OTTAWA — Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould continued a national conversation about systemic racism Monday, inviting the federal heritage minister to respond to concerns being raised inside the walls of the CBC.
During the House of Commons special committee meeting on the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson-Raybould said she was “very troubled” to hear a CBC Radio host in the Yukon felt compelled to quit her job last week “because she could not speak her truth.”
Wilson-Raybould referenced that under federal law, the Canadian broadcasting system should reflect the “linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society” and recognize the special place of Indigenous peoples within it.
“It would seem there are some challenges,” the former Liberal justice minister said. She asked Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault if he shares concerns raised by some journalists that problems of systemic racism still exist within the public broadcaster.
Guilbeault responded by pointing to general comments made earlier by the prime minister.
“Our government recognizes that systemic racism exists in Canada and we have made a commitment to do everything we can to combat it — in whichever organizations of the Canadian government,” the heritage minister said, by a video conference link.
Last week, Yukon Morning host Christine Genier announced her resignation during a live radio show. She credited momentum from the Black Lives Matter movement for forcing people to again confront the issue of systemic racism.
She referenced rules at the CBC that made her job “difficult” and “ineffective,” and raised concerns about the broadcaster’s role in the continued suppression of Black and Indigenous voices.
“It is difficult to have a voice as strong as mine, knowing that I’ve been told that it is strong, and I hear it now,” Genier said. “To be on Tagish Chän territory, Wolf clan territory, and not be able to speak the truth is difficult.”
The CBC has not posted clips from the episode when Grenier resigned.
In a Friday statement, Grenier alluded to a duality she felt in having her identity and connection to her heritage recognized in an institution that follows rules “written through the colonial lens, perpetuates the systemic racism and blocks our ability to bring the stories and language and culture to the programming.”
She made a number of recommendations including calling on the organization to hire more Indigenous and Black producers, hosts and reporters.
“They will help you find that balanced coverage so that we no longer feel like we are taking turns for airtime on our stories and issues when we do get airtime,” she wrote.
CBC News host Wendy Mesley was recently suspended for saying “a word that should never be used” during a planning meeting for a panel about racial inequality.
An investigation has been launched into the matter. While Mesley explained she was “careless” with her language, the public broadcaster has refused to release more information about the incident, including what was said.
No diversity on CBC/Radio-Canada’s executive team
The public broadcaster is a federal Crown corporation. It received $1.2 billion in federal funding in 2018-2019, an increase of 0.5 per cent in government money from the previous year.
According to the CBC, there are 7,459 full-time employees, 579 people on contact, and 383 temporary workers. Nearly 13 per cent are identified as visible minorities, while 2.2 per cent are Indigenous.
Chuck Thomspon, CBC’s head of public affairs, told HuffPost Canada Monday that the public broadcaster will be looking at its existing rules, laid out in its Journalistic Standards and Practices manual, and will be seeking “to ensure there is clarity as to how those principles are interpreted.”
Some of the principles outlined in the manual, for example, deal with impartiality and a directive that CBC journalists are not to express their own personal opinions.
“To do that, we will be engaging a cross-section of staff from across news, current affairs and local services,” Thompson told HuffPost Canada, in a statement. He pointed to new hiring goals to ensure “half of all new hires for executive positions will be Indigenous people, visible minorities, or people with disabilities.”
“CBC is committed to reflecting the diversity of this country, both in our stories and in our workforce. While we are making progress, we recognize that more needs to be done, especially at senior levels of the organization.”
The CBC/Radio-Canada’s executive team has no members who are Indigenous or visible minorities.
Protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism in the United States and recent cases involving Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the shooting deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi in New Brunswick, have electrified the conversation around the RCMP, defunding police, and systemic racism in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised Monday that his government will reveal new measures to “rapidly” address systemic racism “in the coming days.”