Wendy Mesley suspended from hosting after using 'careless' language in discussing racial issue

CBC News host Wendy Mesley was suspended from hosting, pending an investigation, after she said she "used a word that should never be used" during an editorial discussion about race.

Neither host nor CBC's head of public affairs clarified what word was used

Wendy Mesley off air over ‘careless’ language in meeting

3 years ago
Duration 2:06
CBC’s Wendy Mesley will be off the air pending an investigation, after, in her words, she “used a word that should never be used” during an editorial discussion.

CBC News host Wendy Mesley has been suspended from hosting, pending an investigation, after she said she "used a word that should never be used" during an editorial discussion about race.

"Last Thursday, senior management within CBC News were made aware of an incident involving Wendy Mesley. While we investigate further, Wendy will not be hosting The Weekly," CBC's head of public affairs, Chuck Thompson, said in a statement. "Respecting the privacy rights of our employees, we have nothing more to add."

News of Mesley's suspension was first reported by Canadaland.

Mesley, whose program, The Weekly, aired on Sunday without her, took to Twitter on Tuesday to apologize publicly. "It was not aimed at anyone, I was quoting a journalist we were intending to interview on a panel discussion about coverage of racial inequality," she wrote.

"I was careless with my language and wrong to say it. Regardless of my intention, I hurt people, and for that, I am very sorry. I am also deeply ashamed.

"I immediately apologized to my co-workers, and recognize this is a word that no one like me should ever use. I made a big mistake and promise to change my behaviour."

Neither Mesley nor Thompson clarified what word she used.

Andray Domise, a contributing editor at Maclean's magazine, told CBC's Eli Glasner he doesn't know what word Mesley used but said he finds the incident "emblematic of what it's like to work in Canadian media and Canadian journalism: that everything is just a one-off scenario."

"We want to look at it as a series of one-offs, little blunders that we can fix," he said. "But that's exactly how systemic racism works."

'A serious problem'

Domise said Mesley's comment is part of a wider issue of racial insensitivity at CBC News. He pointed to recent incidents including the airing of a video about demonstrations in New York City that did not include the critical moment a police cruiser drove into a crowd of protesters, as well as comments made by former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day about racism in Canada on CBC's Power & Politics.

"When do you stop dropping the ball and figure out that you've got clumsy hands, is my question," Domise said. "In our national broadcaster, there's a commitment to diversity, but there is no conversation around who makes the news, who's in front of the camera, who's behind the cameras.

We want to look at it as a series of one-offs, little blunders that we can fix. But that's exactly how systemic racism works.- Andray Domise, contributing editor at Maclean's

"That's a serious problem when we're dealing with anti-Black racism as it's erupting not only in Canada and the United States but throughout the world. All of the artifices are being torn down, and we understand that there is a systemic problem, but nobody wants to take responsibility for it."

During a recent discussion on anti-Black racism on Power & Politics, Day likened the discrimination faced by visible minorities across Canada to the bullying he endured as a child.

"Should I have gone through school and been mocked because I had glasses and was called four-eyes and because of the occupation of my parents?" Day said. "No, of course not. But are Canadians largely and in majority racist? No, we are not."

Day stepped down from his role as a commentator on Power & Politics and left senior positions at two major companies shortly after.

'A series of errors'

CBC News editor in chief Brodie Fenlon addressed the NYPD video, along with other issues related to the anti-Black racism protests, in an editor's blog posted on Monday. He wrote that during coverage of the protests, CBC News "made a series of errors."

"We broadcast video of police vehicles driving into crowds of protesters in New York City. The script was poorly worded and mischaracterized the events, framing them mostly from the police perspective," he wrote.

"Our team realized this and improved the language, but when we rebroadcast the clip, we had a technical production error that cut the video short — not showing the final moments when the police drove into the crowd."

Fenlon wrote, "With the scrutiny on our work at its highest level, we owned up to some examples where our storytelling was one-sided, or missing perspectives, or nuance, or sensitivity."

The blog post listed a series of initiatives CBC News plans to undertake to be more inclusive, including unconscious bias training and endeavouring to hire more people from "underrepresented equity groups."

It all feels uncomfortably familiar to Domise.

"How many times do we have to do this?" he said. "It's difficult for me to take anything that people say right now seriously. It is. There's always the blunder and then the mea culpa and then the commitment to change that results in no change at all."