Like most Sundays in Legion branches across the country, the Legion Vimy No. 27 Branch in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was holding its regularly scheduled live entertainment dance night. At first glance, Sunday July 10th 2016 was no different. That evening’s singer/ performer was Bernie Doucette. He had already played at this Legion branch a couple of times and had a good sense as to the likes and dislikes of the audience and had gauged his playlist accordingly.
Bernie Doucette (right) and Eldon Gallant (left)
Bernie was hanging outside the Legion branch with his partner of 20 years, Eldon Gallant, having a cigarette before the show. When he decided it was time to go inside the Legion Vimy No.27 Branch to set up, he gave his partner a kiss on the cheek. Bernie alleges that he noticed a person wearing a blue jacket staring at them after they had kissed but thought nothing of it at the time and went about his work and setting up his instruments inside the Branch.
That evening, as Bernie played some tribute songs by Jimmy Hendricks, Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond, among others, he kept noticing this same man, wearing a blue jacket, going from table to table talking to people in the hall lsitening to the performance and pointing at him. Eventually, into his second set, he heard someone yell out words to the effect of: “Get that faggot singer off the stage.” Bernie kept playing his repertoire until the bartender came over and told him it would be best if he cut his performance short. He was paid for the whole night even though he was told to leave before he had finished playing. The reason given was that he was playing “funeral” music and the patrons were not enjoying it and were leaving.
The incident first appeared on CFJC Radio (Halifax) at 7:56am on 12 July 2016 (local time). Aly Thomson, a reporter with the Canadian Press, picked up the story and published it that same day around 2:56pm. By 10:34pm that same evening, some 64 media outlets had run the story. On the morning of July 13th the incident was in print and our national media monitoring service picked up the story as part of its daily morning routine. Soon thereafter, the Manager of Communications at Dominion Command of The Royal Canadian Legion strongly suggested to Executive Director of the Legion provincial command for Nova Scotia & Nunavut that she should look into this matter asap because they are responsible for the conduct of Legion branches within their respective commands and a PR crisis seemed to be unfolding. Perhaps the most glaring reasons that they needed to get involved was that discrimination is against the law and if anybody should have been asked to leave the Legion Vimy branch, it should have been the homophobic patron not the gay musician.
We needed to get ahead of this story and the Legion provincial command Executive Director agreed and issued a statement around 1:53pm (local Halifax time) to the effect that they had launched an investigation to find out what had happened at that Legion Branch on the night in question. The statement was distributed to provincial media outlets and we made sure Aly Thomson also received a copy since she was largely the originator of the story.
Ms. Aly Tomson, The Canadian Press
By 5:33pm that evening, there were 88 media outlets that had run the story. The decision to issue a statement to investigate appears to have appeased the media because there were no reports of the incident on Thursday July 14th . Everyone seemed prepared to hold-off on any commentary pending the results of the investigation.
On the afternoon of July 14th, around 2:30pm, the Executive Director of the Nova Scotia /Nunavut provincial command headquarters issued a news release essentially stating that they could not corroborate Mr. Doucette’s allegations with any witnesses and that the cctv cameras at the Legion branch did not pick up anybody whispering into people’s ears. As with the previous statement, this news release was distributed provincially and specifically to Aly Thomson. The next day, some 58 media outlets ran the story that the Legion could not corroborate the claim and that there was no proof of a homophobic slur and that the case was closed.
It would appear that the Legion’s ability to monitor and listen to reports throughout the country, no matter how local, allowed them some time to try and get ahead of this story and become part of the conversation. Indeed, by remaining in the news cycle, the Legion was able to let the media know they would be investigating asap and the results were known with 24 hours. The result was a steady decrease in media coverage within four business days. Indeed, there has not been any stories on this incident since Saturday July 16th, 2016.
Granted, the credibility of the investigation leaves much to be desired and it is remains unclear whether this story is actually closed. For instance, investigators did not speak with Bernie and they have not returned his calls and the cctv does not record sound. So it is unclear how the investigators were able to draw the conclusions they did or identify the man “wearing a blue jacket.”
Bernie Doucette says he has hired a lawyer
To make matters worse, Bernie has also gone on record lamenting the poor investigation and says he has hired a lawyer and intends to pursue this matter as a Human Rights complaint.
However, notwithstanding the merits of the investigation itself and whether this issue has been resolved, from a purely traditional and social media communications perspective, this was a good example of the important role listening and being a part of the conversation online can have as well as the impact it can have on a story.
NB: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Royal Canadian Legion.