CFTM-TV (TVA) re J.E. (“Crusade for a Presbytery”)

QUEBEC REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 97/98-0555)
P. Audet (Chair), Y. Chouinard (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc),M. Gervais and S. Gouin

THE FACTS

On November 7, 1997,TVA’s public affairs program J.E. reported
on a real estate deal gone sour and a decision by the Quebec Superior Court which found in
favour of the reneging vendors. The story involved the sale of a presbytery by its owner,
a fabrique (a specially incorporated parish) under the ancient legal authority of
the seigniorial regime. By equally ancient Quebec law, special legal formalities are
required for such a sale, including the passage of a private bill by Quebec’s
National Assembly. According to J.E.’s report, over the years during which the
sale was “in the works” and the potential purchasers were in physical possession
of the building and making improvements thereto, the vendors had a change of heart
regarding the sale of the property. Relying on a technicality of the ancient law governing
fabriques, they reneged on their commitment to sell the presbytery. The purchasers
sued in an effort to force the transfer of title to the property or, in the alternative,
for the amount which they had spent on renovations. J.E.'s report went, in part, as
follows (a complete transcript is provided in Appendix A):

Hélène Drainville : Il y a quatre ans, la paroisse de St-Joseph de Soulanges dans le village des Cèdres décide de vendre son presbytère.

[…]

Hélène Drainville : La deuxième offre d’achat du couple Jean est acceptée. Sur ce papier officiel de la fabrique daté du 2 décembre 1992, on peut y lire qu’il est proposé et accepté à l’unanimité, que l’offre d’achat présentée par Bertrand et Francine Jean pour la somme de 115,000 $ soit acceptée. Et c’est signé par le curé de l’époque, René Ladouceur.

[…]

Hélène Drainville : En effet, il existe au Québec la Loi sur les fabriques, mais un avocat spécialisé dans le droit immobilier ne s’explique pas la tournure des événements.

Henri Richard : Les documents échangés avec l’évêché, donc l’évê que de Valleyfield et les parties, démontraient clairement qu’il n’y avait aucun empêchement pour les fins de la vente en question.

[…]

Hélène Drainville : Le 14 juillet dernier, le juge Rodolph Bilodeau a donné raison à la fabrique de la Paroisse de St-Joseph de Soulanges. Le juge mentionne que le consentement de Monseigneur Robert Lebel de Valleyfield ne fut jamais formellement ou implicitement donné.

Henri Richard : Le législateur québécois indique que l’évêque avait approuvé la vente en date du 30 novembre 1992. J’ai beaucoup de difficulté à comprendre que le juge ait pu décider autre chose que ce que la loi avait spécifiquement mentionné à l’effet que la vente avait été autorisée par l’évêque.

[…]

Hélène Drainville : Le juge blâme sévèrement la fabrique affirmant que « la fabrique, par ses représentants, n’a sûrement pas contribué à détromper le couple Jean. »

Henri Richard : Il appert des faits rapportés par le juge dans son
jugement que même pour la fabrique, c’était clair qu’une vente est intervenue,
et je trouve dommage que le juge n’ait pas saisi l’occasion pour donner une
bonne leçon de droit civil à la fabrique, à l’effet que, lorsqu’un contrat
est accepté, il ne peut pas être annulé par la suite.

,the focus was on how the statement “a contract is a contract” could becompletely flung to the winds in this file.

It is obvious that the Gauthier-Jean couple were made bitter by thisstory and made offensive comments regarding the main players of the opposition.

The coverage of this story met with three major obstacles:

  1. No spokesperson from the Fabrique would talk to us.

  2. The Parish Priest René Ladouceur refused to be interviewed.

  3. Even the bishop Robert Lebel declined three times our invitation tocomment on the situation.

In our view, our report dealt with the most important issues of thiscase without getting caught up in all sorts of secondary considerations. Moreover, withoutany obligation to do so, we aired a follow-up to this report in order to allow BishopLebel to comment on the situation. As far as we are concerned, this file is closed.

This fact, which was evident from thecomplainant’s letters, was taken into account in considering this complaint. As thePrairie Regional Council stated in CFRN-TV re Eyewitness News (CBSC Decision96/97-0149, December 16, 1997):

[T]he complaint of an aggrievedparty does require particular attention to the words used in the letter ofcomplaint on the assumption that the party may be expected to know more about the factssurrounding his or her complaint. The Council is, however, equally aware, that anaggrieved party may come to an issue with a “thinner skin” regarding anyallegations made. There is, in that sense, a very particular balance to be brought to theviewing of such issues.

While all complaints, whether made byinterested or disinterested parties, are equally entitled to Council decisions, theCouncil understands that, in this case, the complainant ’s acute sensitivity to thetreatment of HMS 90 by the media may have skewed his perception of parts of, if not theentire, J.E. report.

The members of the B.C. RegionalCouncil had the opportunity to view a copy of the raw footage in its entirety. There is noquestion whatsoever that the video portions of the ultimate newscast were not”doctored” to leave an impression which did not reflect the actual occurrences.