Musings —11.06.2014 05:55 PM—
What’s a conflict of interest, anyway?
A conflict of interest happens when a person has multiple interests, and one of those interests could compromise – or corrupt – something the person has been asked to do.
At the risk of sounding like a lawyer (guilty as charged), a conflict of interest happens when a secondary interest unduly influences a primary interest.
It’s important to remember that the conflict need not actually happen to be a problem. It merely needs to be a risk – a possibility – to be a problem.
The CBC’s investigation in the Jian Ghomeshi case, then, raises the possibility of a conflict of interest. The Liberal Party’s request for a House of Commons investigation in the case of two former Liberal MPs does not.
For starters, the public broadcaster’s Ghomeshi probe looks illegitimate before it even begins. Justin Trudeau’s request that the Speaker of Commons investigate MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti, meanwhile, is a good example of how to avoid a conflict of interest problem.
The contrasts could hardly be more stark. The CBC has retained Janice Rubin, an employment lawyer, to write two reports arising out of the Ghomeshi sexual misconduct allegations. One report is aimed at preventing “similar issues from arising in our orgnaization in the future,” CBC staff were told in a memo. The other report will apparently be about Ghomeshi-related complaints.
But there is a problem: Rubin, while respected and knowledgeable, is in a perceived conflict. She has appeared on CBC radio and television shows many times. She is a regular contributor to CBC programming, arguably like Jian Ghomeshi was.
Rubin is not a CBC employee. CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson promptly responded to a request about whether has been paid in the past for her contributions. His answer: yes. Rubin was paid once, “a nominal amount,” many years ago, by the same CBC Radio that employed Ghomeshi.
Rubin’s guesting on CBC is not the only perceived problem, however. Another is this: Rubin’s terms of reference, her mandate, have already been set by the CBC itself. So, the organization that is being investigated has already decided what should be investigated.
That’s more than a potential conflict of interest, it’s outrageous. And, combined with Rubin’s past appearances on the CBC, it potentially renders the whole “investigation” a joke.
A very senior former CBC reporter sent this writer a note about all this on Wednesday. The Rubin probe “has the appearance of a whitewash already,” this person wrote. What, this person queried, about sexual harassment/oppression cases which don’t involve Ghomeshi? (I personally know of at least three such cases, involving former CBC TV luminaries. In one case, the woman was physically attacked in an elevator by the CBC star, who was called “The Octopus.”)
My anonymous correspondent noted that, if the CBC’s human relations department has “already been involved in disposition/settlement of harassment claims,” it would have no desire to reopen cases it “had previously ignored or burried with compensation.” Another conflict.
Contrast all of this with what Trudeau did in the Andrews and Pacetti cases. He didn’t hire a Liberal to investigate – he referred the mess to the Speaker, who happens to be a Conservative MP.
He didn’t bring in someone who had done paid work for the Liberal Party in the past.
And, most critically, he didn’t tell the Speaker what the terms of reference were. He didn’t attempt to limit the scope of the probe. He asked the Speaker to examine whatever he saw fit to investigate, however he saw fit to investigate.
That is how you do it. Not the way the CBC has.
That’s always the case – but it’s particularly the case when we are (finally) examining the pestilence that is sexual harassment. It is a very serious problem, and it needs to be treated seriously. Justin Trudeau is doing that.
The CBC, meanwhile, is not.