By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman
The complainant, Maxwell Silverman, said reporter Nick Purdon was wrong to call the RCMP after he encountered a shivering refugee on the Canada-U.S. border. The decision to intervene in a story, especially to call authorities, is one of the most challenging for journalists. It requires assessing the journalistic purpose and what’s at stake for personal or public safety. In this case, there were circumstances that made it an acceptable decision.
*There has been a change to the original review to clarify a reference to international law on refugees.
You were angered by a report broadcast on the National on February 12, 2017, prepared by reporter Nick Purdon. Mr. Purdon was on the Canada-U.S. border near Emerson, Manitoba in the early hours of a cold winter morning. He and his camera operator were looking for any refugee claimants trying to make their way into Canada. They encountered a man, and called the RCMP, who arrived and took him to the nearest point of entry to be processed. You said that journalists have no business calling the police on their interviewees. You said this was even more the case here since the reporter “welcomed this refugee (literally) into his arms.” There is no obligation to report “a crime” to the police. You said the crime in this case was fleeing for one’s safety:
It is not the job of a journalist to have someone arrested.
It is indeed not the job of a journalist to intervene in their story, but should they choose to do so, it should be done for the betterment of their subject, not to land him in (worse than normal) jail. Refugee agencies, migrant support centres, paramedics, homeless shelters, hospital ER's... there were many alternatives to calling the police and having this man arrested if intervention was deemed necessary.