomas told Liberal committee chair Hedy Fry, in the midst of several tense exchanges, that she would make the committee “hell” if her procedural rulings were not consistent. Thomas has since apologized for those comments.

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