Secret Fact-Checker Identified

The secret author of an unsigned federal directive asking that journalists submit stories for fact-checking has been named. Maryse Durette, a former CBC employee and spokesperson for the Department of Health, was identified through Access To Information. She did not respond to questions.

Durette emailed the directive to five journalists regarding a Blacklock’s story published January 19 concerning drug decriminalization. The January 24 directive complained journalists were “talking about Health Canada and never contacted us.”

“Readers deserve accurate reporting,” it said. “A respectable reporter goes to the source for reporting.”

News stories concerning the health department should first be checked by staff to ensure publishers were not “purposefully reproducing inaccuracies and misleading your readership,” said the directive. “Standards, I am sure, rely on more sound principles than quoting inaccuracies from fringe media, like going to the source of what you are talking about.”

Journalists must ensure “your coverage comes from real journalism work,” it said. The directive did not identify any author and was issued in the name of the Department of Health. Durette, one of ten communications staff working at the department’s Ottawa office, was identified as the author through Access To Information records.

Health Canada leads all other federal departments and agencies in demanding “corrections” from media. The department since 2018 issued 269 notices according to a 2023 Inquiry Of Ministry tabled in the Commons. The health department claimed factual errors at the Globe & Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, Hamilton Spectator, Winnipeg Free Press, Whitehorse Daily Star, Medicine Hat News and others.

‘Fact-Checking Things They Don’t Like’

“Fact-checking” is mandatory for media that accept federal subsidies. Newsrooms must prove “a consistent practice of providing rebuttal opportunity for those being criticized” including the Government Of Canada, according to a 2019 Canada Revenue Agency document Guidance On The Income Tax Measures To Support Journalism.

Delegates to a national Liberal Party convention last May 6 went further in adopting a resolution that “the government explore options to hold online information services accountable for the veracity of material published on their platforms and to limit publication to material whose sources can be traced.” No such regulations have been tabled to date.

Compulsory government “fact-checking” is unconstitutional under a Depression-era Supreme Court of Canada ruling. The Court in 1938 struck an Alberta law that mandated all newspapers publish official “corrections” and provide a right of rebuttal to critical articles under threat of $20,000 fines.

Senator Paula Simons (Alta.), a former Edmonton Journal columnist, last May 9 told the Senate transport and communications committee that government had no business “fact-checking” newsrooms. “I come from Alberta,” said Simons. “In the 1930s the government of the day passed what it called the Accurate News And Information Act which gave the government the power of rebuttal and the power to basically fact-check and correct anything the government believed was inaccurate. The courts properly struck that down as unconstitutional.”

“I am always concerned about what happens if someone you don’t like or whose opinions you don’t share suddenly has the power to regulate, even at arm’s length, what is said in the press,” said Senator Simons. “Having been a journalist, lots of people think there are factual errors in the newspaper that are just things they don’t like,” she added.

By Staff

Back to Top