Canada: Moonlighting, Ethics And Crossing The Line

CBC is making headlines once again for the termination of yet another of its high-profile personalities. On June 10, 2015, CBC News fired Evan Solomon, host of the television program Power and Politics and the radio show The House, for allegedly violating CBC's code of ethics. This comes on the heels of CBC's termination of Jian Ghomeshi last October. Mr. Solomon's termination stems from a story published in The Toronto Star outlining his dealings with art collector Bruce Bailey in which it is alleged he used his position at the CBC and his journalistic contacts to broker art deals between the rich and famous and collect secret lucrative commissions.

In defending its decision to terminate Mr. Solomon, the CBC referred to its code of ethics which states that employees "must not use their positions to further their personal interests", and said that Mr. Solomon's activities were inconsistent with its conflict of interest and ethics policies or its journalistic standards and practices.

Generally, if proven, conflict of interest will constitute cause for discharge. Conflict of interest typically arises in four situations:

  • involvement with competitors;
  • involvement with companies dealing with the employer;
  • taking a benefit; and
  • outside work.

Notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Solomon's behavior may be a breach of CBC's code of ethics, employees owe an obligation to be faithful and honest in their dealings with their employer and owe a duty not to use special information obtained in the course of their employment for their own purposes and contrary to the interest of their employer.

There's no question that Mr. Solomon, both as a TV and radio host at CBC, came into contact with some of the most high-profile people on the planet. It is alleged Mr. Solomon brokered art deals with these same contacts, such as Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research in Motion (now BlackBerry) and Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of Canada and the current governor of the Bank of England. Furthermore, the Toronto Star's investigation found Mr. Solomon collected secret commissions in excess of $300,000 in one case.

These allegations suggest Mr. Solomon not only used his position and his connections for his own self-interest but he also enjoyed a significant financial benefit from his dealings. His activities could also fall under the conflict of interest rubric as outside work. Lastly, Mr. Solomon's outside activity could be perceived as prejudicial to his ability (and his employer's) to carry out the job functions. Particularly given the potential bias, real or perceived, created by his outside dealings with guests of his shows, raising questions as to the transparency of his interviews.

In his defence, Mr. Solomon maintains that he has done nothing wrong and that he disclosed his business involvement in art to his employer. However, it is unlikely Mr. Solomon disclosed that he was using contacts made in the course of his employment and in so doing receiving significant financial kickbacks. As such, his behavior likely violated CBC's code of ethics as well as his general obligation and duties to his employer.

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