Do we know the truth about the Liberal refugee plan?

I don’t know who’s telling the truth about the Liberal refugee plan.

On the one hand, there’s Paul McLeod, BuzzFeed‘s political editor, who published an article on November 25, 2015, titled “Someone Gave The Media A Bunch Of False Info About Canada’s Syrian Refugee Plan.” McLeod takes issue with a CBC report by Rosemary Barton that, days before the Liberals revealed their official refugee plan, stated “unaccompanied men seeking asylum will not be part of the (refugee) program.”

McLeod quotes an anonymous senior Liberal member who “said they don’t know where the information came from, but they suspect it was from someone who did not have their best interests at heart. In other words, someone trying to screw them.”

There's only one word Canadian journalists are finding different interpretations and responses to in the Liberal government's Syrian refugee plan: "prioritize."
There’s one word being interpreted and responded to differently in the Liberal government’s Syrian refugee plan: “prioritize.”

Other reports also counter the CBC reports on the claim to exclude single male Syrian refugees. As a Vice article states:

Initial reports had suggested that the government would not be allowing in any unattached single men in under the program, unless they are a sexual minority.

Government officials confirmed Tuesday that wouldn’t be the case. While the government will “prioritize” families, women at risk, LGBTQ minorities, and those who are accompanying elderly parents, it will not be disqualifying any would-be refugee on the basis of gender.

The Toronto Star also made this clear: “Officials say [the plan] does not preclude men — including gay men and single men accompanying their parents — from admission.”

It’s not just CBC that continues to carry this claim about the exclusion of single male refugees. In a November 24 article (updated November 25, the day after the official announcement), The Globe and Mail quoted anonymous federal officials stating that “single men will only be admitted if they are accompanying their parents or are identified as members of the LGBT community.” The National Post is also carrying an report with the same claim, as well as this report on the difficulties of identifying gay refugee applicants.
In an interview with the RRJ, McLeod said he wants Barton to retract her report now that the official plan has been released, “or at the very least, explain where she got it from for more clarity.” Rosemary Barton was unavailable for comment.
The Canadian journalism industry is small, and because of that, there isn’t much internal verification and close checking of other people’s work. “We don’t traditionally call people out on things,” says McLeod, “we’re taking a different tactic by doing this.”
In a situation like this, perhaps the industry should be calling each other out. There’s one official government plan available for everyone to read, but (presumably) different official sources claiming different versions of the plan to different journalists. When we don’t know who the official sources are, or at least have an explanation or verification that the claims are factual, who do we as readers believe?
More simply, this is an issue of fact. Is the Liberal government excluding single male Syrian refugees or not? Half of the news outlets in Canada say yes. The other half say no. Who’s reporting the truth?
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About the author

Fatima Syed is the blog editor of the spring 2016 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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