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Reporter gets CBC job back after court battle

A CBC Radio reporter who was fired after sending tainted chocolates to a local health-care advocate is getting his job back, along with almost five years of partial back pay.

Bob Keating was fired in February, 2003, after he rubbed raw chicken and dirt onto some chocolates and mailed the box to the head of a political lobby group in Nelson, B.C., where Mr. Keating was based.

Mr. Keating was angry about something he understood the activist, Earl Hamilton, had said about him.

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But before the chocolates could arrive, Mr. Keating warned Mr. Hamilton about the coming delivery and told his CBC bosses what he had done. He was fired after a disciplinary hearing shortly thereafter, on Feb. 14, for gross misconduct.

His dismissal was grieved by his union, the Canadian Media Guild.

Thus began a long, tortuous court battle that wound its way through the system all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which decided last October not to hear the CBC's appeal of an arbitrator's ruling to reinstate Mr. Keating.

"This has been a long, long case that should have been settled at the outset," CMG president Lise Lareau said yesterday. "The guy, everybody acknowledges, did an unfortunate thing, but he acknowledged it right off the bat. This is years ago now."

Ms. Lareau's comments came exactly four years to the day after an arbitrator's ruling that Mr. Keating should be reinstated (with a three-month suspension).

"It was really a waste of money for the CBC to be doing all of this," Ms. Lareau said. "That's the way the CBC has been of late - very litigious."

The guild says the public broadcaster has spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" pursuing the case (the CBC would not provide a figure). In addition, the CBC has been ordered by the Supreme Court to pay a portion of the guild's legal costs, which amounted to about $100,000 - the vast majority of which were incurred after the CBC appealed the arbitrator's decision.

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Further, Mr. Keating is entitled to payment representing the difference between what he would have made had he remained at the CBC (minus three months for the arbitrator-ruled suspension) and what he has made over the past five years. Mr. Keating now works in the tourism industry, in a media relations role.

Reached at his workplace yesterday, Mr. Keating declined to comment on the case.

He will be back on the CBC payroll as of Aug. 1.

CBC spokesman Jeff Keay says Mr. Keating's specific role and location are yet to be determined, but sources say he will return to the Nelson bureau.

The current reporter in Nelson, John Hughes, declined to discuss the matter when contacted by The Globe and Mail this week.

It is unclear why Mr. Keating has agreed to return to the CBC. In the past, he has said he was not interested in getting his old job back.

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And the CBC, after fighting Mr. Keating's reinstatement tooth and nail for years - expressing concerns about journalistic integrity and damage to the public broadcaster's reputation - would say little yesterday about any concerns it might have about the once highly respected reporter returning to the beat.

"All of our employees are expected to conduct themselves with professionalism and courtesy and respect, and act appropriately," Mr. Keay said. "We made our arguments before the courts and ultimately we were unsuccessful, so we're going to obviously abide by the decision of the courts. We'll do that in good faith."

The CMG has always said the case was about more than one reporter and his rash, ill-advised actions. The guild was concerned about a court overturning and essentially rewriting an arbitrator's ruling on a labour matter.

"If there's any lesson to be had out of this, it's don't waste your money on trying to get past an arbitrator's decision that was well reasoned, based on established jurisprudence," CMG lawyer Sean Fitzpatrick said.

"If you've been found to have made a mistake, accept it."

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About the Author
Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More

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