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Bruce Allen's 'Shut Up and Fit In' Blast

Punish him? How?

Rafe Mair 1 Oct 2007TheTyee.ca

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. You can find previous ones here. To register for free to hear Rafe Live, Mair's new webcast, visit www.rafelive.com.

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Allen: Rant racist?

Bruce Allen is a very well known agent for such luminaries as Michael Bublé and Bryan Adams. On his CKNW radio spot, Allen railed against "special interest groups" who want "special rules," saying, "we don't need you here," and "shut up and fit in," according to a show transcript. He also said, inferentially, to Indo-Canadians, "Shut up and fit in or leave this country. There is the door. If you don't like the rules, hit it," said Allen. "We don't need you here. You have another place to go. It's called home. See ya."

Here are the questions. Was, or is, Allen a racist? Were his words racist?

If so, is there legal action to be taken? Is there any way to do so?

Ought the radio to station to be punished?

Should Allen be fired from his position with the 2010 Olympics?

What the law says

I don't believe that he is a racist nor that his words were but, just for the sake of argument, let's assume that he is and they were. Ought legal action to be taken?

The Criminal Code of Canada (terrorism laws apart) doesn't deal with "racism" but only deals with "hate" as defined as a crime under two parts of Canada's Criminal Code: sections 318 and 319. To convict anyone under the code, very specific proof is required: both of the criminal act itself, and of the intention or motivation to commit the crime. It isn't enough that someone has said something hateful or untrue; the courts will only find someone guilty if they contravened the code exactly, and if they did it deliberately. Contravening the law means hatred in word or deed which will result in inciting.

In a previous article for The Tyee I made this observation: "Section 319 (2) of the Criminal Code of Canada makes it a crime to communicate, except in private conversation, statements that willfully promote hatred against an identifiable group. The courts have had difficulty with the words 'willfully promote hatred against an identifiable group.' Surely it's not trite to point out that political parties do that all the time. So do sports fans who cheer on the local ruffian every time he provokes a fight.

It's little wonder that the courts, mandated to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, have difficulty finding guilt unless it's clear that the accused not only produced "hate" literature or words, but also intended to do specific harm to a specific group. It must be noted too that the courts have held that 'willfully' doesn't include 'recklessly.'"

Whose airwaves?

It's clear that Mr. Allen has not breached any law of Canada. (I must hasten to add that he may have run afoul of Human Rights legislation and that may be the route taken by those who object to his statements.)

Have he and the radio station breached broadcasting rules and are thus liable to penalties from the CRTC? Difficult though it is for me to defend radio station CKNW (where Allen's words were broadcast) modern science has made a mockery of rules of broadcasting. There is the tiresome argument that the airwaves belong to "the people" thus electronic providers must obey a code of conduct if they're to get and retain licenses. This is sheer nonsense. There's no more need for the state to allocate frequencies and govern the content on the electronic spectrum than there is to govern the print media because their paper comes from publicly owned trees. Besides, more and more these days, radio is not on the "airwaves."

The CRTC control leads to the ridiculous. A couple of years ago, well known veteran broadcaster Terry Moore and his station got into trouble with the CRTC because Moore interviewed a Muslim author who made grossly rude remarks about the state of Israel and Jews in general. The ridiculous part? The transcript of the show including the egregious remarks could have been printed in any newspaper in the country without any legal questions being raised.

About that VANOC gig

Here is the tough part. There is no law in this country against being a "racist," nor preaching "racism," subject to the abovementioned exceptions. Nor should there be. Racism is appalling manners and betrays a closed mind but is not a matter for the courts. While I, personally, stand four square against racism, I accept that you cannot have free speech and a free press if any speech short of incitement of violence is censored. Racism is a social issue, not a legal one.

There remains the issue of Allen's continued association with the 2010 Olympics. The question that VANOC's boss John Furlong must decide is not whether Mr. Allen's words were racist, but whether a man with those views is the sort to be involved in the opening and closing of the Games. Does his outspokenness make Mr. Allen unsuitable for his task? Is his task one of delicate relations with others rather than making outspoken and controversial statements? Can he do both?

One must assume that Allen has been invited to participate in Vanoc's task because in his stable of clients he has plenty of talent to help with the traditional hoopla at the beginning and end of the Games. If that's so, Vanoc must weigh the benefits against the shortcomings and make a decision.

One thing remains sure. If we're to have (some would say restore) free speech in this country we must all recognize that rudeness that stops short of trying to incite violence may be anti-social as hell but is not -- and should not be -- a crime.

Postscript: Premier Campbell and fish farms

Last week I wrote about the letter on fish farming signed by 18 scientists and sent to the premier and added that there was a report on fish farming's effects done by me and given to the premier at his request. I have sent another letter to the premier with the scientists' letter and my submission. I would gladly make this available to person's e-mailing a request to [email protected].

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