The Demitri File: A Teachable Moment in Journalism

di Joe Volpe del 12 April 2019

TORONTO - Tuesday evening, I was the guest speaker at a conference sponsored by the Toronto Research Library, a fabulous facility. Topic of the event? Journalism in a disinformation age.

First question in the Q & A? How can we distinguish between fact or fiction and protect ourselves against “fake news” in a digital age? Short answer: we can’t. Longer answer: check the facts; be skeptical and consider the source - what is he/she after?

Later, in the refuge of my study, on reading some Facebook exchanges between a certain Domenico Conte and one GNB regarding the Demitri Family’s almost six-year struggle to obtain status in Canada, I wished I had had the post to illustrate my answer.

I do not know Domenico Conte. GNB is television journalist for a publicly subsidized TV station. I have met the Demitri – all six members of the family, including two minors born in Italy and two born in Canada.

The family entered Canada legally. From the very beginning, they tried to make their stay permanent. They sought and found gainful employment.

Their contacts offered them advice and proposed courses of action that took them to the o.ces of MP Kirsty Duncan (now Minister), former Mayor Rob Ford (now deceased), then Councillor Doug Ford (now Premier), former Minister Julian Fantino.

With the current Liberal government, they have been in contact (directly and indirectly) with several MPs.

The Caucus of Italian Canadian MPs have raised their case with the current Minister, Ahmed Hussen. The latter has turned a deaf ear to their case. He refuses to talk with Corriere Canadese about it, save to say that this is a “removals issue” and, therefore, in Minister Goodale’s bailiwick.

The office representative of the latter confirms that, no, the Demitri case is one of “status”, which only the Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, can give.

Since their arrival in 2013, Canada has granted “status” - Permanent Residency - to some 1.5 million new arrivals; but, Hussen says there can be no room for the six Demitri.

Why not? It may have something to do with the fact the Demitri filed for refugee status, claiming to be fleeing from “justice” typically meted out by underworld types against relatives and associates of the “pentiti” (those who turn state’s evidence).

Mrs. Demitri is first cousin to a regional clan boss who became just such a “pentito”. Mr. Demitri worked with a security firm collaborating with police investigators when his cover was blown.

The application was unsuccessful. The Appeal met the same result. They filed a Humanitarian and Compassionate claim. In a 17-page decision, the arbitrator denied them this avenue.

He did not interview them. Instead, he set aside a Supreme Court directive to consider the best interests of the children, first and foremost.

He also cited a UK Guardian article on law and order in Italy to pooh-pooh their fears and to justify sending them back. He did not balance his decision with calls to Italy, with references to Italian papers, or indeed with the Corriere Canadese.

Those who read the Corriere, Dominic Conte among them apparently, have a difficult time understanding Ahmed Hussen’s obduracy given his public statement, some three weeks ago, that Ontario has 130,000 jobs, today, looking for workers to fill them. The Demitri – he a technologies expert, she a lawyer and “chef” – may be overqualified.

Their life seems to be an open book. Not to a chiding GNB. With a proverbial “finger wagging”, he asks Conte if he actually read the Refugee Board decision or if he had taken the trouble to check out the “identity” of the Demitri with Italian police, as he, GNB, had done.

Or if Conte was aware that the Demitri had never declared that they had ever received threats. “Some one’s lying” is the not-soveiled implication.

Could be…but, piercing analyses by law enforcement agencies and scrutiny by international news agencies have not put a dent in their story. “The only wise move left for them is a direct appeal to the Italian Ambassador in Ottawa”, he says referencing the sage advice of an MP to which he had become privy, “even if the facts as they had recounted to Immigration Canada had not been altogether truthful”. So, now we know that they did lie, he concludes.

If true, why the MP would implicate a foreign government in a decision which rests exclusively in the portfolio and at the discretion of a Canadian Minister may be beyond the understanding of mere mortals.

It sounds more like “scapegoating” to a cynic or skeptic. GMB’s post should suggest he is that latter camp: “the whole a.air is rather murky and someone is profiting from them”, he says.

For the Corriere Canadese the facts under consideration are pretty clear: (1) the Demitri are here – two children are born in Canada, (2) the country needs them, or people like them, (3) both the Refugee Board Report and that of the H&C hearing are riddled with holes, (4) the Minister can correct a wrong with a simple directive.

Minister Hussen may indeed be in possession of material that suggests he has reason to believe that the Demitri are a security risk to Canada. Again, there are agencies to protect Canadians against such security threats.

These have not been spurred into action. Nor is Hussen sharing the information (if he has any). Until and unless he does, his obstinacy will be viewed negatively in his own riding and spill over to others - including his leader.

People may now well ask why Mr. GNB and his station have adopted a line of questioning seemingly designed to divert the public from the facts and to painting the Minister as a victim. Those are some consequences inherent in spreading unfounded news.

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