Citizenship Ceremony at Sun News Network

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, my question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In February I asked her about the fake citizenship ceremony that her government staged for Sun News Network last fall. To remind honourable senators, this was the event that purportedly featured 10 new Canadians reciting the citizenship oath. Six of those individuals, as we know now, were in fact employees of Citizenship and Immigration Canada and not new Canadians. The event was arranged by civil servants in Toronto in response to a request from the minister’s office. Departmental officials, who love television, stepped in when they were unable to find 10 new Canadians who were willing or able to participate.

There are now new details around this unusual event. At the time, both the immigration minister’s office and Sun News denied any knowledge of the bureaucrats’ participation. We learned this week, however, that the network was indeed informed prior to the ceremony. Documents released to the Canadian Press show that talking points approved by the deputy minister state that:

Sun Media was informed that only three new citizens showed up for the reaffirmation ceremony. As anyone can reaffirm their citizenship, Sun Media was given the choice of also having CIC staff in the shot to reaffirm their citizenship.

That is good, because if you are a Canadian, you are a Canadian, I guess.

In the talking points they say:

They chose to have more people in the shot than less. It was our honest understanding that Sun TV recognized that these additional people were CIC employees.

When asked by the Canadian Press, Minister Kenney’s spokeswoman clarified that their office became aware of the department’s position after the apology was made to Sun News, adding:

. . . we did not feel we could say at the time that Sun was aware of the arrangement. . . . Like most journalists, we try to have more than one source for any fact we rely on.

Why is the leader’s government choosing to dismiss its own officials? Does the minister ever talk to his deputy minister about anything?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I noticed that in the news yesterday — and now I am putting Senator Munson in the same league as Jennifer Ditchburn at the Canadian Press — and I commented to my colleagues here that on a day when the world, the Commonwealth and Canada were celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, when a major arrest had taken place in Berlin, when another major arrest had taken place in Toronto with regard to a very serious incident at the Eaton Centre, those stories came nowhere near a lead story by Jennifer Ditchburn and the Canadian Press on an old story about a citizenship ceremony.

I find that interesting. It shows what is important to some people.

This story simply confirmed that neither the minister nor his office had any idea that public servants were taking part in the ceremony. The minister’s office often speaks to his officials. They have spoken to departmental officials to ensure that this type of incident does not happen again.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, first, Jennifer Ditchburn is a respected journalist for the Canadian Press and she is doing her job. Yes, there are serious issues like Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, serious issues dealing with the arrest of that strange person from Montreal who did awful things and, yes, news stories about Toronto. There are news stories every day, but there is more than just one story on the front page or inside a newspaper.

With this particular story dealing with this fake ceremony, the question is why would government bureaucrats, particularly these bureaucrats today living under King Tut or the heavy-handed regime of this government, not do things on their own? They are being thrown out, tossed away as anonymous bureaucrats doing something wrong. The bottom line is that something wrong was done in terms of a fake ceremony and throwing in Canadian citizens to be part of it. Can the leader reassure us that this sort of fake thing will never happen again?

Senator LeBreton: I was simply making a reference to Jennifer Ditchburn and the placement of the story in relation to other important events.

The story simply proves that the minister was not aware of the incident when it occurred. That is the story. The honourable senator falls into this trap of ascribing all kinds of motives to our government.

We have a Prime Minister, honourable senators, who did not go out into a crowd and strangle someone who disagreed with him. We do not have a Prime Minister who, because a public official refused his orders, set about to destroy his life. I think the honourable senator better get things in perspective before he starts throwing around charges.

Senator Munson: I will get things into perspective. Does the leader feel that Sun Media, this news organization or alleged news organization — that propaganda arm of this Conservative Government of Canada, which it is not progressive by any means — operating with bureaucrats, owes an apology to all Canadians, especially immigrants, new Canadians in this country for what they did in misrepresenting? Does she think that Sun Media is being a responsible news organization?

Forget the CBC stuff. You guys are very good at character assassination, for example, taking up Jennifer Ditchburn’s name. Here we have an accomplished journalist doing her job under access to information, doing what she must as a journalist. She has to dig deep into personal stories. Does the leader believe that Sun Media, that alleged news organization, owes an apology to the country?

Senator LeBreton: I can see that I really did touch a sore spot there.

I was commenting on the profile this non-story was given by an individual with a major news organization, Canadian Press, when there were so many things going on during that particular news day. That was my comment on Jennifer Ditchburn.

With regard to Sun Media, again the honourable senator chose to attack it as having motives that none of us are aware of here. I can only respond that I am here as the Leader of the Government in the Senate to answer for the government, not for Sun Media or any other media organization.

Senator Munson: Does the leader condone this kind of behaviour in the journalistic world by Sun Media — if they are working with senior bureaucrats — of faking something like this? It is fraudulent.

By the way, CP has more than one reporter covering other news events, and they are probably covering the events the leader mentioned. Does she condone this kind of thing?

Senator LeBreton: Try as Senator Munson might, I know this particular story is of great interest to him. All I can say is that the story simply confirmed something that I said, and we all said, in this place when it happened: The minister nor his office was aware of this incident. It is not for me to offer any comment beyond that. I am here to answer for the government.