Wendy Mesley is out at CBC. After a year in limbo for the use of a racial epithet on two occasions, Wendy Mesley is officially retired from CBC. In an op-ed piece in the Globe and Mail, Mesley said she voluntarily walked away from the Corp without a settlement after refusing to enter into a non-disclosure agreement. CBC had apparently previously offered the veteran journalist a role which she found “unreasonable.”
In the op-ed Mesley explained her lapse. It was in the immediate aftermath of the George Floyd murder and during a story conference for The Weekly with Wendy Mesley, she suggested doing a story about a black CBC reporter who was repeatedly called the N-word. “During our discussion, I was so upset over what our colleague experienced that I stupidly filled in the N-word. Why? I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times, and I have no good answer. I was mad that she faced this kind of abuse. I can be very blunt. And I didn’t understand how any use of that word could hurt, regardless of its context. It was thoughtless and wrong.” The second occasion where the word was used was in a discussion on racism in Quebec– specifically about a ban on women’s head coverings. In making the point that many francophone Quebeckers feel like an endangered minority she made reference to the 1968 book Nègres blancs d’Amérique, a Marxist analysis by the Francophone writer Pierre Vallières. Mesley referred to the English language title of the book which contained the N-word.
“None of that matters now. I hurt people I never meant to,” Mesley writes. She says she expected to be punished, but “also believed my punishment would be proportionate, because people would come to understand there’s a difference between a reporter repeating a hateful remark with colleagues while in pursuit of a story, and a gleeful racist trying to draw blood.”
She said she became aware of other incidents where the racial epithet was used at the CBC without consequences. She concluded by suggesting the incident could have been handled in a way that made it a learning moment. “Instead, it was all about blame, shame and regret.”
Wendy Mesley first came to prominence on Canadian television screens in the 1980’s, during the Meech Lake constitutional crisis, a young reporter in her 20’s joining the largely older, white and male CBC Parliamentary Bureau, staking out marathon talks in the now renamed Langevin Block in Ottawa. For several years she was the star female reporter for the network, until the doors began to open for other women at CBC. She shared her experience with breast cancer with Canadians in 2005. She described herself as a second-wave feminist who opened the door for other women in senior roles in journalism and who fought for changes in the way news was covered.