If it was a Canadian government secret, it’s no longer secret now, thanks to the Globe & Mail. Will gay Chechens seeking to leave Russia now pay the price?
The Canadian government has been, according to the Globe and Mail, “secretly giving asylum to gay people in Chechnya.” By revealing what had, up until then, been a secret program, the Toronto-based newspaper, and its reporter, John Ibbitson, may have harmed Canadian-Russian relations and put future asylum seekers at risk.
Globe and Mail public editor Sylvia Stead looked into the reporting, after a reader questioned whether the news stories about the refugees would leave them open to harm. Stead discovered that Ibbitson had found out about the Chechens heading to Canada back in June, but the Globe and Mail editors agreed to delay publishing for three months in order to protect the Chechens.
“In June, I learned that plans were, in fact, under way to bring some men to Canada,” Ibbitson told Stead. “But when I contacted government and NGO officials, they responded with genuine alarm. Reporting on the program would literally put the lives of people at risk, they said. After consulting with senior editors, Bob Fife (The Globe‘s Ottawa bureau chief) decided that we would hold the story. I agreed with that decision. Holding a story is something, as you know, The Globe rarely agrees to do. But in this case, circumstances warranted.”
iMediaEthics contacted Ibbitson, who redirected us to the Globe and Mail‘s editor David Walmsley. We asked Walmsley how often the Globe has agreed to delay publication for a significant time.
For her part, Stead wrote that Ibbitson’s story was important because it highlighted what the Chechen men were experiencing.
“Without publishing, the public wouldn’t know of the dangers faced by gay Chechen men,” she wrote. “These days when information is world wide, a story in Canada can help the cause of these men by raising awareness and raising a debate everywhere about this threat. Secrecy has not been helpful to the safety of these men and other people in the world facing human rights abuses.”