Esteemed veteran or accused killer?
Journalists should tell the victim's story
A husband and wife who lived in downtown Toronto both died on December 20, but a CBC article told only one of their stories.
A significant chunk of the article described the husband, Robert Giblin:
Giblin had served with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, Department of National Defence officials have confirmed.
In a statement, the DND said Giblin was a sergeant and served with the Joint Task Force Central (JTFC) based out of Denison Armoury in Toronto.
The federal department said Giblin joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1997. He deployed on HMCS Regina in 2003 and to Afghanistan in 2005 and 2007, and was an intelligence operator.
‘The loss of any soldier is devastating to the military community and our thoughts and condolences go out to Sgt. Robert Giblin’s family and friends,’ read the statement.
‘Rob my Brother. We were just chatting when you down in Halifax. Joking how us two old dogs were finally getting promoted. You kept me sane on our 6As and the SDIAC,’ one man wrote on Giblin’s Facebook page. ‘Thanks for all the good times Bro. I’m devastated.’
The CBC article allocated far less space to Precious Charbonneau, Giblin’s wife. The only details offered about Charbonneau were a police estimate that she was nine weeks pregnant and a brief mention of a friend writing “Rest in Peace Presha” on her Facebook wall.
This article leaves a lot of questions about Charbonneau. Who was she? What would friends say about her? Was she more than just a wife and mother robbed of a chance to raise her child?
Unfortunately, the cause of death only makes the lopsided story worse. According to police reports, the couple were not killed in any sort of tragic accident. Instead, police said Giblin stabbed Charbonneau several times before throwing her off the balcony of their 21st-floor apartment. Giblin then jumped to his death.
At best, the story turned out this way because Giblin’s details were easier to find than Charbonneau’s, though this is no excuse given reporters’ duty to dig, especially in cases like this.
The head of public affairs at CBC, Chuck Thompson, told the RRJ, “On the day that this story was written (and subsequent days thereafter), CBC News made several attempts to speak with family and friends of Precious Charbonneau. Unfortunately, attempts to contact and speak to friends and family on the record were unsuccessful.”
At worst, however, this article is an example of a systemic bias in Canadian journalism, where soldiers and veterans receive unwarranted respect or admiration simply by virtue of holding that position. This bias is by no means limited to an individual reporter, or the CBC at large, but the article certainly seems to exhibit the bias.
In response to a question regarding this potential bias, Thompson replied “I can assure you that CBC News makes every effort to ensure all of our stories are fair and balanced.”
Regardless, the fact remains that the military career of a man accused of killing his wife received far more space in the CBC article than details of the incident, the wife’s life or relevant background issues.
The praising quotes about Giblin in the article made it seem as if the two had just mistakenly fallen to their death, even though the causes of death were clearly stated. I had to read the article several times before I was sure police had actually reported that Giblin killed Charbonneau. Thompson says, “What we reported with respect to Robert Giblin’s character was how he was described to us by his friends and family.”
The CBC published a follow up article on December 22, 2015. This article reported some issues that should have been explored in the first article, including violence against women and the potential that Giblin had post-traumatic stress disorder. This article has only been shared 107 times, according to the CBC website, while the earlier article has been shared 1905 times.
Davide is the blog editor of the spring 2016 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism. He also works as an associate editor for the Islamic Monthly. Davide's articles have appeared in numerous publications including Al Jazeera America, The Globe and Mail and the National Post.