Fact check: does the UN migration compact 'attempt to influence' media?
Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec.12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, December 13, 2018 9:29AM EST
OTTAWA -- "It attempts to influence how our free and independent media report on immigration issues." --Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on the UN Global Compact for Migration, Dec. 4, 2018
The Global Compact for Migration is the first UN agreement on international migration. It is billed as a co-operative framework. It is not a UN treaty and is not legally binding.
Scheer disagrees with Canada's support for it. He says he fears it will give foreign entities influence over Canada's immigration system and it will influence media coverage of immigration issues.
Is the Conservative leader's specific claim, that the compact attempts to influence free and independent media reporting on immigration issues, true?
Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of "no baloney" to "full of baloney" (complete methodology below).
This one earns a rating of "A lot of baloney"-- the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth.
Consensus on the final version of the Global Compact on Migration was reached this summer in New York at the sixth round of negotiations on the international policy document.
A total of 164 countries among the 193 UN members approved the agreement by acclamation on Monday, including Canada.
The compact contains 23 objectives and commitments.
One of the objectives -- No. 17 -- includes a call to eliminate "all forms of discrimination and promote evidence-based public discourse to shape perceptions of migration."
In order to achieve this, the agreement text calls for the promotion of independent, objective and quality reporting by media outlets, including "internet-based information."
It adds this involves "sensitizing and educating media professionals on migration-related issues and terminology, investing in ethical reporting standards and advertising, and stopping allocation of public funding or material support to media outlets that systematically promote intolerance, xenophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination towards migrants, in full respect for the freedom of the media."
The federal Conservatives have pointed to this language as evidence of an attempt to influence press freedom.
For example, Ontario Conservative MP David Tilson posted on his website to express concerns about it.
"The GCM contains troubling language around 'sensitizing and educating' journalists on how they should report about immigration," he posted. "Conservatives believe Canadian journalists should be free to scrutinize the government on immigration policy without influence from an international body."
In response to these concerns, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen denied Tuesday that the agreement will mean any limit on press freedom in Canada.
"This document ... reinforces the importance of media to public discourse," he said during a teleconference from Marrakech, Morocco. Canada has worked with other countries to achieve the same press freedom and standards, he added.
Craig Damian Smith, an associate director of the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, said it is critical to examine the context of the language in the compact.
Lines cannot be pulled out of the document with a disregard for the rest of a paragraph, he said.
"That's what everybody is doing around the compact," he said. "They're saying, 'Hey, here's this non-binding document in which there's this one line taken out of context.' "
Canada has free and open media, he added.
Christina Clark-Kazak, an associate professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, agrees part of the text cannot be read in isolation, as this would amount to misquoting it.
She also says there are elements in the document recognizing the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of media as fundamental rights. Objective No. 17 in the compact makes an explicit reference to the "full respect for the freedom of the media."
There is also a reference to upholding international human-rights law and in particular, the right to free expression.
Christopher Waddell, a professor at Carleton University's journalism school, also said nothing he can see in the document would affect the way journalists cover migration.
"It is journalists' job to take all the information they can find on an issue, sort through it, make sense -- what's different between fact and fiction -- and report on it as completely as possible," he said.
While Scheer and the Conservatives have identified language contained in the compact pertaining to media coverage and asking governments to avoid supporting racism and xenophobia, they do not make mention of additional language in it on the freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
For this reason, the experts agree that Scheer is not correct in his claim.
The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:
- No baloney -- the statement is completely accurate
- A little baloney -- the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required
- Some baloney -- the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing
- A lot of baloney -- the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth
- Full of baloney -- the statement is completely inaccurate
With files from Teresa Wright and the Associated Press