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Firing of Canadian news anchor, reportedly due to gray hair, sparks controversy

Lisa LaFlamme said she was “blindsided” and is “still shocked and saddened” by CTV News’ decision to let her go.
/ Source: TODAY

The firing of Canadian news anchor Lisa LaFlamme from CTV News has sparked controversy online and companies to make statements on aging.

LaFlamme, who was chief news anchor and senior editor for the station, was let go after 35 years at CTV, according to an Aug. 15 release. Prior to serving as an anchor, the 58-year-old was a national affairs correspondent.

“With an unfailing commitment to delivering the stories that matter most to Canadians as part of Canada’s leading news team, Lisa has deftly guided viewers through both turbulent times and celebration, and we wish her nothing but the best as she begins a new chapter," Karine Moses, senior vice president of content development at news for Bell Media, said in a statement.

In a video posted to Twitter Aug. 15, LaFlamme announced her departure, saying she was "blindsided" and is "still shocked and saddened" by the decision.

"On June 29, I was informed that Bell Media made a 'business decision' to end my contract, bringing to a sudden close my career with CTV News...I was also asked to keep this confidential from my colleagues and the public until the specifics of my exit could be resolved," she said.

"At 58, I still thought I’d have a lot more time to tell more of the stories that impact our daily lives. Instead, I leave CTV humbled by the people who put their faith in me to tell their story," LaFlamme continued.

Bell Media has not explicitly detailed why it parted ways with LaFlamme, though in the release, the company listed “changing viewer habits” as part of its “business decision to move its acclaimed news show, CTV NATIONAL NEWS, and the role of its Chief News Anchor in a different direction.”

However, controversy came about after The Globe and Mail reported the head of CTV News, Michael Melling, raised questions about LaFlamme's hair.

At a meeting, Melling allegedly asked who approved the decision to "let Lisa's hair go grey," the publication reported from a senior CTV official who was in the room. According to The Globe and Mail, LaFlamme's hair color was an issue another day on set when Melling said the studio lighting was "taking on a purple hue."

In CTV's year-in-review special, the publication noted the journalist explained that because of the pandemic, she couldn't see her hair colorist and was spraying her roots before going on the air.

“I finally said, ‘Why bother? I’m going gray.’ Honestly, if I had known the lockdown could be so liberating on that front I would have done it a lot sooner," she said.

CTV declined to comment further on LaFlamme's departure and instead pointed TODAY to an Aug. 26 LinkedIn post from Mirko Bibic, the president and CEO of BCE and Bell Canada.

"Since Bell Media’s decision to end (LaFlamme's) contract, there has been heavy criticism. The narrative has been that Lisa’s age, gender or grey hair played into the decision," he wrote. "I am satisfied that this is not the case and wanted to make sure you heard it from me. While I would like to say more on the Bell Media decision, we are bound by a mutual separation agreement negotiated with Lisa, which we will continue to honour."

Bibic said the company is also doing an independent review to "address concerns raised regarding the working environment in the newsroom."

"Any necessary changes that become evident will be implemented swiftly to ensure a respectful, unified workplace," he said. Bibic added that Melling had been placed "on leave effective immediately pending the outcome of the workplace review that is proceeding."

Melling declined to comment on the Globe and Mail story.

LaFlamme’s departure prompted support from companies like Wendy's and Dove, both of which temporarily changed their logos to have gray elements and raised awareness for aging in women.

Wendy's posted on Twitter, writing that a star is a star "regardless of hair colour," accompanied by the hashtag #LisaLaFlamme. The fast food chain shared a photo of the iconic red-haired girl with gray pigtails.

Dove Canada posted to Twitter saying the company is donating $100,000 to Catalyst, which helps "build inclusive workplaces for all women."

"Age is beautiful. Women should be able to do it on their own terms, without any consequences," Dove wrote with two emoji of women with gray hair.

"Go grey with us, turn your profile picture grayscale," Dove challenged, asking people to share their photos with a gray hue. The video ended with the classic Dove logo, transitioning to a gray color.

CTV responded to the backlash, sharing a story about Wendy's, Dove and Twitter users reacting to the firing, which was titled, "In wake of LaFlamme’s exit, brands should be wary when jumping on hot topics: experts."