Eugene Melnyk, chairman of Capital Sports and Entertainment and owner of the Ottawa Senators National Hockey League club, acknowledges the apology issued by the Ottawa Sun regarding errors and mistakes in its publication and its regret for the misunderstandings they caused.
The Ottawa Sun and its columnist Rick Gibbons published two columns on June 5, and June 8, containing numerous factual errors and inaccuracies that have caused immeasurable damage to Melnyk, the Ottawa Senators hockey club and The Organ Project.
Prior to the publication of both articles, the Ottawa Sun and its freelance columnist did not contact Melnyk, the Senators or representatives at The Organ Project to seek comment or verify information from "anonymous" sources upon which Gibbons based his commentary. Nor did he avail himself of information on the public record to ensure accuracy. These failures of the most basic journalistic principles of fairness and accuracy contributed to faulty reporting, which led to a barrage of negative commentary against Melnyk in the media, on social media and digital platforms.
Despite considerable pressure to publicly respond to the erroneous statements and inflammatory allegations levelled against him, Melnyk sought to correct the record through proper editorial channels at the Sun. Although he notified the tabloid newspaper of his intention to pursue a libel and defamation lawsuit, Melnyk provided the Sun an opportunity to respond to his concerns.
Today, the Sun published a lengthy correction and apology to Eugene Melnyk and the Senators.
"The unequivocal public apology by the Sun for the inaccuracies and mistakes it published will not undo the damage to my personal and professional reputation, my charitable work, the hockey club, and the stress on my family," Melnyk said. "However, the apology is a necessary step to correct the falsehoods and to set the record straight."
Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators want to address the following errors and misconceptions contained in the two articles:
In his June 5 column, Gibbons claimed that Melnyk was exercising improper influence over the Senators Foundation to "divert" charitable dollars raised in Ottawa to his Toronto-based charity for his own benefit. As well, Gibbons wrote that Melnyk views the charitable organization, which has a licensing agreement with the Ottawa Senators hockey club, "as an extension of the business as opposed to a quasi-independent entity with its own mandate and charter." This is patently false. Gibbons based this assertion on information provided by anonymous sources and reported it as fact. Although Gibbons apparently sought comments from the Foundation's management and board, he made no effort to contact the Senators or Melnyk prior to publishing these claims. Had he done so, Gibbons would have learned that the allegations were not true.
At the same time, Gibbons declared he was told that Melnyk charges the foundation "hundreds of thousands of dollars annually" in rent, which hinders the foundation's charitable giving. This assertion is patently false.
The rent charged to the Foundation was $78,750 in 2019, well below market rates for the area. Even a cursory review of the Foundation's publicly available financial statements would have revealed that Gibbons statements are inaccurate and false. He would also have learned that according to Charity Intelligence Canada, an independent watchdog which Gibbons cites in his columns, the Foundation employs eight staff members with an average annual salary of $101,535. Two staff members receive salaries of between $120,000 and $160,000, two collect between $80,000 and $120,000, while four staff members received salaries between $40,000 and $80,000.
Contrary to the narrative put forward by Gibbons, the Foundation was not being hampered in its charitable giving because of Melnyk or the Senators. Rather, the Foundation's own salary and wage expenses - over which neither the Senators or Melnyk had any say or control - had a far greater impact on its ability to deliver more money to charitable causes.
Furthermore, charging rent to the Foundation was a legal requirement for the Senators in order to maintain the independence of the charity. As an independent entity, the Foundation's licensing relationship with the Senators is different from other sports charities, which are often owned by the teams.
In his June 8 column, Gibbons mistakenly reported that a Canada Revenue Agency filing showed that The Organ Project, a private foundation started by Melnyk, invested only $5,000 of the nearly $1-million it raised on organ donor awareness. That was not true. Mr. Gibbons' error appears to arise from his mistaken assumption that The Organ Project operated like the Foundation. While the Foundation raises money that it then distributes to various causes, The Organ Project raised funds for it to spend on promoting public awareness of organ donation and encouraging organ donation registration. The Organ Project's operations and awareness efforts included, for example, hosting galas in 2017 and 2018 that had the twin purposes of raising money while also promoting organ donation awareness, creating and producing commercials to raise awareness, substantial in-game presence at Canadian Tire Centre, The Organ Project's presence at multiple WE Days, and collaborating with other organizations to develop a program to promote organ donor awareness with employers and encourage them to introduce organ donor registration.
The $5,000 payment identified by Gibbons was a direct donation by The Organ Project to the Kidney Foundation. While this direct contribution was not something The Organ Project normally did, and was not part of its normal operations or mandate, for Gibbons to erroneously report that this was the only charitable work done by the organization is both patently false, immensely unfair, and ignores all the work done by The Organ Project to raise awareness of its cause.
In reality, Melnyk invested his own funds into The Organ Project to help kick-start the charity. The non-arm's length debt referenced by Gibbons of $224,902 was a debt owed to Melnyk because he had covered the payroll and expenses of The Organ Project in its early stages. Those arrears have since been forgiven and represent a portion of the considerable amounts that Melnyk has donated to the charity over the years.
Melnyk remains disappointed and troubled by Gibbons' failure to live up to basic journalistic standards. However, he remains hopeful the public acknowledgment of the mistakes and the correlating apology will set the record straight and clear up the misunderstandings they have caused.