Chilling statement

CBC wrong to fire Manitoba journalist after their private messages used to justify termination, rules arbitrator

An arbitrator ruled that CBC “acted improperly” in firing CBC Manitoba journalist Ahmar Khan after a “chain of events” that began when he posted a tweet in which he described remarks Don Cherry made on Coach’s Corner as “xenophobic” and “deplorable.” 

CBC Manitoba managing editor Melanie Verhaege forwarded the tweet to CBC’s director of journalistic standards, Paul Hambleton, who responded that the tweet violated CBC’s journalism standards policy, reported Canadaland

Verhaege asked a CBC assignment producer to tell Khan to delete the post. Khan did so, but also told Canadaland and Maclean’s columnist Andray Domise about the situation. Canadaland reported the story on Nov. 14, 2019. 

The CBC learned that Khan had been Canadaland’s source for the story after a colleague searched through Khan’s private messages on his WhatsApp and Twitter accounts, which he’d left logged in on a shared computer. The colleague sent screenshots of the messages to a CBC manager, who then went through the accounts herself. 

The messages also included comments about CBC management and the journalistic standards policy, as well as messages in which Khan used a homophobic slur (which Khan said was related to a joke about “the patter of thugs from Surrey, B.C. and Brampton”). 

The CBC later fired Khan for contacting Canadaland, as well as his comments about the CBC and the slur. 

In a Jan. 12, 2021 ruling, arbitrator Lorne Slotnick said the CBC’s grounds for firing Khan “amounted to, at most, a minor indiscretion” and were “far overshadowed by the breach of his privacy that enabled the employer to discover those activities.”

The ruling ordered the CBC to re-hire Khan for four months – the amount of time remaining on his previous contract – or to pay him four months’ salary if he refused the offer. The arbitrator also ruled that the CBC had breached Khan’s privacy by examining his personal messages, and that Khan was entitled to damages.