Sharp-tongued CBC personality Kevin O’Leary subject of new complaint by unions

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

CBC personality Kevin O'Leary has already taken a social-media drubbing and official smackdown for his nasty interview of an Occupy Wall St. supporter.

Now he's facing an inquiry launched by two of Canada's big public-sector unions who say some of his anti-labour comments may have lead to violence.

The 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union have filed a complaint with CBC Ombudsman Kirk LaPointe over recent anti-union comments it says were offensive.

"During the September 19, 2011 episode, Mr. O'Leary stated that if he were elected prime minister, he would 'make unions illegal' and union members should be "thrown in jail," NUPGE/OPSEU said in a joint news release.

"Later, he evokes religious imagery to promote the destruction of unions, stating that 'Unions are sheer evil' … 'Unions themselves are born out of evil. They must be destroyed with evil,' and … 'Look, no one could contain unions in hell. They were so evil they came out of hell and they came upon earth.' "

NUPGE president James Clancy said O'Leary's comments "are not only highly offensive, they are very disturbing, irresponsible and potentially illegal.

"Mr. O'Leary's willful promotion of contempt and hatred towards unions reflects a viewpoint that has often ended in violence perpetrated against union members and leaders around the world," he said.

The complaint refers to instances of violence against the unions' members involved in a legal strike against the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology around the time O'Leary made his comments.

"In dealing with this matter, we urge CBC to demand that Mr. O'Leary publicly apologize for his comments and take proactive steps, with the aim of making Mr. O'Leary accountable for future behaviour on the CBC," the unions said.

Ombudsman LaPointe has already weighed in on O'Leary's handling of an Oct. 6 interview with Occupy Wall Street supporter Chris Hedges on the Lang & O'Leary Exchange.

O'Leary, a Toronto businessman who also stars in the CBC reality show Dragon's Den, called the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author a "leftwing nutbar." Hedges' calmly deflected O'Leary's rants against him and the protest movement, drawing praise from the twitterverse.

LaPointe said his office received hundreds of comments demanding an apology or that O'Leary be fired.

The CBC's journalistic standards and practices call for people and groups to be treated even-handedly, he said. Language used should avoid generalization, stereotypes and degrading or offensive words "that could feed prejudice or expose people to hatred and contempt."

"O'Leary is entitled to his opinion," and the CBC is entitled to include them, LaPointe said.

"There is room at the inn for a range of views, but there is no room for name-calling a guest,"LaPointe wrote in his decision. "O'Leary might have been genuinely curious about Hedges's views, but his opening salvo only fed contempt, which breached policy."

He noted that CBC News privately apologized to Hedges and talked with O'Leary about "the inappropriateness of the name-calling."

"What was unclear was why the program would stop there and not acknowledge this also to the audience," he said. "Only the guest received the benefit of the private apology, from the programmer and not the principal (O'Leary) himself."