Toronto Star

Monday, June 21, 1999

Complaint against The Star upheld

Column should have identified source: Council

The Toronto Star should have identified a federal justice department official as the source of a disputed statistic on child custody in Canada, the Ontario Press Council has ruled in upholding one aspect of a complaint that a column published May 2, 1998, contained biased references to child custody cases.

Text of the adjudication:

Brian K. Jenkins of Mississauga complained that a column published in The Toronto Star May 2, 1998, contained biased references to child custody cases.

He specifically focused on a paragraph that said: ``And when fathers do petition for custody, they end up with sole or joint custody of their children more than 50 per cent of the time.''

He said the supposed prevalence of sole paternal and joint custody seemed much higher than he had ever seen in statistics.

The Ontario Press Council is on record as stating that it believes it is appropriate for columnists to exercise wide latitude in expressing their opinions, no matter how controversial or unpopular the opinions may be.

With this policy in mind, it has no problem with the opinions expressed in the column, which said ``the fathers' rights lobby and its female spokespersons (girlfriends, second wives, grandmothers) have mounted . . . a high-decibel barrage of disinformation'' and that the media have repeated their claims so uncritically that many people have a totally distorted picture of the child custody situation.

But while opinion has a wide open field, the paragraph in question is presented as a statement of fact.

Given that there is a confusing array of statistics which raise serious questions about how often fathers are awarded sole or joint custody of children, the council strongly believes that the source of the information should have been identified in the column.

And on this point alone it upholds the complaint.

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