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Wiki-spat: Opinions differ on what should be included in Alberta education minister's bio

More than 20 edits, including some from a provincial government employee, have been made to the Wikipedia biography of Alberta's new education minister and Calgary-Elbow byelection candidate Gordon Dirks. Over the past week, these back and forth edits have primarily fixated on a single sentence concerning his "religious views."

The Wiki wrangling has prompted a debate on what is necessary information in a political biography and what is an appropriate role for government employees to play in protecting the reputation of elected representatives.

Originally on Oct. 3, a user named Sunfox1 posted a sentence to Dirks' biography reading "Concerns have been raised regarding how Dirks's religious views will impact LGBTQ students in Alberta given that he is currently the Executive Pastor at Calgary's Centre Street Church, which claims that same sex relationships are an offence to God."

Four days later another user, ABpoliwatcher, added to the paragraph an actual comment from the church's statement of theological principles and ministry practices that reads "same sex relationships are an offence to God."

The biography remained unchanged until last Wednesday when Kathleen Range, the minister's press secretary, removed the paragraph outright and added in his experience serving as a trustee with the Calgary Board of Education. One portion of the addition read, "Dirks ran on a platform to streamline administrative costs(,) provide more support for teachers and ensure reasonable local-school fees."

But four hours later, Sunfox1 added back in the paragraph on Dirks' beliefs and added a reference. The following day, Range removed it an then Sunfox1 re-added it for a second time claiming Dirks was still listed as the executive pastor on the church's website.

In an interview Tuesday, Range defended her actions.

"I don't think a Wikipedia post is anything that somebody is agreeing with — it's fact," she said. "So, my job is to ensure the facts are there about the minister of the crown . . . it's part of my job to make sure the minister has relevant experience in his biography, which his previous Wikipedia page did not have.

"While I was in there, I edited that last passage to remove the commentary around what was in there about some of the media reports. That's really all there is to it."

But Duane Bratt, a political scientist with Mount Royal University, said he believes the press secretary could have better spent her time elsewhere, adding there are plenty of places online where people are "slandering" the new minister.

"She's wasting her time," he said. "I'm just not sure how many voters are making up their minds about a candidate by viewing a Wikipedia page."

On Monday, another user, Jgoodon, removed the comments on Dirks' beliefs twice — both times they were re-added by Sunfox1. A third attempt by the user to remove the comments saw another user named Yamla replace them.

As of Tuesday, the contentious sentence remained on Dirks' page but the wording had been changed to make it clear that he was previously the executive pastor, as Centre Street's website no longer lists him in such a role.

Bratt noted that the federal government has previously been caught bolstering the Wiki-bios of ministers — such changes even involved Alberta Premier Jim Prentice during his time as Canada's Minister of Industry.

In 2008, staff were recorded editing entries surround controversial reforms to copyright laws and adding in comments saluting Prentice's "experience, confidence, competence, ability and capability."

One of the editors of the Dirks page, meanwhile, was named "ABParty," but the Alberta Party denied it had anything to do with altering the biography.

Peter Oliver, campaign manager for party leader Greg Clark, who is running against Dirks in Calgary-Elbow, said he wouldn't delve into what was appropriate for a Wiki-biography, but did note his candidate has been asking questions about how the minister's views on homosexuality since early on in the campaign.

Editor's note: To view edits of the Gordon Dirks page, Metro used wikiwash.metronews.ca.

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