How do Black Canadians Feel about the Fergus Report?

Ever since the release of The Fergus Report by the Ethics Commissioner, the news talk has been flooded with bylines claiming that Canada’s democracy is devolving and exaggerations about Canada “dying a little”, but with little details on the specifics of this report. The day after the report was released, I went online to hear the various perspectives on the situation from mainstream political segments that followed the traditional “expert panel” approach to talking policy. However, there was a noticeable absence from every one of these political segment panels and it was that they were absent of any black voices.

This matters because the entire premise of the “ethics violation” is based on a letter of support that was provided by The Honorable Greg Fergus to an organization that was dedicated to celebrating the history and everyday contributions made by Black Quebecers in their pursuit to better Quebec’s society, and which was looking to obtain “basic cable” status, thus celebrating Quebec even more. And despite all of this, not a single Black Canadian or Black Quebecer was present on any of the political segment panels that discussed the issue of ethics.

The million-dollar question we need to be asking is why there were no Black Canadians or Black Quebecers represented on any of those political segment panels and why were they not provided the opportunity to speak on The Fergus Report? Although non-Black Canadians and non-Black Quebecers are capable of providing a quality analysis of the report, it is not the same as hearing from members of the Black community and so better understanding how they felt about the report’s findings. After all, this had to do with the creation of a basic cable channel that would focus on celebrating the history and everyday contributions made by Black Quebecers in their pursuit to better Quebec’s society.

The Fergus Report is not what it is made out to be.

The basis of The Fergus Report revolves around how a letter of support that was provided by Mr. Fergus to Natyf Inc. in 2021 had been submitted by Natyf Inc., a full year later, in 2022, along with other letters of support, to the CRTC after the organization had requested feedback on Natyf Inc.’s application to obtain basic cable status so that the channel would be accessible to all Quebecers.

All of this started in June of 2021, when one of Naytf Inc.’s director asked Mr. Fergus for a letter of support that would be in favor of their proposal for a television station that targeted a more diverse and inclusive Francophone audience. The director was a Black Canadian who approached Mr. Fergus, a Black Canadian and Black Quebecer, who also was the Chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus, based on Natyf Inc.’s goal to celebrate the history and everyday contributions of made by Black Canadians and Black Quebecer in their pursuit to better Quebec’s society.

With all of this in mind, the Ethics Commissioner decided to commence an investigation into the nature of Mr. Fergus’ actions, potentially contravening the Conflict of Interest Act (Act), in order to determine whether Mr. Fergus had attempted to use his position in an attempt to influence a decision of another person in order to further another person’s private interests. Although there were pre-existing guidelines for ministers and parliamentary secretaries that advised them not to write letters of support to quasi-judicial tribunals like the CRTC, given their governmental roles and the influence they possessed, Mr. Fergus’ letter of support was written on his Member of Parliament letterhead, and he also happened to be the Chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus. However, the Ethics Commissioner decided that Mr. Fergus’ role as Parliamentary Secretary could not be disregarded, and he determined that Mr. Fergus had contravened section 9 of the Act.

The “smoking gun” was that Mr. Fergus’ letter of support had included Natyf Inc.’s CRTC application number, and the Ethics Commissioner determined that the only possible reason for this was so that it would influence the decision of the CRTC and to further the private interests of Natyf Inc. Although the Ethics Commissioner was not wrong in his position, it seems a very narrow view as to why the application number may have been included in the letter of support.

It is just as likely the application number was meant to acknowledge the fact that the application was pending CRTC’s approval and to provide Natyf Inc. with the necessary credibility required to seek out potential advertisers, despite the uncertainty around their pending application. However, the absolute manner in which the Ethics Commissioner justified his position leads me to believe that he lacked familiarity with the media sector and just how difficult it has become for legacy media to secure advertising revenue, and how much harder it would be to secure advertisers for a station that did not exist. It is also just as likely that the letter, which was provided to Natyf Inc., over a year before it was submitted to the CRTC, could have been accidentally submitted by a Naytf Inc. director or that a Naytf Inc. director may have misunderstood the nature of the CRTC’s request when it invited the submission of letters of support. Simply put, I believe the Ethics Commissioner is wrong to claim that “there is no doubt that the letter of support was intended to influence the decision of the CRTC so as to further the private interests of Naytf Inc.”, when it seems there could be more than a reasonable doubt as to the intention behind the letter of support because of the date it was written and the manner in which media companies secure advertisers. Case dismissed with prejudice.

Being a Black Canadian is not an ethics violation.

From the inception of the Parliamentary Black Caucus in 2015, the honorable Greg Fergus has served as the Chair and with the purpose of ensuring that Black Canadians are able to see themselves better represented and for them to have a channel to address issues of importance.  It seems obvious that the letter of support had nothing to do with Mr. Fergus’ role as a Parliamentary secretary and everything to do his role as Chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus. It is as simple as this, one Black Canadian asking another Black Canadian, who was responsible for ensuring the representation of Black Canadians across Canada, to support a venture that would ultimately help celebrate the history and everyday contributions of made by Black Canadians and Black Quebecer in their pursuit to better Quebec’s society.

This entire fiasco was a classic case of unforeseen intersections between the different roles and responsibilities that members of federal government can get tasked with, and how those roles and responsibilities can conflict with one another. Simply put, this situation should have been acknowledged for what it was, a precedent-setting situation where a benevolent letter was identified as running counter to the Act due to the incompatibility between the role of a Parliamentary Secretary and a Chair of the Black Caucus. Nothing more. But we can conclude that common sense is no longer that common.