$2 million lawsuit filed against CBC by former mayoral candidate
A former mayoral candidate is suing CBC North over a news story
A former mayoral candidate is suing CBC North over a news story, claiming it “has cast him in a negative light” and demanding more than $2 million in damages.
Mandeep Sidhu filed a lawsuit last week over a CBC News online article from June 2013 that reported on his acquittal of making death threats against an RCMP officer.
Despite changes to the story made after he complained to the CBC ombudsman, Sidhu told the Star today it continues to harm his “public image and reputation.”
“It’s sad to see a story written like that,” said the 28-year-old.
“I put myself in the public sphere, and then you set this up as a person who yells homophobic slurs ... and starts being very confrontational with RCMP officers, which is not true.”
Sidhu was referring to the initial online story, posted June 2, which was later edited down and avoided reference to specific derogatory remarks.
The article that remains online is “still incorrect,” the lawsuit alleges.
Contrary to the content of the piece, Sidhu did not have “a history with local police” or refuse “to produce his licence at a Christmas checkpoint,” according to the statement of claim.
He added that CBC’s potentially large readership amplifies the story’s impact on his reputation.
Sidhu is suing for “damages to public image and reputation in the amount of $2 million,” as well as $50,000 in general damages.
Archie McLean, the managing editor for CBC North, said he could not offer comment because the case was before the courts.
The CBC story now contains two corrections, made last September:
“An earlier version of this story said Sidhu used homophobic slurs. In fact, Sidhu used just one homophobic slur.
“This story has been revised to reflect that it is police who say that Sidhu refused to produce his driver’s licence, which Sidhu denies,” the corrections state.
Sidhu, who works at his father’s general contracting firm P.S. Sidhu Trucking, ran for mayor in the October 2012 municipal election, placing last of five candidates.
“Mr. Sidhu is a person pursuing a career in local politics,” the suit states. “This story has cast him in a negative light and did affect his image with the public — potential future voters.”
On Dec. 3, 2012, Sidhu went to the RCMP headquarters in Whitehorse to file a complaint over a confrontation with an officer during a roadside stop-check the day before.
RCMP Cpl. Natasha Dunmall claimed during Sidhu’s trial last summer that as he was lodging his complaint, Sidhu threatened another officer — not present at the time — with violence and mentioned guns.
He was arrested several days after filing the complaint.
Sidhu said he did not utter a death threat, as alleged, but was simply quoting lines from an episode of the animated television comedy Family Guy.
CBC ombudsman Esther Enkin wrote in her complaint review in August 2013 that the article lacked context and misrepresented the events of the case.
“It is true that it was a conversation at the RCMP office that led to the charges, but to say there were references to the phrases ‘bullets have no name’ and ‘someone’s gonna die,’ without attributing them, or explaining that is what the officer alleged, is a misrepresentation of what actually occurred,” Enkin wrote.
“Accuracy is a fundamental in journalism. It is set out in CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices. This story is imprecise and sloppy.
“The coverage fell short of the standards of CBC journalism. There was no obvious bias, but there was inadequate reporting.”
Territorial court judge Richard Thompson acquitted Sidhu of all charges.
“Mr. Sidhu is entitled to an acquittal based on the reasonable doubt that I am left with as to the actual words by him which Corporal Dunmall alleged to be a threat,” Thompson said.
Seven months before the stop-check confrontation and subsequent conflict at RCMP headquarters, an officer stopped Sidhu for a seatbelt violation and “Sidhu blasted him with foul language and filed a complaint,” the CBC story states — which Sidhu’s suit does not contest.
In her review, Enkin went on to insist on CBC News’ overall impartiality as well as the unfairness of the Sidhu story in particular.
“There is no basis to say that CBC is inherently biased in favour of the RCMP. You only have to look at the body of work on the force that CBC News has done over the last few years to know that is not the case.
“The problem here is that the story is extremely brief, and in its compression, it sacrifices presenting a full picture of what occurred in the trial,” Enkin said.
“It simply did not provide enough information or context to make it meaningful to anyone who had not sat in the courtroom. And that compromises fairness, another obligation under CBC journalistic policy.”
By CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS