We told you a couple weeks ago about Volunteers Unleashed, a CBC doc that was pulled right before it was first set to air. The CBC told us the documentary was delayed due to “copyright issues.” The charity Free the Children told us that they “raised concerns” about “unauthorized footage” but that the CBC assured them the doc was not critical of Me to We, their for-profit retail and voluntourism sister organization.

It seemed pretty important to both parties to assure us that this was NOT about suppressing a critical documentary. Just copyright. Move along.

So……CANADALAND obtained a copy of Volunteers Unleashed and posted the clips in question. They were in fact kinda critical of Me to We. Also, we found out that the “unauthorized footage” at the heart of the copyright issue was in fact licensed by the CBC from the footage’s owners: Global News- not Me to We, Free the Children, or the Kielburger brothers who run both organizations.

Last week, the CBC aired Volunteers Unleashed, with changes that CANADALAND has learned were ordered by the insurance company used for the film, and which appear to misrepresent the opinion of a key interview subject.

Here’s what was changed.

1. The CBC kept footage of “We Day”, but removed the Kielburger Brothers.

We Day is an annual event put on in multiple cities by Free the Children where thousands of schoolchildren fill stadiums for a multimedia extravaganza promoting “youth empowerment.” The original cut of Volunteers Unleashed featured Craig Kielburger enthusiastically hyping up the crowd, with Marc standing at his side. This was the clip the CBC licensed from Global. Parts of this are still in there, but now we only see the arena of kids and a brief audio cut of Craig Kielburger’s voice, which isn’t identified as belonging to anyone.

So CBC used its We Day footage – the licensing issue seems to be moot. And now, Volunteers Unleashed director Brad Quennville tells us that the decision to make these edits was caused by pressure from the Errors and Omissions insurers:

“The insurers providing Errors and Omissions insurance insisted on the removal of the contested footage and a number of editorial changes to help mitigate any potential legal action. It was a very frustrating process, seeing one’s story get altered, but from what I understand it was necessary in order to get the E&O insurance and to reduce the risks of legal action following its broadcast.”

We had earlier asked the CBC and Me to We if there were libel threats or libel issues beyond a mere licensing issue, and neither answered.

The omission of the Kielburger’s images raises a disturbing question:

Does the CBC concede that subjects of its journalism need to “authorize” the CBC to use pictures of them?

2. The CBC removed mention of Me to We trips to Ecuador.

In the original for-broadcast cut of Volunteers Unleashed, it is noted that at least 40 Me to We volunteer trips have come to Educador during a recent summer. This is shortly after the narration makes an implicit critique of volunteer tourist groups going to Ecuador at all – the country has high living standards and a growing economy, so why are these groups there?

That criticism is now left solely to fall on other voluntourism companies, and Me to We is left out. This is weird. It’s a pretty soft and muted criticism, it doesn’t involve any “unauthorized footage” that we are aware of, and it is isn’t incendiary or damning. So why remove it?

3. A writer and activist who criticized Me to We in the original cut magically becomes explicilty uncritical. 

In the re-cut and broadcast version, narrator Ann-Marie MacDonald says that “Pippa Biddle sounds a cautionary note, but not about Me to We.”

That’s news to Pippa Biddle, who was explicitly critical of Me to We in the original cut.

In response to the editing of her interview and views, Biddle tells CANADALAND:

“To purposely misconstrue my comments so as to save the feelings of an organization that should be criticized is, to me, completely absurd. It shows a level of censorship that does a disservice to the original cut of the film, to the filmmaker Brad Quenville who carefully constructed a story that the CBC dismantled, and to the viewers who are led to believe that I believe that Me to We is a reputable organization when that is not the case and, in fact, I said the opposite.”

Writing on her blog, Biddle goes one step further:

“Journalistic freedom, it seems, has no place where self-absorbed and over-fluffed companies and non-profits are concerned. Which is, to me, horrifying. If we can’t openly criticize entities in a fair and measured way, not libel, criticism, then we are creating a situation in which for-profits and non-profits are empowered to do whatever they please without fear.”

We put the contrast between Biddle’s statement and the misleading voiceover CBC added before Quenville and Michael Claydon, the Area Executive Producer of Independent Documentaries at CBC Television. Neither of them responded to the matter directly. Claydon told us:

“Ms Biddle’s comments in the doc offered a concern on how well prepared young people really are when they take these trips abroad, and these concerns were based on her own experiences.  She is entitled to her criticisms of Me to We, but as you know the documentary focusses on much more than that.”

Of course, what he doesn’t mention there is that CBC edited Biddle’s criticisms of Me to We out of the documentary and added a line stating that she is not critical of them.

So there you have it. The CBC pulled a documentary from the air when a company objected to footage the public broadcaster had legally licensed from Global. Under pressure from its insurers, the CBC then edited the documentary for a later broadcast and removed criticisms of the company, who claim the CBC told them the doc would be free of criticism. In doing so, the CBC misrepresented the views of one of its subjects without her knowledge or consent.

sean@canadalandshow.com