Bell’s official line on the firing of Lisa LaFlamme is that it was done for “holistic” reasons.
The company wanted a change in direction that LaFlamme didn’t agree with. There were also claims of a toxic workplace (which some colleagues denied) that may now be part of a third party investigation announced by Bell to review the circumstances of LaFlamme’s firing.
And, of course, there are the claims from LaFlamme’s supporters who say this is all about ageism and sexism.
In my view, this happened for a number of reasons, none of them cut and dry with an easy narrative, but there’s one angle most are overlooking – Patrick Brown.
The impact of Brown’s lawsuit against CTV likely shouldn’t be overlooked when piecing the puzzle together. The case was settled almost four years after the whole affair started and while CTV said no money exchanged hands, they had to admit to an embarrassing set of facts.
“Key details provided to CTV for the story were factually incorrect and required correction,” the statement released last March read.
“CTV National News regrets including those details in the story and any harm this may have caused to Mr. Brown.”
The harm it caused to Brown was real and immediate.
Facing allegations of sexual misconduct involving an underage woman, an allegation he denied, Brown was forced out as leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party. At the time this happened, Brown was on course to become Ontario’s next premier.
While Brown continues to deny anything ever happened with the woman, the original CTV story claiming she was underage was later updated to indicate that she was in her 20s at the time of the alleged incident. It was a hugely damaging claim to make against Brown but also one that damaged CTV’s reputation.
“They were giddy,” said one former colleague of LaFlamme and her executive producer Rosa Hwang as they were working on the story.
“They wanted their own ‘Me Too’ story and were determined to get it,” said another co-worker of the pair.
While they got the story, the result wasn’t everything they had hoped for. Brown sued CTV for $8 million in a lawsuit that stretched on for years.
While CTV stated when the settlement was announced that no money changed hands, it certainly cost them plenty for their own lawyers. There is also widespread speculation that while Brown didn’t get a big payday in court, he also didn’t need to pay his own lawyer because, according to some sources, CTV agreed to pay that tab as part of the settlement.
Neither side will discuss the issue.
According to sources, earlier this year, Bell brought in outside counsel to review the depositions of LaFlamme and others from the newsroom who had worked on the case. The recommendation was to settle the claim, that the depositions were so damaging to the company they should not proceed.
Luckily for Bell, Brown was entertaining a bid for the Conservative leadership race at the time and needed this issue cleared away. He was in a position to accept less than he might have otherwise.
The settlement was announced in early March but according to people familiar with the case, Bell had already made a decision on LaFlamme in mid-February after the review by outside counsel. The company simply wanted some distance between the settlement and the parting of ways.
The Brown case wasn’t the only factor in LaFlamme’s dismissal, but it was a factor alongside several others.
It’s a complex story, with complex answers, and no easy villains or heroes.