Analysis

Journalistic malpractice: CBC omits refugee claimant surge in Toronto homeless crisis stories

The CBC published stories on the Toronto homeless crisis that completely omit the thousands of refugee claimants that added greatly to the shelter demand.

Graeme Gordon Montreal, QC
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Two weeks ago CBC’s The National aired a report on the homeless crisis in Toronto, where the shelter system is currently overwhelmed with people needing a place to stay during the harsh winter nights, with many being turned away because of lack of beds at many locations. The CBC story failed to include any mention of the thousands of refugee claimants who have illegally entered Canada from the U.S. border and sought shelter in Toronto over the past few years that is the major factor in the system being overloaded.

The CBC then repackaged the story and published it on Boxing Day. The story with the major omission became the most popular story on CBC’s website by Thursday afternoon, misinforming the public.

“It’s early morning in Toronto—the biggest, richest city in the country. People go about their business. But there’s a crisis here that most people don’t really want to see. There are more homeless people in Toronto than ever before. And the thing is, do we even notice them anymore? Do we care?” asks CBC journalist Nick Purdon in the long eight-and-a-half-minute segment that doesn’t look at the added cost or demand of the homeless population in Toronto.

“People are dying. Eight homeless people have died in Toronto in the past two months, and winter is just getting started. And that’s why activists are here in front of City Hall demanding the City declare a state of emergency,” Purdon continues, not once mentioning throughout the story why there are more homeless people in Toronto—because there are tens of thousands of migrants coming across the border or entering Canadian airports and making refugee status claims over the past few years.

While doing investigative reporting for True North in the first part of 2019 on the Toronto homeless shelter system, I discovered that the many millions of dollars the City of Toronto spent on accommodations such as hotels, motels, other buildings and multimillion dollar tents were predominantly for refugee claimants, many of whom stay at these locations for six-month periods in order to be eligible for a housing allowance that lasts up to four years, even after finding a job. These types of accommodations are the better part of Toronto’s two-tier shelter system. Some of the older, rundown respite facilities (temporary homeless shelter buildings) and homeless shelters, like Seaton House, were scheduled to be decommissioned years ago but because of the in flux of migrants and the overall homeless population spiking in the past few years they’ve had their doors kept open indefinitely.

But none of this vital context to the homeless shelter system crisis is mentioned in the CBC reports that can only be described as journalistic negligence or malpractice.

“Kevin wants the City to create more shelter beds. The fact is, if you make minimum wage, or collect social assistance, it’s almost impossible to afford an apartment in Toronto nowadays. And so shelters are full,” CBC’s Purdon reported carelessly and unquestioningly.

Never mind that the City of Toronto has already spent tens of millions of more taxpayer dollars into expanding the shelter system over the past few years, or that Canada’s large immigration levels, the burgeoning Airbnb market, foreign homebuyers, government housing subsidies and the in flux of tens of thousands of refugee claimants all are affecting Toronto’s rising house and rent prices.

No, instead CBC journalists would rather show Canadian homeless people devoid of any of this context, say there’s a crisis, and then ask Canadians if they care, implying taxpayers should be doing more; Taxpayer-funded CBC journalist’s mission accomplished.

Credit, where credit is due, though. The CBC did take time to humanize several homeless men, people dehumanized daily by a public that often pretend they don’t exist. However, a journalist’s job is not to tell a story based solely upon emotions, devoid of the most pertinent facts,statistics and context on why this is happening.

Could it also be, despite CBC’s David Cochrane berating CPC MP Pierre Poilievre for suggesting it, that the Canadian economy isn’t all that healthy, so that’s also a partial contributing factor to the homelessness problem in Canada, too?

CBC’s own story on homelessness and the latest atrocious job numbers, despite massive deficit spending by Trudeau’s Liberals, are signs pointing to yes.

But CBC wants to have its poutine and eat it too.

In CBC’s world it’s rarely Liberal government incompetency that is the source of a problem, but stingy Canadians not paying enough money to fix said problem the Liberals did indeed cause.

“The thing is, when people talk about the homeless it’s often in terms of numbers and statistics like the ones above — but the issue really hits home when you meet the people,” wrote Purdon and another CBC journalist in Thursday’s viral piece.

I’ve met many of Toronto’s homeless, foreign and native, through my reporting. It’s definitely an eye-opening experience that is hard to report on because anyone with an ounce of a compassion ends up feeling for all of these people, but no problem is fixed without fully understanding the underlying context of an issue, which is a journalist’s job to understand and explain.

Euphemisms like “irregular border crossers” or CBC reports that gloss over the sources of a problem do nothing to inform the public or make things better. Instead, they allow for the disastrous status quo to go unchecked.

It’s a sad day for journalism when the top comments in the comment section (surprisingly not closed) explain the situation far better than the negligent reporters.

Top comments from the CBC article.
More top comments from the CBC report.

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