Boreal

Shooting the Messenger

Investigative Journalism Canadian Style

The type of investigative reporting done after the Watergate break-in by the Washington Post is an American tradition not ours. Also, in the American tradition, it is the Davids, not the Goliaths, who get the benefit of the doubt.

After being dismissed by the Department of Foreign Affairs on bogus insubordination charges I went to the Ottawa offices of Canada’s self-styled national newspaper the Globe and Mail where I was introduced to a young woman reporter. She was sitting at a desk in the middle of three or four rows of desks in what we have come to associate with a newspaper newsroom.

I was asked to take a seat next to her desk.

I waited. She was listening to that day’s Question Period in the House of Commons, which was piped into the newsroom over loudspeakers, and typing furiously. Her column, a bit of a recap of the previous day’s Question Period, was front page news the next day.

Eventually we moved to a closed office. The room had a glass wall opening up onto the newsroom. The first thing she did, after we sat down, was to point out who in the newsroom was having sex with whom.

On some other day I might have been interested in the sexual peccadilloes of Globe and Mail reporters and editors but not that day.

Eventually she stopped talking about the life and times of Globe and Mail staff to listen to what I had to say. To the best of my recollection, she did not ask any questions. She thanked me for coming in; she would be getting back to me shortly.

She was a woman who kept her word. She got in touch with me the very next day. She had called Foreign Affairs who told her that I had been dismissed "for cause" and she should not believe anything I had to say.

She ended the conversation with “Please don’t call us again.”

She must have spent a whole five minutes investigating my story. That was actually five minutes more time than an Ottawa Citizen editor.

The Ottawa Citizen, the capital's leading newspaper, after getting my call sent an editor to my home.

The Globe and Mail chose to believe Goliath but at least they spent a few minutes listening to what I had to say and did make one phone call to get the big guy’s reaction. The Ottawa Citizen could not even be bothered to do that.

The Citizen’s man sat down with me in my living room and opened a notepad of sorts and got ready to take notes. I had just begun telling my story when he interrupted to enquire if I knew what Eric Neilson was up to at Foreign Affairs.

For those old enough to remember, Eric Neilson had been tasked by the Mulroney government to review all government programs with a view to cutting them back.

I told the Citizen editor that I did not know what Neilson was up to, and even if I did, I would not be divulging any confidential information. I told him that what I wanted to talk about was a simple bookkeeping fraud involving millions of dollars. He promptly closed his notebook got up and showed himself out.

Bernard Payeur