Someone Gave The Media A Bunch Of False Info About Canada’s Syrian Refugee Plan

Things are way different than they were under the Conservatives, but perhaps not in the way the Liberals planned.

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The new era of openness in Ottawa may have a backfire-effect on the Liberals. Their first major government announcement Tuesday was hounded by advance leaks and misinformation. This wasn't normal under the Conservatives.

Erik De Castro / Reuters

Under the previous government, secrets were closely guarded and usually only leaked when it was to their benefit.

But in the days before the Liberals revealed their plan to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees, CBC ran a story with the headline "Canada's Syrian refugee plan limited to women, children and families."

Citing anonymous sources, CBC reporter Rosemary Barton reported that due to security concerns "unaccompanied men seeking asylum will not be part of the (refugee) program."

The Liberals quietly disavowed the story. Sure enough, when the full plan was made public Tuesday there were significant differences from the CBC story.

The refugee plan does prioritize women, children and families. But some single men can be brought in if they are in danger of persecution, such as for their sexual orientation. Also, unaccompanied men can be brought in through private sponsorships, of which there will be 10,000 by the end of February.

Put another way, there will be proportionately fewer young Syrian men brought into Canada, but there is not a blanket ban.

The CBC also reported that refugees will be housed in military bases for about a month and the Liberals were worried about these temporary housing situations being seen as "camps." The price of the program was reported at $1.2 billion over six years by both CBC and The Canadian Press.

All of that was different in the final plan. The government says refugees will be sent immediately to their new communities once they are processed in Canada. Spaces in military bases are being set aside, but the government says this is only a contingency plan. They list the cost of the program at $678 million over six years, about half of what CP and the CBC reported.

One senior Liberal said they don't know where the information came from but they suspect it was from someone who did not have their best interests at heart. In other words, someone trying to screw them.

The CBC and Rosemary Barton are standing by the story. It remains on the CBC website, unedited. And Barton said she does not believe it is inaccurate.

CBC / Via cbc.ca

"I just don't happen to think what I reported was wrong," she wrote in response to questions about the story.

In a separate leak, an early draft of the plan was given to several media outlets. That plan outlined how to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, as originally promised. In the end, the Liberals backed off and pushed that target into 2016.

These stories sparked criticism of the Liberal plan, and, perhaps in response, the Ottawa Citizen was leaked the story that gay men will be part of the refugee program.

This sort of thing rarely happened under the Conservatives. There would be the usual selective leaks — for example the Finance ministry had an ongoing practice of giving news to the Globe and Mail a few days early — but actually embarrassing information was kept tight under wraps.

The Liberals have famously un-muzzled federal civil servants and ministers are making a point of facing reporters.

The Liberals are also traditionally much more cooperative with media and more open to leaking stories. They excelled at this in opposition.

But with this new attitude, it seems others in the civil service, perhaps people still loyal to the Conservatives, are now feeling emboldened to leak information. For the refugee story it could have been almost anyone. About a half-dozen different departments were involved in the plan.

After almost a decade of obsessive message control by the Conservatives, any new government was bound to feel like a major departure. But if this system of duelling leaks becomes the new normal under the Liberals, political reporting is about to become more confusing for the public — and a lot more fun for reporters.

Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Paul McLeod at paul.mcleod@buzzfeed.com.

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