Nova Scotia

Lezlie Lowe, Chronicle Herald columnist, quits after Chebucto Heights school article

Chronicle Herald columnist Lezlie Lowe says a story that alleged refugee children were bullying classmates at a Halifax elementary school was unbalanced and laid 'bare the worst of the worst xenophobia in our city and our province.'

'Nothing was going to change the way I felt, the new feeling I had about being associated with the paper'

Lezlie Lowe has written a column for the Chronicle Herald for seven years but quit Monday, citing concerns about the journalism in a piece that alleged refugee children were bullying their classmates. (University of King's College)

Chronicle Herald columnist Lezlie Lowe has quit her position, citing concerns with the journalism in a story the paper published about refugee children at Chebucto Heights Elementary School.

The article, called "Parents worried over school kids' brutality," appeared online a week ago and in last Saturday's print edition.

It made allegations of violence and bullying and quoted a parent, using only her nickname, who said refugee students twice choked her daughter with a chain and that one boy yelled "Muslims rule the world."

The story didn't cite any other sources to corroborate the claims, nor did it quote any officials from the school. It has since been criticized by the paper's publisher and the head of the Halifax Regional School Board.

Lowe says the story didn't sit well with her over the weekend and on Monday she told the paper's owner and her editor that she was quitting. Her final column announcing the decision ran today.

"The story lays bare the worst of the worst xenophobia in our city and our province. It lacks all proportion. Balance eludes it, start to finish," she wrote in her farewell column.

'There is an erosion that's happened'

She told CBC News the story eroded the pride she'd felt in the publication for the seven years she wrote her weekly piece.

"I just realized nothing was going to change the way I felt, the new feeling I had about being associated with the paper," she said. 

While she says the ongoing labour dispute at the Herald didn't factor into her decision, she says "the longer the strike goes on, the longer it's at risk of these mistakes happening."

"There is an erosion that's happened," she said. 

Concerns with byline policy

Lowe was a freelancer at the paper and not a member of the union.

She says she doesn't agree with the paper's policy to withhold reporter and photographer's names and felt an obligation to respond to the Chebucto Heights story as one of the few remaining faces associated with the Herald.

"The byline moratorium is a huge, huge problem for transparency and accountability," she said.

"I'm concerned that the coverage is suffering because the strike is ongoing. I don't know the way out of that, I don't see how the strike is going to come to an end."

Widespread criticism 

The story ran in the Chronicle Herald's print edition last Saturday. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

The article, which is no longer available online, sparked widespread criticism from the public and journalism community and prompted a statement from the school board. 

On Monday, superintendent Elwin LeRoux said the accusations made were untrue and he was "deeply offended to see the school represented so inaccurately."

"The language and the tone of the article were both harmful and hurtful to students, staff and the community of Chebucto Heights — and to our entire school system," he said. 

A spokesman for the Halifax Regional School Board said Friday that the school's principal spoke with "many parents" about the allegations and none have said they are true.

Herald says story was 'incomplete'

The Chronicle Herald first altered the online article and then moved it entirely. 

On Monday, the paper ran a statement that said "our story was incomplete and insufficiently corroborated, given the serious nature of the allegations."

Publisher Sarah Dennis addressed the story again in Friday's paper, saying it should not have been released.

"We should have asked more questions to clarify what happened and to get broader, more balanced perspectives to ensure that refugee children in the school would not be negatively impacted," she said. 

In relation to Lowe's departure, she said: "We are very sorry to lose Lezlie as a talented columnist, but we respect her decision."