In January 2016, Canadian Forces Base Edmonton posted notices restricting the areas on the base where dogs were allowed to go. A sergeant, who had a dog to help him cope with his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complained about these restrictions.
Both CTV News Channel and Global Edmonton (CITV-DT) covered the story. The stations’ news reports included interviews with Sergeant Jeffrey Yetman who described how his dog, Diego, had helped him with his confidence, fear of crowds and overall quality of life after having suffered with his PTSD resulting from tours of duty with the Canadian military. Sgt. Yetman explained that he was concerned that not being allowed to have his dog with him at all times would negatively affect him and other PTSD sufferers in similar situations. The reports showed images of Yetman and Diego interacting. The reports also provided statements from Canadian military authorities which indicated that they were investigating the issue. They stated that their goal was to balance the interests of soldiers who owned animals for therapeutic purposes with the interests of other individuals, such as children or people with allergies or fear of dogs. Throughout the reports, Diego was referred to as a “service dog”. (A full transcript and description of the reports can be found in Appendix A).
It was that point that generated a complaint from a viewer. The viewer argued that Sgt. Yetman’s dog should not be called a “service dog” because it did not meet the definition of “service dog” as set out in Alberta’s Service Dog Act. Under that Act, only dogs trained by a company accredited by a specific assistance dog organization meet the definition of certified service dog and are given unfettered access to public buildings. In the reports, it was explained that Diego was trained by a company that was not accredited by that particular organization, but documents were shown on screen labelling Diego a “service dog” and indicating that he had passed various PTSD-related assistance training. The complainant argued, however, that there is no publicly-available evidence that the company that trained Diego actually does meet any sort of certification standards.
The complainant argued that certification is important because only proper training assures that assistance dogs will behave safely in public places. Because Sgt. Yetman’s dog did not meet the legal definition of “service dog”, it should have been called an “emotional support dog” or similar term in the reports. In the complainant’s view, by labelling the dog a “service dog”, the reports wrongfully gave the impression that the Edmonton Base was denying the sergeant his rights.
For its part, CTV News Channel indicated that they used the term “service dog” in a colloquial sense rather than a strict legal sense, to mean simply a dog providing some sort of support or therapy to its owner. Both broadcasters pointed out that the reports explained that part of the controversy related to the dog’s training by a non-accredited company. Global Edmonton also noted that they mentioned a lack of consistency in service dog standards, but certification was not the primary topic of the reports.
The complainant also raised the issue of the use of the word “veteran” to describe Sgt. Yetman in the CTV reports. He argued that the sergeant in question was not a “veteran” because, although he was transitioning out of the military, he was still an active member at the time of the broadcasts. The complainant presented evidence that Veterans Affairs Canada reserves the term “veterans” for only former members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). CTV argued that “veteran” can be used to describe current CAF members who have taken part in combat missions.
The complainant was dissatisfied with the responses he received from CTV News Channel and Global Edmonton regarding the five separate news broadcasts he identified in his complaints. He filed his Ruling Requests for both stations in March 2016. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)
The English-Language Panel examined the complaints under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Ethics.
CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 5 – News
(1) It shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. Broadcasters shall satisfy themselves that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result.
RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 1 – Accuracy
Electronic journalists will inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and fair manner about events and issues of importance.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the reports in question. The Panel concludes that none of the reports violated either of the above-mentioned code provisions.
Use of the Word “Veteran”
The Panel Adjudicators were of the view that the definition of the word “veteran” proposed by the complainant was too narrow within the context of these news broadcasts. There was no obligation on the part of the broadcasters to adhere to a definition published by Veterans Affairs Canada. The Panel finds that the use of the word “veteran” in a broader sense such as the more colloquial definition of that word found in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary that refers to “a person who has grown old in or had long experience of military service; an old soldier; any ex-serviceman or servicewoman” was sufficient in the circumstances. Therefore, the Panel Adjudicators conclude that the use of the word “veteran” in the broader sense used in the news stories did not constitute a breach of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics or of Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics.
Use of the Term “Service Dog”
While the Panel appreciates that the use of the term “service dog” may be technically inaccurate with respect to the Alberta’s Service Dogs Act, the test for the CBSC is: is the inaccuracy material to the story? In the broadcasts in question, the focus of the stories was not the classification of Diego, but rather the potential hardship faced by PTSD sufferers under the new dog restrictions.
The Panel Adjudicators find that the words “service dog” as used in both news stories did not constitute any misrepresentation of the actual problem faced by Sergeant Yetman. The legal definition referred to by the complainant in this matter, if it had been used by the two broadcasters, would not have shed more light on the problem faced by the Sergeant.
The Panel Adjudicators therefore conclude that the use of the term “service dog” by the two broadcasters in their news story did not constitute a breach of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics or of Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics.
In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner. In this case, both CTV News Channel and Global Edmonton provided detailed replies to the complainant, who himself had submitted very detailed, lengthy complaints with considerable supporting materials. The stations adequately addressed his concerns, though their responses clearly did not satisfy him. The broadcasters fulfilled their obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
 And who have been honourably released.
 See the following CBSC decisions relating to accuracy of terminology: CHAN-TV re Newscast (Recycling Society) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0004, March 10, 1997); CITV-TV re “You Paid For It!” (Immigration) (CBSC Decision 95/96-0088, December 16, 1997); CTV re News Item (CO Alarms) (CBSC Decision 98/99-0475, November 19, 1999); CIII-TV (Global Ontario) re Global News reports (“Bluffs Danger”) (CBSC Decision 05/06-0500, May 18, 2006); CTV Newsnet re two reports entitled “Anti-Terror Measures Voted Down” (CBSC Decision 06/07-0745, November 29, 2007); Global re a report on Global National (“Deportation Delayed”) and CIVT-TV (CTV British Columbia) re a report on CTV News at Six (CBSC Decisions 07/08-1136 & -1135, August 7 & 19, 2008); CKWX-AM re news reports about SkyTrain (CBSC Decision 06/07-1127, August 19, 2008); CIVT-TV (CTV British Columbia) re reports on CTV News at 11:30 (“Seal Fur Uniforms” & “Oil Spill”) (CBSC Decision 08/09-1660, September 24, 2009); CKCO-DT (CTV Kitchener) re a report on CTV News at Six (“Inappropriate Conversation”) (CBSC Decision 14/15-1508, April 7, 2016).