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MP's all-male calendar filled with plagiarized text

A handful of <em>Free Press</em> readers noticed suspicious phrasing in the biographies, which they found on Wikipedia. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)</p>

A handful of Free Press readers noticed suspicious phrasing in the biographies, which they found on Wikipedia. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/2/2019 (310 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — A Manitoba Liberal MP is taking more heat from constituents for his all-male calendar of "notable Canadians" after they noticed passages that appear to have been plagiarized from the internet.

The calendar Winnipeg Centre MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette recently sent out also drastically misstates Chief Peguis’s lifespan. Ouellette accused the Free Press of bias for reporting on the errors.

"Attention to detail matters," said area resident Teresa Prokopanko, who was raised by academics. "Plagiarism was pretty big (for them). It’s important to set that example."

She was among a handful of Free Press readers who noticed suspicious phrasing in the biographies, which they found on Wikipedia.

Prokopanko retrieved the mail-out from her recycling bin after reading the Free Press report Wednesday about a calendar of "notable Canadians" who were all men. She noticed Chief Peguis’s lifespan was marked as 1872 to 1918.

Historians believe he was born around a century earlier. Peguis died on Sept. 28, 1864.

Of the 12 men featured in the calendar, 10 have profiles whose text is exactly what appears on their Wikipedia profiles; two of those have phrases paraphrased from other parts of the crowdsourced encyclopedia’s text.

The remaining two are taken from local institutions.

North End activist Sel Burrows’ profile is lifted from a University of Manitoba news release, while the text describing philanthropist Abdo El Tassi is almost verbatim from the Royal Winnipeg Rifles website.

"I wouldn’t say I feel really worked up about it, but I do think it’s worth pointing out and calling to account," Prokopanko said. "Some of these things can really strike home."

On Friday, Ouellette reiterated the apology he issued a day earlier.

"I’m very sorry if anyone was offended. Obviously, people in the office made some mistakes, those mistakes will be corrected into the future and we will ensure these types of mistakes do not occur," he said.

The MP would not say whether he’d personally vetted the flyer. "At the end of the day, I am responsible in my office for what leaves the office, and I accept that responsibility." Previously, he cited "a lot of young people working in the office" and "a busy time around Christmas."

Ouellette noted Wikipedia pages are crafted communally. "These were short blurbs; we weren’t taking, for instance, massive amounts of information," he said.

As for the incorrect information about the year of Peguis’s birth and death, "I’m sure Chief Peguis is happy he’s 100 years younger," Ouellette quipped. "Chief Peguis still has a trail named after him and is a very notable person from Manitoba."

The all-male calendar attracted widespread attention after it was posted online by Manitoba NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine.

Ouellette said Friday the media scrutiny he’s faced is because "the NDP (is) in the death throes" provincially and federally, and accused the Free Press of bias. The phone call was then disconnected.

Prokopanko feels the media attention is merited, but imagines the issue will blow over. "I’ve been pretty happy with Ouellette’s leadership, and I think he’s got a lot to offer," she said. "I hope this doesn’t become a stumbling block that lasts for him."


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Updated on Friday, February 8, 2019 at 6:08 PM CST: Update

February 9, 2019 at 7:53 AM: Final

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