CIII-TV (Global Television) re Confrontation at Concordia

(CBSC Decision 02/03-1340, -1368, -1514 & -1530)
R. Cohen (Chair), H. Pawley (Vice Chair, Public), M. Harris (ad hoc),P. Hebden, M. Hogarth, P. O'Neill


Global Television initially broadcast a documentary film entitled Confrontation at Concordia on May 9, 2003 at 9:00 pm.  (It has subsequently been broadcast on other occasions, some of which led to complaints, which are also dealt with in this adjudication.)  The film documented the tense relations between the different factions in the then upcoming Concordia University Student Council elections.  In telling that story, the filmmaker (also the narrator and interviewer), Martin Himel, focused on the incident of September 9, 2002, in which former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been prevented from speaking at Concordia as the result of street protests and the physical confrontation of the opposing sides, as well as some damage to Concordia's educational plant.

 In Introduction to the Complaints

In all, the CBSC received 19 complaints relating to one or another of the broadcasts of the program.  Of these, only four of the complainants were dissatisfied with the broadcaster's response and filed Ruling Requests, seeking the review of the broadcast by a CBSC Adjudicating Panel.  The full texts of the four complaints (as well as the broadcaster's responses thereto) leading to this CBSC adjudication are provided in Appendix B.  Salient aspects only are provided in the body of this decision and these are discussed in more detail below following the presentation of a detailed summary of the documentary film.  (More detail is provided than is customarily the case in CBSC decisions in order to provide sufficient background to render the complaints, particularly the second complaint, more comprehensible.)

The documentary began with a video clip of students putting up an election poster for the “Evolution” Party over the audio introduction by the filmmaker, which established the backdrop for the documentary production.  Martin Himel's underlying theme was put to the film's viewers in the following terms (a full transcript of the documentary film can be found in Appendix A)

The election campaign at Montreal's Concordia University always begins with a race. Concordia has been shaken by a groundswell of hatred and prejudice. And that toxic atmosphere has spread to other universities across the continent. What's at stake here is a lot more than the selection of a new student government.  This vote will determine if tolerance and the right to free speech will return to Concordia.

The following segment focused on the planned Netanyahu speech, the attempt to put a stop to it, the statement by Frederick Lowy, the University Rector, to the effect that the presentation would not take place, and the reaction to that announcement on the part of the audience gathered to hear the speech.  The segment included shots of Concordia student Samer Elatrash and his supporters (who were opposed to the Netanyahu speech) occupying the escalators in their attempt to block access to the auditorium.  Elatrash and his colleagues succeeded.  There was then the first of several interviews with Yoni Petel, the President of Hillel Montreal (the Jewish student organization that represents the diverse social, religious and cultural needs of the Jewish student population at McGill, Concordia, Université de Montréal, UQAM and the CEGEP campuses in Montreal), who provided his perspective on why Elatrash had made the effort to stop the speech.  The documentary then cut to an interview with Netanyahu, who made the following observations regarding the Concordia events: 

The Concordia issue.  You were there.  They tried to stop your speech.  They rioted.  How do you feel about that?

Well, I've encountered it actually in only two places, I have to say, in Concordia and Berkeley, these bastions of free speech and free thought that cannot tolerate anyone who deviates from their orthodoxies.  In fact what you have is an implantation in North America of this same unforgiving fanaticism that says “we will not allow the engagement of a contest of ideas, we will not allow a free market of ideas,” which is precisely a microcosm of the problem that we have in these societies that spawn and produce terrorism.  They rigidly control what their people hear and see so that they can control what they think and feel.  And this is the essence of the problem.  If the real solution to this fanaticism is ventilation, the aeration of various ideas, then you got a whiff of the underlying root cause of terrorism in Concordia.  That is the unwillingness to have a free exchange of ideas.  The root cause of terrorism is totalitarianism.

Following a commercial break, there was a segment on the post-September 9 period.  The filmmaker developed the voice-over narrative in the following terms: 

In the months following the Netanyahu riots, the situation went from bad to worse. Pro-Palestinian activists and students on the Council generated a campaign of intimidation in an effort to ban Jewish student movements.  Throughout , the United States and Canada, there is an effort to delegitimize Israelas a Jewish state on campuses.

What has transpired on campus mirrors events in the Middle East. Palestinian and Israeli leaders had embraced the Oslopeace process. It envisioned a two state solution: a Palestinian Arab state alongside the Jewish state of Israel. That process collapsed in October 2000. The Palestinians launched their Intifada, their uprising, a ruthless wave of terror, suicide bombings, random shootings targeted primarily Israeli civilians.  To stop this unprecedented campaign of terror, Israel launched assassination strikes. They occupied the West Bank. They clamped down curfews. It claimed the lives of many Palestinians.  And with the launching of the uprising, anti-Israel activists, backed by student council members launched their own offensive against Hillel, the Jewish student movement in Concordia. 

Samer Elatrash is the brains behind the offensive.  He leads Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, SPHR.  For Samer, sabotaging the Netanyahu speech was a key tactical victory. On one of the walls in Samer's office is a map. It outlines what used to be Arab villages in what is now . In 1948, five Arab armies invaded here to destroy a Jewish state before it was born.  The Jews survived the onslaught.  Samer and Arabs call that the Nakba, the disaster.   During the war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees.  Samer is clear-cut in his aim, the return of the refugees and the destruction of Israelas a Jewish state.

The documentary then cut to an interview with Samer Elatrash, who put his position in the following words: 

I think every Palestinian who wishes to return to their home or to their area or to the territories where he or she used to live or was expelled by force, um, should return. I think that right now what we are looking at, especially given the failure and collapse of the Oslo peace process and the seeming, I think, impossibility of creating the two-state solution, one way to resolving [sic] the conflict is to strive for a secular state, that's built on the simple premises of respect for human rights, respect for cultural rights, respect for religious rights – then don't trespass on anyone else's cultural or religious rights, under the framework of a representative government.

Himel then provided an opportunity to Yoni Petel to speak on the issue of racism and his family's Iraqi roots.

Well, you know, Samer Elatrash, in saying that, is already denying thousands of years of Jewish history.  He's denying my history.  It's a racism [sic] in itself.  That's the problem.  That's why we have no peace in the Middle East.  It's because there's an impossibility for the Arabs to recognize the legitimacy of Israelthere.  There are religious connections, historical connections, archaeological evidence.  It's Israel. 

My father's side of the family is from Iraq.  My grandfather at the age of, I think, about 14, was arrested on charges of Zionism.  They were basically thrown out.  They really were stripped of everything.  Millions of dollars worth of assets were stolen from them.

My family traces its roots to back to 27 hundred years, which is about as rooted as you can get in a place.  The frustrating thing is that everybody talks about Palestinian refugees and Arab refugees; nobody mentions Jewish refugees.  There were, you know, almost a million Jews that were thrown out of Arab countries.  I absolutely accept that there should be two states west of the Jordan, an Arab state and a Jewish state.  The problem isn't that there can't be.  The problem is that the Arabs don't want it.

The narrator reported that “Samer has been suspended from studying at Concordia for three years for his role in stopping the Netanyahu speech.  He has appealed and can attend classes for now.”

Laith Marouf, one of the persons siding with Samer, was shown preparing for a Concordia Student Assembly General Assembly.  Then, a verbal disagreement between Laith and Samer, on the one hand, and Concordia security personnel, on the other, followed.  While the security guard was shown backing off, the narrator explained that the CSU had banned Hillel and cut the Jewish organization off from Student Council funding, pointing out that the Palestinian student organization had not been similarly deprived. 

Following the commercial break, the segment dealt with the issue between the CSU and Hillel.  The narrator explained the disagreement in the following way:

Sabine Friesinger [then the Concordia Student Union President] and the Concordia student executive are anti-Israel and anti-Bush. Her Council banned Hillel. It was the first time Hillel was banned since Nazi-dominated banned the Jewish movement in the 1930s. The Student Council banned Hillel because Hillel was calling on Jews to enlist to [sic] the Israeli military. The Council said it violated the law.  The RCMP investigated and threw out the case.  Hillel has gone to court to get the Student Union to reinstate its funds.  The Student Union is now demanding all Concordia clubs and Hillel sign a non-violence pledge to receive funding.  Hillel says that is just an excuse to avoid the issue.

The Hillel President made some comparisons to a situation involving the web site of the Students for Muslim Awareness, which he contended was similar to the Hillel situation.  The segment then included a pro-Muslim song by CSU official David Bernans on the subject of the case of Sobia Virk, a Muslim student representative on the University's Board of Governors, who objected to the serving of wine at a meeting of the Board.  Rector Lowy gave his perspective on the matter.  “I have no doubt,” he said, “that she is authentic in terms of her religious beliefs.  At the same time, to impose those beliefs on other people who don't share them is not in our tradition.  It's not in most people's tradition.” 

The discussion shifted briefly to Petel's and Elatrash's views on the alleged anti-Semitism of the SPHR representative, then turning to the CSU General Assembly, at which pro-Hillel speakers were booed down and dissuaded, if not prevented, from speaking.  The narrator explained the strong link between Hillel and Jewish student life, on the one hand, and Jewishness and the state of Israel on the other, explaining in conclusion that “When Samer and other activists say they want Israel wiped out, the vast majority of Jews take that as being anti-Jewish.”  There was then an interview with Thomas Hecht, at the time of the confrontation a member of the Concordia Board of Governors.  He said: 

This was anti-Semitism.  I was the object of their hatred but of a hatred which expressed itself with placards; with a kind of venom which I have not seen on the streets of a city since the horrible days of occupied, Nazi-occupied    And I think that the university will have to suffer the consequences of this.  It will not come, the change will not come from one day to the other.  The perception of Concordia will not be that of an institution where freedom of speech can be freely expressed. Because the way these thugs behaved was not any better than the people who were condemned for such behaviour in 1939 in Europe.

When I tried to enter, somebody approached me with a masked person.  They had a hood or something, or a burka, or a shador on, I don't know if it was man or a woman and they kicked me in the groin. They spat on me.  I felt as though I was in Bratislavain 1939 again, where they also spat on me because I was a Jew. But that was Czechoslovakia under German occupation and I was experiencing something which I thought would never happen again: that I was guilty of something because I was Jewish. I was guilty of wanting to hear a speech. 

Following another commercial break, the documentary cut to a demonstration against the war in Iraq and, the narrator reported, a protest march in which “many also support the violent offensive against Israel.”   The narrator described the setting: “Iraqi flags surround Palestine here. One of the greatest supporters of the Palestinian uprising is Saddam Hussein. He provides up to $20,000 for every suicide bomber.  And just as the uprising needs Iraqi cash, Samer needs the CSU support for his cause.”  The filmmaker reported that Rector Lowy had serious concerns about how the funding supplied to the CSU was being spent.

Well, we have serious concerns about how their money is spent.  This power has taken student government in directions that really are peripheral to the interests of most students, to the neglect of things that are much more important to most students.

The thread of the documentary then returned to the matter of the Concordia Student Union elections and the choice between the Evolution Party and the Clean Slate Party, the latter being the group supported by Elatrash and his colleagues.  Sabine Friesinger's point of view was quoted, as was Rector Lowy's reference to the “rich ethnic mix that the University has.”

The next segment of the documentary was oriented around the American author and Director of the Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes, who was speaking at McGill University in Montreal while the Muslims for Peace association was picketing outside.  The one on-screen question put to Pipes during his talk was a pro-Muslim confrontational challenge, which was followed by the peaceful but symbolic departure of the questioner from the forum.  One of the strong points made by Pipes, after referring to York, Harvard and Berkeley Universities, was that freedom of speech is absent on university campuses.  In his words,

The campuses are islands of repression in a sea of tolerance.  There's a freedom of speech that exists in the media, it exists in the political world, it exists even in corporations.  It does not exist in the place it's supposed to exist, most especially, namely, the university.  There is not freedom of speech.

Following the next commercial break, more of the confrontation between the Palestinian and Jewish groups was reflected in very vocal disagreements, one of the most passionate of which involved Laith Marouf screaming “fascist bigots” several times at the Hillel representatives.  There was also reference to an art show, in which a controversial piece of art related to 9/11 and the twin towers; it included an interview with the artist.

In the final segment, a large (unidentified) Montreal anti-war demonstration was the initial subject.  As a part of the march, the film included a large poster showing a stereotypical Jewish caricature being masturbated by a stereotypical American, oil being the ejaculate.  Laith Marouf was also videotaped as one of the marchers.  The narrator provided the following perspective on the poster:

It was exactly this fascist tactic of slander used by the Nazis that worked so well in dehumanizing Jews. That led to the Holocaust. Where will this hatred go?  Quebec history is stained with anti-Semitism.  It's facing a dangerous resurgence now.

The documentary concluded as it began, with the subject of the CSU elections.  The point was made that the turnout was, at least initially, very low.  Notwithstanding that, the results were not tabulated and announced until about 6:00 am.  The result was that Clean Slate lost to Evolution by a margin of about 2 to 1 on a total of about 3,400 votes cast.  Samer Elatrash was shown with the results on a piece of paper in his hand and described as wanting to challenge the election.  The narrator's observation was that he has “trouble accepting defeat.”  The filmmaker's concluding comments:

Will change come to Concordia?  Will hatred and intolerance of Jews end on campus?  Will the administration find the resolve to put a decisive end to intimidation?  We'll have to wait and see.


 The First Complaint 

The first of the four complaints was sent by the Canadian Muslim Forum on May 25 to the CRTC, which forwarded it to the CBSC in due course.  The letter provides a detailed list of points, which fall under the following categories:

As the videotape shows in the program, we have observed the following:

1. Biased presentation of Jewish relations with Muslim and Arab students on Concordia university campus: 
  [A detailed list of specific examples of that point follows.]
2. Anti-Semitic accusations against Quebec and groups of citizens:
  [A detailed list of specific examples of that point follows.]
3. Hate propaganda and racism against Muslim Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular:
  [A detailed list of specific examples of that point follows.]
4. Covering-up the administration's mishandling of the student conflict on the campus:
The TV program has presented:
a. Dr. Lowy refusing to investigate the discrimination in Concordia with no valid reason as if it doesn't exist.
b.   The problem of Concordia as if it is a problem of one or two students.


Consequently, the Canadian Muslim Forum (CMF) considers the above-mentioned Global TV program [.] a clear and outrageous exercise of hate propaganda against Arabs and Muslims, and as a result we demand a full investigation of the program. .

On June 16, the Deputy Editor of Global News responded, in part, as follows:

As you are aware, under the Broadcasting Act, broadcasters, including Global Television are required to provide a broad spectrum of information and entertainment programming for “men, women and children of all ages, interests and tastes”.  Television programming is required to be diverse and appeal to a wide variety of audiences.  What one viewer might consider an interesting or amusing program might lead another to turn the channel. 

In the documentary Confrontation at Concordia, the issue is not about who is right and who is wrong about the events that are portrayed in the film.  It is clear that each side has grievances, each side has pain, and each side has its arguments. What is at the core of the documentary is how the students chose to express their arguments – with intolerance, violence and disrespect towards the principles of free speech and meaningful debate.  By exploring the students' actions, the documentary intends to point the way towards a more constructive atmosphere in which to air their grievances. 

In a larger context, what is most important to us as a broadcaster, is a recognition that healthy controversy is essential to the maintenance of democratic institutions.  Our responsibility as programmers is to deliver news, opinion, comment and editorial views on all issues including those that are controversial in nature. We feel strongly that we accomplish this objective by providing full, fair and proper presentation of such issues within the broader spectrum of our programming schedule.   

The complainant organization, dissatisfied with the response, sent its Ruling Request on June 23.

 The Second Complaint 

The second complaint was sent on May 29 by a law firm on behalf of a number of clients, three individuals and two organizations, all of whom (or which) were identified in the documentary.  The thrust of the complaint was not litigious or even legally menacing; it appeared rather to constitute a method of representing the common interests of the individuals and organizations identified by the firm as its clients.  That letter said, in principal part, 

Ce « documentaire » est Ie produit final d'enregistrements, poursuivis pendant des dizaines et des dizaines d'heures, auxquels nos clients ont collaboré à titre d'invités.

Nos clients ont accepté d'y participer sous les représentations, qui se sont revèlées fausses, de produire un documentaire sur les conflits entre étudiants à l'Université Concordia.

Ce « documentaire » peut être assimilé de la propagande sioniste, un espèce de commercial qui denigre la Concordia Student Union, Ie Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, leurs dirigeants et membres.

Ce document fait exprimer à nos clients, des opinions qui ne sont pas les leurs et met sur leur bouche des mots qu'ils n'ont jamais prononcés.

Le narrateur, malicieusement, dit que la présidente de Concordia Student Union est anti-Israel alors que l'on évite de faire entendre ses commentaires qui expriment des positions qui sont ceIIes votées par I'O.N.U. et appuyées par les représentants politiques canadiens.

Le document traite nos clients de terroristes et pousse l'ignominie jusqu'a dire que M. Samer Elatrash et Ie S.P.H.R. ont besoin du support de la Concordia Student Union de la même façon que les palestiniens qui se font exploser dans les lieux publics en Israël ont besoin de Saddam Hussein.

Il ne faut pas oublier que Global T.V. fait partie du consortium CanWest, les propriétaires duquel ont imposé à tous les journaux qu'ils possèdent des éditoriaux nationaux, écrits à Winnipeg, enlevant ainsi aux équipes éditoriales locales l'autonomie et l'indépendance. lls ont de plus, donné directives de ne pas publier des articles critiquant la politique israëlienne et les actions du gouvernement présidé par monsieur Ariel Sharon.

Le supposé documentaire ne démontre aucun respect pour les personnes ayant accepté d'y participer, constitue une diffamation malicieuse, attise la haine contre toute personne se déclarant en faveur des droits du peuple palestinien et plus particulièrement vis-à-vis nos clients. [.]

Le dit « documentaire » ne démontre aucun équilibre et objectivité dans l'analyse des conflits, entre étudiants, sur Ie Campus universitaire. Les étudiants d'origine juive sont les victimes d'agressions et de racisme, les autres sont les agresseurs qui leur enlèvent Ie droit de parole et les maltraitent comme faisaient les nazistes en Allemagne. Voilà Ie thème central et la thèse préconçue. Un simple visionnement de ce documentaire fera comprendre ce qui est ci-haut décrit et même plus.

Il ne s'agit pas d'une simple bavure journalistique, commise de bonne foi, mais d'un plaidoyer diffamatoire, non objectif raciste, non éthique et irrespectueux des droits de nos clients et du public canadien.

II semble que les enregistrements au complet aient dépassé 100 heures pour un produit final d'environ 45 minutes. Il s'agit d'un collage sciemment construit pour démontrer la thèse de départ des réalisateurs.

Dans ce documentaire, on traite de la venue à Montréal de l'ancien premier ministre d'Israël et de la conférence qui n'a pu avoir lieu à cause de la contestation des étudiants de Concordia. Cet événement est traité comme la preuve de la privation du droit de parole des juifs canadiens et des étudiants d'origine juive à Concordia. Il n'est pas sans intérêt de souligner que la venue au Canada de l'ancien premier ministre avait été parrainée par Israël Asper, Ie patron de CanWest. 

That letter was followed by another on June 3, which contained more detailed analysis, including segments from the documentary presented as transcripts, and further comments or arguments relating to those excerpts.  It should be noted that the excerpts in question, which are included in the correspondence that constitutes Appendix B, are frequently incorrect or incomplete.  The full, verified transcript (prepared by the CBSC Secretariat) is in Appendix A.  Consequently, as is the CBSC's practice, the aspects of the transcript which are directly relevant to this decision are cited in the body of the text, and those excerpts are taken from the transcription prepared by the CBSC Secretariat.

Correspondingly, only those aspects of the second letter (that of June 3) from the complainants that are dealt with in this decision are cited in the body hereof.  It should also be noted that the Panel has attempted to summarize the detailed text of that letter in a manner that reflects the areas of concern rather than to slavishly deal on a chronological basis with the complainants' presentation, which is, after all, available in Appendix B.

In some ways, the very first paragraph of commentary by the complainants sets the scene for the overall complaint and it reads as follows:

When taken in context with other statements made by the narrator throughout the documentary, these words set the tone for the documentary's main message: that it is the pro-Palestinian side that has caused the “groundswell of hatred and prejudice” at Concordia, whose “toxic atmosphere has spread to other universities across the continent.” By stating that the “vote will determine if tolerance and the right to free speech will return to Concordia”, and later on presenting the main candidates as the Palestinian-favoured Clean Slate versus the moderate Evolution slate, the message is clear.  

Most of the other comments by the complainants develop this theme, by observing that the filmmaker has overstated either the aggressive or hostile aspects of the pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli part of the Concordia confrontation or the victimization of the pro-Israeli or Hillel components of the Concordia confrontation.  Occasionally, this issue is underscored by the complainants' argument that there was no opportunity given to the pro-Palestinian participants to express their perspective, despite the considerable footage shot that would, it is implied, support that viewpoint.  An example follows:

Here, Yoni offers his opinion on why Samer participated in the demonstration, speculating of his motivations and intentions. Yet Samer is given no chance to respond and offer his own reasons. Nor is Samer or anyone else offered the chance, before or after, to refute Yoni's claim that Netanyahu is indeed a war crime [sic]. This despite the fact that the producer had hours of interview footage with Samer where he clearly stated his case against Netanyahu and his reasons for participating. 

On other occasions, the complainants simply argue that the filmmaker has offered no proof of his “charges”.

Some arguments are also made by the complainants relating to the larger Middle East conflictual issues.  This decision does not deal with those matters since they are, in the view of the Panel, relevant to a much larger international issue, which is well beyond the purview of this decision, which is limited to the documentary.  As the complainants themselves acknowledge in their complaint, “the SPHR's aim is not to target student groups like Hillel, but to promote understanding and awareness of Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied territories.”

There are also some examples of disagreement with the interpretation of events.  This includes the complainants' conclusions regarding the relationship between the CSU and Hillel.  They said:

The Concordia Student Union never banned Concordia Hillel. On December 2nd 2002, the CSU's Council of Representatives (the union's de-facto Board of Governors) suspended Hillel for passing out a recruitment flyer for the Mahal program, which enlists international Jewish youth in the Israeli army (IDF). The advertised program includes 4.5 months of training in “handling weapons, close combat, combat drills, disguise, etc.” When the Hillel president refused to apologize to the council for the flyer, the council voted to suspend Hillel until they apologize for the flyer and/or until the university administration intervened to make a judgment as to whether the suspension was fair (at heart was the question of whether or not the flyer violated Canada's Foreign Enlistment Act). A few days later, the suspension was amended to allow Hillel to table and hold events on campus, but to withhold their funding until they signed a pledge against racism and military — a requirement that would be placed on all other CSU-funded clubs as well. It is disingenuous, to say the least, to call this course of action a “ban.”

It extended to their view of the Thomas Hecht interview.  They said:

What Hecht describes as experiencing on September 9th is certainly anti-Semitism. But to compare what occurred that day with the actions of the Nazis is ridiculous. When a picture of the broken window on Sept. 9th fades into the broken window of a Jewish home or establishment during Kristallnacht, a very clear comparison is being made of Sept. 9th to a vicious, murderous campaign of a state terrorist force against innocent victims. That is harshly unfair and injurious to the pro-Palestinians who are being compared to Nazis, and is also an incredible insult to the victims of the Holocaust. No matter what one's feeling about the broken window on September 9th, it is a fact that the window was broken when no Jews were around — except for those Jews who were among the crowd that was being beaten by the police. Regardless, to compare that act with Nazi terror campaign is so inappropriate that no commentary can do it justice. 

And not detract [sic] from what Hecht suffered on that day, but it's also worth noting that he was one of the organizers of the Netanyahu event. Does the fact that it was thwarted possibly put him in a position to be all the more biased against the crowd that shut it down? Should this possible conflict of interest have been mentioned by the narrator?

There was also straightforward disagreement with the broadcast on the basis of, relatively speaking, smaller issues.  There is, for example, the allegation that the filmmaker's use of the term “hostile mob” in the second segment is incorrect; it “is really just one individual.”  Later in that segment, the complainants allege that the use of the word “supporters” to describe the individuals who, either with Samer Elatrash or coincidentally with his actions, blocked access to the Netanyahu speech on the Concordia escalators.  There is the contention that Elatrash is laced in “Palestinian, Iraqi and Canadian flags, as well as a bevy of signs and banners”, rather than just “the flags of Saddam Hussein's Iraq“.  In the third segment, the complainants disagree with the description of “Samer Elatrash [as] the brains behind the offensive.  He leads Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, SPHR.”  They contend:

Samer does not lead the SPHR. At the time of the interview he was VP Media relations for the Concordia branch of SPHR, a national organization that has ten branches in different campuses across the country. Samer has never identified himself as a leader, or the brains behind anything. This is a fabrication that has no basis in any facts or anything Samer mentioned to the narrator at any point during the interviews.

At another point in their discussion of the third segment, the complainants state that “it's important to note that Yoni Petel is not even a Concordia student.  Finally, for these purposes, in the seventh segment, the complainants disagree with the narrator's observation that “Concordia activists are at the demo.”  They argue that “Laith is the only 'CSU activist' shown.

On June 20, the Deputy Editor of Global Television News responded.  The letter was structurally quite similar to the broadcaster's response to the first complainant; however, the following two paragraphs were also present in that response.

We recognize, respect and accept the complaints made by your several clients regarding the documentary, Confrontation at Concordia.  However, the issue is not of “right” and “wrong” perceptions of the events portrayed in the film.  It is clear that both sides have grievances, each side has pain, arguments and anger.  Each side claims justice as its objective.

We strongly disagree with your suggestion that the program was malicious, defamatory, or unethical.

On February 24, 2004, the National Chair of the CBSC wrote the broadcaster, with a copy to the complainant law firm, to request further details regarding Global's possible response to matters raised in the very detailed June 3 letter.  To provide an introduction to that request, the most pertinent paragraph from the CBSC letter is cited here.  The full text of the CBSC letter can be found in Appendix B.

The difficulty presented to the Panel is the following.  While the Panel understands that the letter and the accompanying analysis express a point of view, your letter to the firm provided no countervailing arguments (in the event that there are any), which would enable the Adjudicators to assess the validity of the allegations.  Since the Panel is unfamiliar with any of the underlying materials, it is in no position to refute any of the points made by the lawyers, if indeed any refutation can be made.  CBSC Panels always prefer to adjudicate matters so as to take a balanced viewpoint and this is usually possible on the face of a customary record.  The Council rarely receives complaints of this nature and scope, though, and, since it considers that its fundamental duty is to render a fair and balanced decision, it has decided to write to you to offer Global Television the opportunity to respond to the specific points raised in the 14 pages of the appendix to the June 3 law firm letter.

The CBSC letter included a series of precise point-by-point queries to the broadcasters, each of which referred to matters raised in the June 3 letter of the complainants.  The Global Television's Deputy News Editor replied to the CBSC by a letter dated February 25, which was received March 9.  That letter began:

You are quite correct in your perception that my response to all of the complaints regarding the Global TV documentary, “Confrontation at Concordia” were [sic] similar in style and content. To be honest, we felt that the specific points raised were either without merit or were acceptably answered in our original response(s).

That said, it is my pleasure to offer further enlightenment to the CBSC's National Conventional Television Panel by responding to each of the points in the attachment to your letter of February 24th. As well, we would like to thank the panel for carefully reviewing the complainant's “transcripts” of the program, and noting that the panel [actually, the CBSC Secretariat] discovered inaccuracies in its “quotations”.

The full text of the Global Deputy News Editor's point-by-point response to the CBSC queries, equally framed for ready reference to the June 3 letter of the complainants, can also be found in Appendix B.

 The Third Complaint 

Following another broadcast of the documentary on July 2, the CBSC received the following complaint:

This program promotes hatred against Palestinians and unfairly shows them [sic] have no rights to live in Palestine.  It shows Benjamin Netanyahu as a good man while in fact he was accused in Belgium of war crimes against the Palestinians during his military service.  It shows the Palestinians as criminals while ignore [sic] the fact that Israel kills Palestinian kids every day; how come it ignores the Palestinian kid “Mohamed ElDora” who was killed on TV and the whole world watched him die!!  I believe this program is very biased and inaccurate and I demand that at least this TV channel gives the same chance to Palestinians to express their point of view.

The broadcaster replied on August 8 in substantially the same terms as it had used in its reply to the first complainant and the third complainant, dissatisfied with that response, filed a Ruling Request on August 11.

The Fourth Complaint

The last of the complaints was filed on July 4.  The complainant's concerns were focussed on the attitude expressed in a part of the program toward Quebec.

Martin Himel's documentary titled “Confrontation at Concordia” made some derogatory generalizations about Quebec.

The fact that majorities use minorities to attack other minorities is divisive. Global CanWest has no business broadcasting this into Quebec.

The complainant filed a second message on July 8, in which he expressed himself in similar terms.  When pressed by the CBSC's Correspondence Officer for further details, he replied:

I think I was clear.�� Disparaging remarks about Quebec.  Stating that Quebec was anti-Semitic.  That is stupid, ignorant and inflammatory cheap-shots that did not belong there.  I don't like hearing dumb remarks like this from Anglophone media, reporting about events at an Anglophone university by Anglophone students.  Especially not Ontario based media owned by a British citizen.

The complainant sent substantively similar e-mails on July 9, 10 and 25.  The General Manager of Global Television's Quebec station, CKMI-TV, responded on August 6 and the complainant sent another e-mail, in this case to the Global Television representative (copied to the CBSC) on August 8.  That e-mail added the following comments, among others (which can be found in Appendix B).

I resent, totally, having an Ontario based television corporation voice disparaging generalizations about Québec.  Maybe you can find where TéléQuébec pipes anti-Ontario or anti-Alberta comments into Ontario and Alberta.

As for “each side” as you stated. Anglophone pro-Palestinian and Anglophone pro-Israeli kids are being obnoxious with each other and you have to state that Quebec was anti-Semitic.  What does Québec have to do with this?

 The CBSC understood this response to be the equivalent of a Ruling Request.

 Ruling of the Conseil de presse du Québec

Most Canadian Press Councils deal only with print material.  The Conseil de presse du Québec does, however, include electronic media within its ambit.  Consequently, it happens from time to time that the Conseil and the CBSC are called upon to treat the same news or public affairs broadcast, although the two bodies do so on the basis of different codified standards.  The broadcast of Confrontation at Concordia is an example of a matter that has led to challenges (by different complainants) under both processes.

The decision of the Conseil de presse (CPQ Decision D2003-07-002, February 13, 2004) having been rendered first, the CBSC's National Conventional Television Panel has the opportunity to take notice of that ruling (which relates to different aspects of the same broadcast).  The Conseil proceeding resulted from a filing by the lawyer for the Quebec organization entitled 'Collectif échec à la Guerre', which complained principally of having been characterized by the filmmaker and broadcaster as an anti-Semitic organization.  There were also subsidiary complaints related to the presentation of the Quebec peace group.  The Conseil de presse dismissed that complaint, maintaining only one generalized issue of the characterization of the anti-war movement and its sympathizers.  (The full text of the Conseil de presse decision is provided in Appendix C.)

While neither of the foregoing matters is material to the complaints in the present CBSC adjudication, the Conseil de presse's description of point-of-view documentary is of more than passing interest to the Panel.  The Conseil concluded that their decision did not amount to

une attestation de l'objectivité, de l'équilibre ou de l'impartialité du reportage. Au contraire, le Conseil a constaté un parti pris proisraélien présent tout au long du reportage.

Le Conseil a estimé que l'émission soumise à son attention appartenait au genre journalistique du « documentaire d'opinion », un genre journalistique relevant du journalisme d'opinion qui accorde aux professionnels de l'information une grande latitude dans l'expression de leurs points de vue, commentaires, opinions, prises de position, critiques, ainsi que dans le choix du ton et du style qu'ils adoptent pour ce faire.

Toutefois, le Conseil aimerait rappeler que la liberté d'opinion est également assortie d'exigences éthiques et que la latitude dont jouissent les journalistes et les médias doit s'exercer dans le respect des valeurs démocratiques et de la dignité humaine. Dans cet esprit, ceux-ci doivent être fidèles aux faits et faire preuve de rigueur et d'intégrité intellectuelles dans l'évaluation des événements, des situations et des questions sur lesquels ils expriment leurs points de vue, leurs jugements et leurs critiques.

De plus, il est primordial pour les médias de bien identifier les produits de cette nature afin d'éviter tout malentendu. L'absence d'indications sur la nature particulière de ce genre journalistique peut conduire le public à assimiler une opinion éditoriale, partiale par définition, à un produit d'information.

Or, sur cet aspect, le Conseil de presse a observé que le documentaire « Confrontation at Concordia » ne se présentait pas, ni par son titre, ni par sa facture sous des dehors permettant d'identifier qu'il s'agissait de journalisme d'opinion, ce que le Conseil ne peut que déplorer.




The National Conventional Television Panel considered the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio and Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster.  This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 7 – Controversial Public Issues

Recognizing in a democracy the necessity of presenting all sides of a public issue, it shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to treat fairly all subjects of a controversial nature.  Time shall be allotted with due regard to all the other elements of balanced program schedules, and the degree of public interest in the questions presented.  Recognizing that healthy controversy is essential to the maintenance of democratic institutions, broadcasters will endeavour to encourage the presentation of news and opinion on any controversy which contains an element of the public interest.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Clause 1 – Accuracy

Broadcast journalists will inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and fair manner about events and issues of importance.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Clause 3 – Authenticity

Broadcast journalists will present the news and public affairs without distortion.  Interviews may be edited provided that the meaning is not changed or misrepresented.  Broadcast journalists will not present news that is rehearsed or re-enacted without informing the audience.  Newsrooms should take steps to ensure the authenticity of amateur video and audio tape before broadcasting it.  Editorials and commentary will be identified as such.

The National Conventional Television Panel reviewed all of the correspondence and viewed a tape of the broadcast.  The Panel recognizes that the documentary film at issue was not detached and objective in a journalistic sense; however, the Panel is not of the view that its broadcast was in breach of any of the foregoing provisions of the either the CAB Code of Ethics or the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.  That being said, the Panel considers that it would have been helpful to the audience to inform viewers that the broadcast was a point-of-view documentary.

A Preliminary Matter: The International Arab-Israeli Conflict

Certain of the complaints delve into matters which fall outside the internal political issues which are the subject of this decision.  In fact, a careful examination of the transcript of the broadcast makes it very clear that what little discussion there was of the international Arab-Israeli conflict was presented on a single occasion by the narrator and this only as a contextual basis for the understanding of the actions at Concordia.  The relevant words, cited above, are:

What has transpired on campus mirrors events in the Middle East. Palestinian and Israeli leaders had embraced the Oslopeace process. It envisioned a two state solution: a Palestinian Arab state alongside the Jewish state of Israel. That process collapsed in October 2000. The Palestinians launched their Intifada, their uprising, a ruthless wave of terror, suicide bombings, random shootings targeted primarily Israeli civilians.  To stop this unprecedented campaign of terror, Israel launched assassination strikes. They occupied the West Bank. They clamped down curfews. It claimed the lives of many Palestinians.

Not only do these words not assign blame for the failure of the Oslo peace process, as one of the complainants suggests, but there is also sufficient balance in the foregoing paragraph between the steps taken by the Palestinians and the Israelis and their respective losses in human terms following the collapse of the Oslo accord.

In any event, and more to the point, the National Conventional Television Panel will not deal with the international aspects raised by some of the complaints for those issues are beyond the scope of the program.  Questions relating to the peace process, the United Nations, occupation, settlements, provocative actions by Palestinians and Israelis, the current armed conflict and international legal issues, among others, may be pleaded and dealt with in other forums.  They will not be adjudicated by this Panel.

Another Preliminary Matter: The Human Rights Issue

The Panel also considers that some preliminary observations are in order with respect to the human rights issue, namely, whether there have been abusive or unduly discriminatory comments made on the basis of national or ethnic origin.  The first complaint, from the Canadian Muslim Forum, has raised that issue, referring to “hate propaganda and racism against Muslim Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular.”  In particular, the Forum has alleged that the program “presented Arabs and Muslims as responsible for spreading hate propaganda and supporting Terrorist organization [sic].”  The second complaint uses the word “racist” on one occasion and the third complaint asserts that the “program promotes hatred against Palestinians.”

The Panel considers it essential to draw a distinction between comments that may be political and those that may offend the human rights provision of the CAB Code of Ethics.  Recognizing that the distinction becomes more difficult when race, ethnicity or religious background appears to be intertwined with the political issues but this does not alter the necessity of drawing such differences clearly.  Political and historical observations are legitimate fodder for the expression of disagreement.  Parties may take strongly opposing positions on such issues.  There is far less latitude when the expression of such opposition is based on racial, ethnic or religious characteristics.  Thus, for example, in CHOM-FM and CILQ-FM re the Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decisions 97/98-0001+ and 0015+, October 17 and 18, 1997), although the Quebec and Ontario Regional Panels found that the host had breached the Human Rights Clause in using abusive terms to describe an identifiable group, it underscored

the importance of differentiating between insults aimed at identifiable groups and comments related to the political or historical environment in Canada and in France.  [.]  Those comments relating to the state of radio in Canada, the use of English in Quebec, the value of French culture, Canada as an appendage of the United States, the role of the vanquished French in Vichy France, the issues relating to separatism, and so on, are the host's opinions and, unless utterly and irresponsibly uninformed, [.] they are his to espouse.

CKTB-AM re the John Michael Show (Middle East Commentary) (CBSC Decision 01/02-0651, June 7, 2002), the Ontario Regional Panel was called upon to deal with the comments of an open-line show host who was dealing with the political and military situation in the Middle East.

There is a fine but essential line to be drawn between comments which are unduly discriminatory and those which simply constitute political commentary or the discussion of controversial public issues.  The former are in violation of the private broadcasters= codified standards.  The latter are not.  Moreover, it is of the essence of statements that are political that the point of view expressed need not be popular.  While democracy is a numbers game in the election of lawmakers, it is not that in the marketplace of ideas.  The freedom of expression which flows from the nature of a stable and mature democracy protects the enunciation of minority, even unpopular, ideas.

In the CKTB decision, the Panel found that certain of the host's comments had gone too far in supporting Israeli predominance and it ruled against the broadcaster; however, it did so on the basis of “improper and unfair comment or editorial viewpoint”, as provided in Clause 6 of the Code, rather than as a human rights issue.

As will be clear below, the Panel considers that the broadcast in the matter at hand is not objective, dispassionate and even-handed in the conclusions it draws on the reasons for the confrontation at Concordia.  That being said, the Panel does not find that there is any aspect of the commentary that is racist or, more precisely, constitutes an abusive or unduly discriminatory comment.  There is no breach of the provisions of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The Nature of the Challenged Broadcast

In material respects, an understanding of the nature of the challenged program is at the very root of this decision.  On this point the Panel considers it crucial to observe that Confrontation at Concordia is not a news report or news feature; it is a documentary.  While the Panel does not share the Conseil de presse perspective that point-of-view documentary belongs to the “journalistic” family, the Panel does agree fully with their view that a viewer can expect from such a genre of film great latitude in the expression of the filmmaker's viewpoint and opinions, and even in the tone and style of presentation of that perspective.

Confrontation at Concordia been a news piece, it would have been subject to the journalistic standards which include, among others, the provisions from the RTNDA Code cited above.  Accurate, comprehensive, fair and objective presentation is a hallmark of broadcast journalism.  Documentary filmmaking, on the other hand, should not be inaccurate but it need not be objective.  It is, in fact, an artistic genre of filmmaking.  It will frequently carry the creator's name in a prominent way, since it can be expected to express his or her perspective on a subject.  As a genre, it permits artistic licence, although that licence is not unrestricted.  A point-of-view documentary is not false but it is the expression of the truth through the eyes of its creator.  The truth is told as the filmmaker seeks to represent that truth.  There is bound to be a significant element of subjectivity in the work.  By techniques of video footage selection and judicious editing, the creator of the documentary film can be expected to manipulate the viewer since his or her goal is, after all, to either convince the viewer of the filmmaker's perspective or to, at the very least, stimulate discussion of the subject treated.

It is clear that, in Confrontation at Concordia, Martin Himel has expressed a point-of-view.  He believes that, in the confrontation between the pro-Palestinian and pro-Hillel perspectives, the former was the more repressive and hostile.  He has, however, told the story via the medium of Concordia Student Council elections, since the two sides were sufficiently polarized to permit the resolution of the conflict on that basis.  En route to his conclusion, he keys on the high-profile example of the blocked Netanyahu speech and assimilates some of the repression to the Nazi era of the 1930s in Europe.  That is his story and, in the documentary, not the journalistic, context, he was free to tell it from his perspective while drawing his own conclusions.  As noted above, since his entitlement to present such a viewpoint does not extend to an entitlement to distort or mislead, the Panel needs to determine whether he has overstepped that boundary.

The Use of Footage in the Shooting of a Documentary

Before discussing the application of the foregoing principles to the broadcast at hand, the Panel considers that one further underlying point must be made here.  It is this.  Documentary filmmaking is dependent on footage that will permit the filmmaker to tell his or her story.  The end product will be of a length that is suitable for the end user, in this case, the broadcaster.  That length was about 48 minutes.  The filmmaker may well have shot ten times or more the quantity of film that was actually used for the final documentary.  In such a methodology, Martin Himel has done what any documentary filmmaker would do.  In other words, Himel has done no wrong in the initial creation of much more film than he could ultimately include in Confrontation at Concordia.   Moreover, the Deputy News Editor responded to that point in his letter of February 25 in the following terms:

In any television documentary a great deal of “footage” is shot and not used. The ratio might be 20 to 1 – or higher. The producer of “Confrontation” did, indeed, interview Samer Elatrash at length regarding his perceptions of the controversy and his motivation for participating. In the end the producer used the material he considered relevant to his documentary treatment and assembled it in the form that was broadcast. In my 40 years as a journalist – a good many of those years reporting, writing and producing documentaries for networks in Canada and abroad – CTV, CBC NewsMagazine and The Journal, Global, NBC, and World Monitor – I've found that interview subjects often dispute the selection, length or assembly of interview “clips”.

Nor has Martin Himel committed any misstep in selecting from the film shot those segments which, edited together, tell the story he wished to tell.  He would not, it goes without saying, be entitled to edit the interviews so as to change or misrepresent the meaning of what was actually said.

There is an example of injudicious editing in an earlier decision of the CBSC's Ontario Regional Panel, which constitutes a useful, but not perfectly analogous, example for the present adjudication.  In CIII-TV re First National Newscast (Premiers' Conference) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0246, February 26, 1998), the broadcaster was reporting the news related to a Premiers' Conference being held in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.  Following one of the sessions, Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard had been interviewed in connection with a constitutional process being discussed by the provincial Premiers.  He said, “If you enter into this new process, which is not [a] substantial process, [i.e. a substantially] new process, with the idea that 65 per cent of Quebecers are federalists, it's doomed before it begins.”  The Global news report had removed the first part of Premier Bouchard's sentence, leaving only the tail-end of that sentence, “it's doomed before it begins.”  As a result, the Ontario Regional Panel concluded that CIII-TV had actually distorted the purpose, and meaning, of the Premier's words.

The point of that example is to illustrate the principle that such a distorting technique, whether in a strictly journalistic or even a documentary context, would be unacceptable.  This does not, however, restrict a filmmaker from choosing such accurate and undistorted footage of each interviewee as will tell the story he wishes to recount.  That is the nature of documentary filmmaking.

Application of the Documentary Art Form to Confrontation at Concordia

How, then, has Martin Himel applied the form to the subject matter at hand?  In the view of the Panel, Himel clearly had a point of view.  It was, in his words, that “Tolerance was violently abused last year on campus.”  He added that tolerance “and the right to free speech” went hand-in-hand and were both suppressed.  There is no denying that he laid that responsibility at the feet of the CSU Executive, and Samer Elatrash and his colleagues.  By also (later in the documentary) drawing the comparison to York University President Lorna Marsden, who insisted that a speech by Campus Watch Director Daniel Pipes be permitted to go forward over the objections of the Middle East student association there, he also underscored the inability of Concordia authorities to cope with a comparable situation in Montreal.  He pointed out that the “Montreal police proves to be ineffective” and that “Concordia security can't cope.”  He illustrated his point by showing the methods utilized by the protestors to put a stop to the lecture, and concluded that “[f]or Samer, sabotaging the Netanyahu speech was a key tactical victory.”  He bolstered his comments about the ineffectiveness of the University's role by observing that “[s]even months after the Netanyahu riots, only two students were suspended for a semester.  No students faced criminal charges.”

Himel went on to describe the CSU Executive role by likening its treatment of the Hillel organization at Concordia to the treatment of that Jewish student organization in Austria in the 1930s.  In his choice of film footage, he also showed the difficulty of Jewish students trying to address the CSU assembly on racism and being rejected both procedurally and by the heckling and booing of the audience.  He also knitted in the reactions of former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Board of Governors member Thomas Hecht, and Campus Watch director Daniel Pipes on issues of free speech and racism.

Himel also reflected the hostility manifested at other moments by Laith Marouf and others toward the Hillel supporters and by pointing out the concomitant anti-war events (coupled with anti-Semitic overtones) that were going on in Montreal at the time.  He also characterized the Montreal events in terms of Nazi tactics in the 1930s and 1940s.  “It was exactly this fascist tactic of slander used by Nazis that worked so well in dehumanizing Jews. That led to the Holocaust. Where will this hatred go?”  (Note that the larger issue of the allegation of historical examples of Quebec anti-Semitism will be dealt with below.)

Finally, Himel brought the issue back to the student elections with which he had begun.  “With this growing atmosphere of hostility, Concordia students face their responsibility to vote.  Will they vote for more of the same with Clean Slate?  Or change with Evolution?  Evolution supporters lobby hard to fight voter apathy.  Concordia students are tired.”  At the end of the day, though, with a slightly optimistic tone, Himel announced the result of the election in favour of the significant victory of the Evolution not Revolution Party by a margin of about two to one.  His final statement was, however, equivocal and tentative.

Will change come to Concordia?  Will hatred and intolerance of Jews end on campus?  Will the administration find the resolve to put a decisive end to intimidation?  We'll have to wait and see.

n assessing Himel's conclusions, the Panel recognizes that the filmmaker's creation reflects a point-of-view.  As it has indicated, the Panel considers that Himel was entitled to have and express a perspective.  Moreover, in reviewing the tools he has used, the Panel finds no fault on his part.

While the Panel readily acknowledges that there is no Code requirement that a program of this nature bear a viewer advisory of any kind, it, like the Quebec Press Council, does consider that it would be helpful to audiences to let them know that a possibly unfamiliar form of programming might be upon them.  Unlike certain Canadian broadcasters (TV Ontario and the Documentary Channel come quickly to mind), it is probably fair to observe that Global Television, which of course broadcasts news and other journalistic matter, does not frequently provide its audiences with point-of-view documentaries.  In such circumstances, in order to avoid misunderstandings, confusion or mistaken expectations, a form of advice as to the nature of the upcoming programming would be useful.  In the words of the Quebec Press Council,

il est primordial pour les médias de bien identifier les produits de cette nature afin d'éviter tout malentendu. L'absence d'indications sur la nature particulière de ce genre journalistique peut conduire le public à assimiler une opinion éditoriale, partiale par définition, à un produit d'information.

References to the Nazi Era

While he has on several occasions hearkened back to the haunting experiences of the Nazi era, he has done so on a temperate basis.  The comparative experience of Thomas Hecht in Czechoslovakia and Montreal was not either unfair or unreasonable.  The very use by street protestors of swastikas and Nazi-oriented banners in Montreal was their choice, not that of the filmmaker.  All he did was to record actuality and to reflect it in his film document.  The observation that no Hillel organization had been banned since Austria in the 1930s is also not a matter of Himel's creation.  He has merely recorded that point and it has gone uncontested either in the film or the subsequent complaints.  Finally, the parallel between the breaking of Concordia plate glass windows in the repression of the right of expression in Montreal in September 2002 and that of Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) in Germany in November 1938 is understandable, if not also unsubtle.  The filmmaker was entitled to draw such conclusions.

Some Specific Complainant Concerns

The Panel does not consider that a comment-by-comment response to each of the assertions by the complainants is necessary in the light of what it has concluded regarding the more generalized issue of the point-of-view documentary dealt with above.  Nonetheless, recognizing that certain aspects of the complaints may not fall squarely within the general issue of the leaning of the documentary film, the Panel will isolate and deal with certain of the assertions.

Samer Elatrash and his supporters

The second complaint argues that the statement “Samer Elatrash is the brains behind the offensive.  He leads Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, SPHR.” is incorrect.  The point the complainants make is that “Samer does not lead the SPHR. . [H]e was VP Media Relations for the Concordia Branch of the SPHR.”  In the view of the Panel, the complainants draw too fine a distinction.  For purposes of the documentary, he appeared to reasonable viewers to be a prime mover of events.  The precise corporate title is not the issue.  This statement of the filmmaker does not appear to be in the least misleading.

The complainants also argue that the phrase “Samer Elatrash and his supporters” is “inaccurate” and “misrepresents the demonstration.”  Once again, the film clearly suggests, whether at the escalators, exhorting individuals from the top of a car, or elsewhere, that Elatrash was attempting to lead and had colleagues, cohorts, friends, sympathizers, supporters who shared at least some of his directions and views.  This distinction also appears to be splitting hairs.

n the same context, the second complaint asserts that the statement that “Samer advances his cause through his supporters” leaves a misleading impression, namely, that “Samer ordered Laith to distribute the pamphlets” and is the “leader”.  In the view of the Panel, this falls into the same category of minutiae.  An uninvolved viewer is not concerned by the “trees” issue of who made the decision to distribute pamphlets.  The issue is rather the “forest” issue of what is going on and how.  The appearance in the scene is that Samer Elatrash's personal actions had been curtailed by authorities, and that, despite that, he tried to ensure – and, to some extent at least, was succeeding – that his position regarding Middle Eastern issues was being advanced.

There is also objection to the description “Laced with the flags of Saddam Hussein's Iraq” when, according to the complainants, Elatrash was “in fact 'laced' in Palestinian, Iraqi and Canadian flags.”  Here, too, the television image speaks for itself.  The Iraqi flag was present and Himel was entitled to refer to it.

The Chronology of Events

It is not problematic that the order of the footage presented was not chronological.  Few viewers would be aware of that reality and the Panel does not find that its perception of the documentary has been altered by the use of the footage in the order in which it has in fact been presented.

The complaint also disagrees with the following statement by Martin Himel: “The Concordia Student Union has banned Hillel.  Unlike the Palestinian student organization, Hillel receives no share of the Student Council budget.”  The complainants' argument is that “the CSU's Council of Representatives . suspended Hillel for passing out a recruitment flyer for the Mahal program.”  The complaint goes on to explain that “the suspension was amended to allow Hillel to table [sic] and withhold their funding until they signed a pledge against racism and military .  It is disingenuous, to say the least, to call this course of action a 'ban.'”  The broadcaster responded to this point in the letter of February 25 as follows:

The complainants are quibbling. It is clear that the CSU, by a variety of actions – the suspension of Hillel, coercive demands, and withdrawal of funding – aggressively tried to harass and/or shut Hillel down. There was undeniably a period in which a fair-minded viewer would conclude Hillel was effectively “banned” in the colloquial sense of the term.

It finds the complainants' concern a semantic distinction.  Nothing in the complainants' explanation of the situation dissuades the Panel from its understanding that the CSU did, in effect, ban Hillel from its access to the CSU and campus activities and functions to which other student organizations had full access.

is not even a Concordia student. [emphasis original]”  The Panel is unclear as to the relevance of this assertion when the filmmaker never alleged that Petel was a Concordia student but only that he was “the President of Hillel in Montreal”, which the complainants do not deny.  Viewers observed Petel in circumstances at Concordia that were related to Hillel activities and the Netanyahu speech, as well as in discussions with individuals who were represented by the complainant law firm.  While some may have concluded that he appeared to be a Concordia student, it was not as the result of the filmmaker's deception.

It was argued that the failure to consult the student representative on the University's Board of Governors “does not represent a fair balance” despite the fact that a CSU official was “shown singing a song about the case.”  Arguably, the four excerpts from Bernans' song were as effective a case for Ms. Virk's side of the matter as could have been expected as a counter to the three intercut statements of the University's Rector.

Bathroom swastikas

As to the complainants' challenge that “proof” of swastikas was required, the broadcaster has explained in its letter of February 25:

The relevance of swastikas in Concordia washrooms is not determined by the existence – or not – of “footage”. It is widely accepted, first and foremost by staff and administration of Concordia University, that the offending symbols did appear in washrooms and were removed as quickly as possible.

In summary, the Panel finds that the June 3 letter of complaint from the law firm includes considerable semantic or hair-splitting arguments, none of which discloses any Code breach on the part of the broadcaster.

The Anti-Semitic Reference in the Documentary: A Breach?

Two of the complainants have referred to the following statement by the narrator, very late in the documentary, “Quebec history is stained with anti-Semitism.  It's facing a dangerous resurgence now.”  The first complainant stated that the “program has accused Quebec's anti-war movement 'échec à la Guerre', coalition of 200 different local Quebec organizations, of anti-Semitism.”  The fourth complainant clarified his initial complaint by stating: “Disparaging remarks about Quebec.  Stating that Quebec was anti-Semitic.”  This complainant also stated in a follow-up e-mail of March 9, 2004 that the “Ontario based Anglo-Saxon” broadcaster was “insinuat[ing] that Quebec was more anti-Semitic than Anglo-Saxon Canada.”

It should first be noted that the broadcast made no comments whatsoever comparing Quebec to the rest of Canada or, within the Quebec context, drawing any distinction between the Francophone, Anglophone or Allophone communities in connection with the anti-Semitic statement.  More to the point, though, the role of the comment relating to anti-Semitism in Quebec was very small in relation to the program as a whole.  The essence of the documentary was the stresses on democracy within Concordia University and there was no focus on the issue of Quebec anti-Semitism, nor any mention whatsoever, much less accusation, of anti-Semitism on the part of the anti-war movement 'échec à la Guerre', the concern of the first complainant.  As to the observations of the fourth complainant, it is clear that the statement is a qualified, not a blanket, one.  It appears to state that, historically, there has been a patchwork of anti-Semitism.  That is, at least, the suggestion of the word “stained”, rather than, say, “covered”.  The allegation also appears to be nothing more than a reference to historical events as a background to the warning of potential modern resurgence.  It is, moreover, only the opinion of the filmmaker.

It is not the role of this Panel to debate the merits of the particular allegation but rather to examine whether the statement is so unreasonable or far-fetched as to constitute an unfair or improper comment.  In this respect, it is fair to observe that there have, over the course of a significant part of the twentieth century, been notable and very public examples of anti-Semitism in Quebec, not, to be absolutely clear, on the part of all Quebecers, but on the part of sufficiently renowned individuals or institutions, that such an observation as Himel made could be asserted.  The now “ancient” cases of Abbé Lionel Groulx, Action nationale, Le Devoir (as edited long ago by Georges Pelletier) constitute examples.

As to recent resurgences, it was of course the position of the filmmaker that the events at Concordia were an example of such a current concern.  The intervening occurrence of the fire-bombing of a Jewish religious school in Montreal is a yet more recent example.  And the 2003 Annual Report of B'nai Brith reported that the Province of Quebec had (after Ontario) the highest number of incidents involving anti-Semitism.  On March 14, the Premier of Quebec stated, “No one is under the illusion that anti-Semitism will go away.  I think it will always be part of our lives.”  The issue was not a blanket accusation of anti-Semitism against an entire province but rather an observation of historical concern and the need for ongoing vigilance to prevent the return of, hopefully, essentially eradicated examples of those preoccupations.  The National Conventional Panel finds the recent statement by the Prairie Regional Panel in CJAY-FM re Forbes and Friends (multiple choice quiz) (CBSC Decision 02/03-0638, December 15, 2003) to be instructive.

There are times in the life of a society when it is far too easy to single out an identifiable group as a recipient of harsh discriminatory comment.  Society is frequently ready to find a scapegoat for segments of its ills, perhaps as a catharsis for their resolution.  It is perhaps when such solutions come most easily that society ought to be most vigilant.  Since the shocking events that have come to be known simply as '9/11' and the proliferation of incidents of terrorism both before and after that date, it has been all too easy to target the Muslim communities with comments that are generalizations which are negative, hurtful and utterly unjustified.

That was the case with the challenged program.  The humour in this broadcast was singularly unacceptable.  The implication that all Muslims (how else could one interpret the words “Muslims around the world”?) might travel to their holiest city in order to fund terrorist activities is outrageous.  To put it in perspective, the failure to distinguish between the Muslim community and terrorists is no more acceptable or justifiable than a failure to distinguish between (to choose one of many possible examples) white persons and the Ku Klux Klan.  The Muslim community bears no more responsibility for persons within its ranks who break the laws than all white persons bear responsibility for the illegal actions of Klan members. 

In the end, the Panel finds that the peripheral statement relating to historical anti-Semitic events in Quebec does not constitute unfair or improper comment, in violation of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint, the CBSC always assesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of the complaint.  The Deputy Editor of Global News sent substantive replies to each of the complainants although that to the second complainant was not in the form of a point-by-point rebuttal.  In any event, on February 25, 2004, at the request of the CBSC, Global did send a further reply dealing with questions raised in the second letter sent by the second complainant (the Global letter was received March 9 by the CBSC).  While none of the replies did satisfy the four complainants involved in this adjudication, they did, it appears, satisfy the other initial 15 complainants, who did not pursue this matter any further.  Moreover, it should not be forgotten that that complainant dissatisfaction is by definition the case for matters that are then referred to a CBSC Panel for adjudication.  Such complainant-broadcaster disagreement ought not, however, to be interpreted as a failure on the part of the broadcaster to fulfil its responsibilities of effective dialogue with the complainant.  The Panel considers that the broadcaster has entirely fulfilled its obligations in this regard with respect to the present matter.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.  It may be reported, announced or read by the station against which the complaint had originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable decision, the station is under no obligation to announce the result.