Each weekday, CKNW-AM (Vancouver) broadcasts an editorial commentary by Bruce Allen called Reality Check, in which Allen provides his point of view on a current event or recent news story. The following is a transcript of the Reality Check segment that was broadcast on September 13, 2007:
I’m Bruce Allen, this is CKNW and this is your Reality Check. If I didn’t know any better, it would seem that there’s been a lot of immigrant-bashing going on in the past few months. A month ago, the Sikh community was all up in arms about Passport Canada refusing to issue passports to three Sikh kids because they were wearing religious headgear for the photos. The children were wearing those handkerchiefs which are knotted at the top of the head to keep their hair intact. That incident came on the heels of an immigration plan that was in the works to have Sikhs with the surname Singh or Khan to change those names so as to avoid administrative mistakes. Too many Singhs, too many Khans, that was the problem. And now we’ve got a controversy over the fact that Elections Canada has said that it’s all right to have burka-covered Muslim women vote in elections when it is very clear that voters have to be able to be identified when going to the polls. All of these issues joined the list that contains the turban-wearing Mounties problem and the one where the motorcycle-rider was angry that he had to wear a helmet as it is impossible to get it on over his turban. This is all very simple. We have laws in this country. They are spelled out and they’re easy to get a hold of. If you are immigrating to this country and you don’t like the rules that are in place, then you have the right to choose not to live here. But if you choose to come to a place like Canada, then shut up and fit in. We are a democracy, but it seems more and more that we are being pilloried by special interest groups that just want to make special rules for themselves. This is easy to solve. These are the rules, there’s the door. If you don’t like the rules, hit it. We don’t need you here. You have another place to go; it’s called home. See ya. I’m Bruce Allen and this is the Giant, CKNW NewsTalk 980.
The broadcast editorial generated considerable comment (about which more detail is provided below). As a result, on the September 21 episode of The Christy Clark Show, broadcast from 12:30 to 1:30 pm, the host invited Bruce Allen to discuss the controversy generated by the commentary. The following is a transcript of the most pertinent parts of the program (the full transcript can be found in Appendix A):
Clark: We all listen to his Reality Checks every day on CKNW. Bruce Allen offers his opinion on every topic under the sun from wherever he happens to be travelling around the globe. Well, today Bruce is here in studio because one of his daily Reality Checks has got the Indo community, -Canadian community up in arms. At least ten complaints have been lodged with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and the, his comments have been burning up the phone lines on Punjabi-language radio stations as well. We here at CKNW have also been deluged with complaints. Bruce is here, but first let’s hear what Bruce said in his Reality Check last week that has people so offended. [The text of the commentary was replayed.]
Clark: Well that’s what he said verbatim in his Reality Check that’s got people so upset. Bruce Allen is here in studio. Bruce, I’m going to give you five minutes, whatever you need, uninterrupted, to explain what you were trying to say in that.
Allen: Okay, well here’s what I’m going to do, Christy. I’m going to break it down paragraph by paragraph and comment on each one, except the ones that don’t mean anything. First one I said “if I didn’t know any better, it would seem that there’s a lot of immigrant-bashing going on in the past few months.” That’s what I, that’s nothing, okay? Then I said, “a month ago, the Sikh community was all up in arms about Passport Canada refusing to issue passports to three Sik, Sikh kids because they were wearing religious headgear. The children were wearing those handkerchiefs which are knotted at the top of the head to keep their hair intact.” I think that’s race-bashing. I think when you go take your, go to get your passport photo, the only thing they care about is you can see your entire face. If girls pull their hair back and put it in a beret [sic] behind their head, that’s fine. I can’t wear a baseball cap. I can’t wear a, a, uh, hoodie. I gotta have my face exposed. Those kids have their face exposed; that’s race-bashing. I think. Then I said, next thing, next paragraph, “that incident came on the heels of an immigration plan that was in the works to have Sikhs with their surnames Singh or Kaur to change those names to avoid administrative mistakes.” That’s race-bashing. If your name’s Singh or if your name’s Kaur, you don’t need to change it because you come to a country. I figure that’s race-bashing. I don’t like it. Next paragraph: “and now we’ve got a controversy over the facts [sic] that Elections Canada has said that it’s all right to have burka-covered women voting in an election when it is very clear that voters have to be identified when going to the polls.” That some election official was trying to stop these people from voting because they wear a burka headgear. It’s 2007. If you can’t identify people by their fingerprints, by their driver’s licence, by their passport or something else, then we’ve got a problem. That’s stupid. That’s race-bashing. Now, you gotta flip this because it goes both ways. I said, “all, all, all of these issues joined the list that contains the turban-wearing Mounties beef, the one where the motorcycle-rider was angry that he had to wear a helmet as it is impossible to get it on over his turban.” Those are facts. Those were headline stories when the fellow wanted to get into the Mounties but he felt that he, he should be able to wear his turban. I’m sure they argued this out. I don’t know where it ended up. He’s probably in the Mounties. But they, he, they, they took it to the papers. That’s playing the race card. When the guy couldn’t wear his, get his, uh, helmet over his turban, he said “why should I wear a helmet?” The rule says they have to wear a helmet. I stopped riding motorcycles because I don’t like the helmet rule. I think it’s my business. If I want to wear a helmet, that’s my business. If I don’t want to wear a helmet, that’s my business. I shouldn’t be told to do that. But I, that was the rules. They made it a helmet rule. So I stopped riding a motorcycle, okay? Why did I hear about this guy? Why did I hear about this guy sayin’ that he couldn’t, that he didn’t want to wear a helmet because of his turban? Because he played the race card and took it to the press. Next: “this is all very simple. We have laws in this country. They’re spelled out and easy to get a hold of.” That’s all fine. “If you’re immigrating to a country and you don’t like the rules that are in place, then you have the right to choose not to live there.” Fine. “But if you come to a place like Canada, then shut up and fit in.” Don’t try to change the rules, that’s what I’m trying to say. “We’re in a democracy, but more and more we are going to be pilloried by special interest groups that want to make special rules for themselves. This is easy to solve. These are the rules, there is the door. If you don’t like it, hit it.” That’s fine, you don’t have to stay. You can go. We’re not going to drag you in here. “We don’t need you here. You have another place to go. It’s called home” and guess what, Christy? Home ain’t bad. Home’s the nicest place. I travel all the time. I can hardly wait to get home. Okay, so I don’t find any of this, this is a bunch of crap that has been dredged up by some people who don’t get it. And this is nothing, nothing race-bashing, there’s nothing race-bashing here, there’s nothing racist in here. There’s no hate-mongering in here, nothing. It’s an opinion, I’m an editorialist, I give my opinion, it’s supposed to prov-, provoke controversy and I guess it’s provoked some controversy, but this is exactly what was said. And how I said it.
Clark: Now Bruce, I support your right to be an editorialist. I support your right to say what you want on the air. I don’t think what you said was hate speech. I don’t think anything you said was illegal. I’m sure the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council is going to agree with us. But when you say things like “Gee, we don’t need you here”, --
Allen: We don’t need –
Clark: I don’t agree with that.
Allen: We don’t need you here.
Clark: How can you say that about immigrants when we have an economy that is hurting for people? We don’t have enough people to come work in this country. We should be begging people to come to this country. It’s not, we can’t go out and say “we don’t need you here.”
Allen: We don’t need you here if you’re –
Clark: Bruce, we do need them here.
Allen: We don’t need you here if you’re not gonna play by the rules, if you’re not gonna fit in. I went to a speech, you remember David Lam was what? I guess the Attorney General of British Columbia. I remember sitting there when he got some Man of the Year award in the Hotel Vancouver. He sat up there, he’s a very eloquent man, he made a speech. He’s an Oriental gentleman, made a speech, what he said is ra-, ringing in my ears forever. He said we have wa-, got to watch in our country, or in our province that we don’t turn, don’t turn immigration into ghettoization. He said we have to take these people, they have to fit in, we have to be assimilated. You cannot be assimilated if you sit there all the time defending your right to bring in your culture, all your stuff and, and, and just disregard ours. I know people that smoke dope. I’m in the music business. They smoke dope all the time. They’re not going to go on a holiday to some place that says if you go through customs here and we catch dope on yourself, on you, you’re going to jail. ’Cause guess what? You’re going to jail. Now I don’t, in Canada we don’t bust people for smoking drugs. We don’t do anything about it. But they have a rule. If I go to Singapore, I ain’t gonna chew gum and throw it on the street. That’s the rule. Okay? So –
Clark: But Bruce, at what point do the rules get to, we can, rules can be flexible, rules can change. And you know what? Canada has changed over the years. This is not a European country anymore. And, in fact, when Europeans came here, we didn’t start living in longhouses and speaking Musqueam. We didn’t fit in with the culture that was here. We created a new culture. And every year, as Canada becomes more multicultural, as we should, we need to create new culture. We need to create –
Allen: And I’m sayin’ –
Clark: -- new ways of doing things, so laws have to be flexible. It’s not a question of gee, come here and fit in. It’s a question of let’s create our society, watch it evolve as new people come into it.
Allen: So why are you bustin’ them at the border for sittin’ there and not taking their pictures for a passport. Why are you doing that? Who’s makin’ that rule up that they, they can’t take a picture like that? Who’s makin’ the rule, who’s makin’ the, the rule up, the second one here about, about, um, about people changing their names before they get in? That’s like 1930!
Clark: I agree!
Allen: That’s like Ellis Island!
Clark: I agree!
Allen: Okay, I think it’s ridiculous! I don’t care if there’s three million Singhs comin’ in, that’s their name. Leave it alone. That’s bashing.
Clark: Now Bruce, I accept your argument that lots of what you said in there has been misinterpreted, particularly the first half because I think a lot of people heard that first half and assumed that you agreed with some of those things.
Allen: I hate it.
Clark: That you agreed with the, yeah, and you hate it. I mean, you’ve made that point pretty clear. I accept that. But do you understand why what you said has offended so many people in the Indo-Canadian community?
Allen: No, I don’t. I think they’re uninformed. I think, I think they sat there, they didn’t listen right. I think people choose what they want to hear. It happens all the time. People choose what they want to hear. They don’t listen to the whole thing. They don’t get it. And I mean, hey, if they’re, they’re, if they want to get angry, that’s their right. If they want to phone in, that’s their right. I have no problem with that, okay? But I’m entitled to take my opinion and put it on the air. That’s my job. And everything that I say, ever since Don Imus had an opinion and said the wrong thing and lost his job, we have this sensiti-, sensitivity training stuff here that I have to take my, every time I do one of these things, it goes to Tom Plasteras or Ian Koenigsfest, uh, fellow, news, the news director, he looks at it and, and says whether or not it can go. So, why didn’t it offend him? It doesn’t offend people. It’s not, it’s not hate. You’re pushing hate, they say. I don’t push hate. I said I want this to be the melting pot it’s supposed to be. I don’t like people who have a problem every time playing the race card. I hate it. It’s so easy. It’s so easy, ’cause all you people run from it.
Clark: Ah, I’m not runnin’ from it, Bruce Allen.
Allen: You’re not runnin’ from it ’cause I said it.
Clark: I’ve got you on the air. ’Cause I disagree with you and I believe in your right to say what you want on the air on CKNW –
Allen: [?] do they?
Clark: And I think that’s what makes an interesting society. Wouldn’t we live in a boring place if we didn’t have people like Bruce Allen saying what they want to say on the air? I agree with you on that. Now, I disagree with your views, Bruce Allen, and some of the other people who disagree, I mean, I don’t think you should be fired from CKNW, but lots of other people think you should be.
Allen: Wh-, what does, what point do you disagree? What point do you disagree with me, what I said?
Clark: I, I disagree with you when you say we don’t need them here. I totally disagree with you on that –
Allen: We don’t need you here if you’re not gonna –
Clark: -- ’cause we do need immigrants in this country.
Allen: Hey listen.
Clark: And when you say people have to fit in, I say why can’t our laws be flexible? Why can’t we change to meet the reality, –
Allen: Immigrants –
Clark: -- the changing reality of this country? Why does everybody have to act like a European when they come to Canada, Bruce Allen?
Allen: Immigrants –
Clark: Just ’cause you’re an old white guy –
Allen: Immigrants, immigrants –
Clark: -- doesn’t mean they have to meet your standard!
Allen: Immigrants fit in all the time here and have forever. Forever and ever and ever. This country wants immigration. We need immigration. But you know what we need? We need the best of the best ’cause we’ve got the best country in the world, okay? And we need the best of the best to come in here. And I’ll tell you something, Christy. The best of the best sometimes don’t get in here and, and also there’s another problem here, is that I believe, have your cultures, have all that. It’s diversification. And it’s great. I love goin’ down to all those festivals. There’s different things. I think it makes a country better, okay? But, boy, don’t start arguing with me about helmets on motorcycles, okay? Don’t start off on me about wearin’, not wearin’, not wearin’ a hard hat at a construction site. Don’t start me on that stuff. I shouldn’t even know about that stuff. Go settle it. Go fix it up.
Clark: Bruce Allen, not only do they think that, some people think you should be fired from CKNW, they also think that you should be fired from your role on the closing ceremonies of the 2010 committee. You’re in a public role on that. You’re serving the public, you’re doing it as a volunteer. They say you should be fired because your views don’t reflect someone who understands the broad world and the diversity of people who will be visiting our province. What do you say about that?
Allen: Anybody who says that’s insane. They’re insane. Okay? What my opinion is or what my religion is or what my beliefs are have nothing to do with the Olympic Games. Zero. Okay? I shouldn’t get kicked out of there because I’m an Anglican. I shouldn’t get kicked out there because I’m a white bald-headed guy. I shouldn’t get kicked out of there for any number, because of anything that I believe in. I’m allowed to have an opinion. Okay? My, your, my opinions stop when my fist hits your nose. That’s it. Okay? That’s when my opinion stops. And I sit there and I give my opinion up every day and I sit there and make people think. As an editorialist, that’s my job. If these people get bent out of shape, anybody who gets bent out of shape and says I’m gonna get you fired, I’m gonna get you kicked off here, I’m gonna go blow your house up, I’m gonna do this, what kind of people are these? That’s ridiculous. It’s got, I don’t lose my job for having an opinion. You sit here all day long, don’t lose your job for having an opinion. Because it’s your job. You’re lucky to have an opinion. But I don’t think you should lose your job if you have the wrong opinion for somebody else sitting out there in radioland.
They were then joined by Harjinder Thind, the host of a current affairs show on CKYE-FM (Surrey) (popularly known as Red FM).
Thind: Oh, this morning on my open-line talk show people are very much offended from Sikh and Muslim community. People were angry and they were making their comments that, uh, this gentleman Bruce Allen should be fired. And specifically he’s on Olympic committee where lot of, uh, people are coming from other countries, uh, people of colour and Colin Hanson should get rid of him, should kick him out from there. Specifically his comments, uh, “we do not, we do not need you”. And, uh, “shut up and fit in”. Um, a lot of people are angry in some groups. Even the talk show is finished, they’re calling me and saying there should be an, uh, should be an demonstration in front of CKNW. And, uh, they’re asking for your address and stuff. But, uh, we’re calming them down and, uh, I understand there is a, there’s some kind of, um, organization and, uh, specifically from the Sikh organizations, there’s some kind of complaint going through CRTC.
Clark: And, Harjinder, what are people saying? Are they calling Bruce Allen a racist?
Thind: They’re calling him racist, he’s, uh, spreading hatred, uh, you know, regarding Muslims and Sikhs. His comments about burka-covered Muslim women and his comments turban-wearing Mounties are causing problems and “shut up and fit in”. People are saying it’s not America, it’s not a melting pot. Some people were very angry. Some educated people, speaks very good English, they’re saying this, this guy, Bruce Allen, this gentleman, he should be fired immediately and CRTC, should not be immune to the CRTC rules. If this kind of comment was made on ethnic radio about the, about the white community, I’m sure CRTC would shut down this radio. There’re all kind of comments coming in.
Clark: But, Harjinder, you are an editorialist. You run your own radio show. You express your views. What about Bruce Allen’s view to be able to say what he thinks? I disagree with what he said. I find his views belligerent, obnoxious, I don’t like them. But I defend his right to say them because I’m an editorialist too.
Thind: In our world, in our, you know, journalism world, you know, editorial is the last thing that you want to touch. But, uh, like you say, this opinion, in my opinion, Bruce Allen’s opinion is hitting the noses of Sikhs and Muslims. As long as your editorial is not hitting somebody’s nose, it’s fine. But in this case, he crossed the line when he said “we do not need you”. If really, you know, Canada needs immigrants, this, this country can’t be built. The economy will collapse. I mean, it’s a changing Canada. What is Bruce talking about? I could not understand which century he is living in.
Thind: Bruce, doesn’t matter what you say now. You made a big blunder because you were angry. You’re not aware of this, uh, new diversity thing. We’re living in a different society. When you were young, you were living in a different society. You, you sound like a redneck. You sound like a racist when you’re saying these things.
Allen: Why, because I stand up for your right to have your picture taken? Because I stand up for your right to vote with a burka on? Because I stand up for your right to keep you, to keep your surnames? I’m a racist? How do you figure that?
Thind: No, no. I mean, I always respected your opinion. You had a strong opinion on everything and including the immigrant issues. But this thing, you have crossed the line, Bruce. You shouldn’t have said that that “we don’t need you”. You shouldn’t have said that “shut up and fit in”.
Allen: I –
Thind: We’re not a melting pot, Bruce.
Allen: I said –
Thind: Why don’t you understand?
Host Christy Clark took a number of calls, both against and for Bruce Allen, before taking one from Raj Chouhan, the MLA for Burnaby-Edmonds, and the NDP critic for multiculturalism. Some of that dialogue went as follows:
Allen: I’m allowed to have a belief, sir.
Chouhan: Absolutely. But, you know, I think you have a bigger responsibili-, responsibility as well. You’re an editorialist, you are on the largest radio station, I think, in Western Canada, if not in Canada. It’s, when, when you say, it goes to lots of people and you have to be very careful because when you say “shut up and fit in” and “if you don’t like it, leave” those kinds of comments are not acceptable in this society now. You know, it could have been, you know, people could have seen this normal [sic] thirty years ago. But, you know, nobody owns, no one person, no one community owns this commu-, er, this, this country. We all are Canadian citizens. It’s important that we have to respectful [sic] of each other and we have to, you know, be careful what we say. We are not saying that, you know, you just change the laws just to have somebody else to fit in. No, that’s not the case. All we are saying is when you are saying that, as Christy has said, since the economy is so good in this country and this province, we need immigrants. Without immigrants, this country will clapse, er, collapse. You know, like we can’t even function. And here we are, you know, telling them and we are inviting the world to 2010 games and we are making these kinds of comments on CKNW.
Clark: Well, well, let’s get, Bruce what do you say to that? I mean, the point Raj, I think, is essentially making, you have a bigger responsibility because you’re on the public airwaves that we all share. These private opinions are yours, but you crossed a line when you go on the public airwaves that we share to express them.
Allen: I think the reason you and I, Bill Good, anybody else doing talk radio is on the public airwaves is to get people to think. And to prevent, to present a point of view. And get a dialogue going back and forth. I really believe that. I don’t mind people sittin’ there and disagreeing with me. I don’t mind. They’re entitled to disagree with me. What I have a problem with is if you disagree with me, I’m gonna make sure that you don’t work. I find that real offensive. Okay? I don’t, I don’t never go that route and I disagree with lots of people, but I don’t call for their jobs, don’t call, don’t, you know I just don’t do that. It seems that, it seems that we get calls on this thing that they want to punish you, punish me for havin’ an opinion. You’re allowed to have an opinion, they’re allowed to have an opinion, I’m allowed to have an opinion and when somebody doesn’t agree with me, I don’t call for their job. I think that’s ridiculous.
Clark: There’s something fundamentally anti-democratic about trying to stop people from speaking because you don’t like what they’re saying.
The public controversy continued and then, on September 26, Bruce Allen did another Reality Check, just over three times the length of the September 13 editorial; the new commentary went as follows:
I’m Bruce Allen, this is CKNW and this is your Reality Check. I wasn’t going to talk about my rant of September 13th ever again. It was over with. Ninety seconds out of my life. A few complaint letters. Same old, same old. But then something happened. That rant began to take on a life of its own. Where one week later, one week, a couple of politically-motivated individuals decided that they should take this rant and twist it into something more controversial. The rant of September 13th was the opposite of what others in our province are pinning their political objectives on. First of all, if anyone really heard what I was saying, instead of just focussing on the phrase “shut up and fit in”, they would have heard this. So I’ll say it slowly this time. Quote, “If I didn’t know better, it would seem that there has been a lot of immigrant-bashing going on these past few months,” end quote. I then proceeded to cite three examples of how I perceived two immigrant groups were being bashed. This offended me. The first example had to do with Sikh children being denied passport photos because of what they were wearing on their head. I called this religious headgear a handkerchief. This is incorrect. It is not a handkerchief. It is a patka or a turban. Like I said on The Christy Clark Show at the time, and I’m saying it again today, if I offended anyone, I apologize. But where did the handkerchief word come from? Oh, surprise, surprise, the Vancouver Sun in an article written by Kelly Sinoski on August 17th. I didn’t hear Kelly Sinoski being labelled a racist or that the Vancouver Sun was promoting hatred. Next thing the agitators focussed on was the mispronunciation on my part of the name Kaur. At the time, I pronounced it Khan due to a typo. Khan is a Muslim name, not a Sikh name. The name came up when I ridiculed the immigration department for considering making those with the surnames of Singh or Kaur change them to avoid administrative mistakes. I find this idea to be ridiculous and, if imposed, would be race-bashing. The idea of burka-covered Muslim women possibly not being allowed to vote was the next example of race-bashing that I cited. In 2007, the very idea that this could ever be considered is absurd, and, to me, would be race-bashing. These were all stories covered in the national press from coast to coast. From there, I went on to cite a ten-year-old, but long-settled dispute as to whether turbans should be allowed to be worn as a Mountie. And another one where the motorcyclist wanted to be able to ride his bike without a helmet because he couldn’t fit one over his turban. Let me make it perfectly clear. These disputes have been settled. And I agree how they were settled. I have no problem with Sikhs wearing turbans in the RCMP. We all read about it. Old news? Yes. Played to the hilt in the media? Yes. Racial? No. And then I talked about the laws in this country. How they were spelled out and easy to get a hold of. And that if you want to come to this country, or any other country, as a visitor or an immigrant, you should respect them. I should know. My grandparents immigrated to this country. And then the phrase that some people are focussing on; the quote was “but if you choose to come to a place like Canada, then shut up and fit in.” Too harsh? Okay. At worst, the wrong choice of words. My mail tells me that most Canadians support immigration, want the multicultural experience, but also want their new neighbours to respect the customs and laws of Canada. Most people who immigrate to Canada come here because they left their homeland to search for a better life. The rules of Canada will be ever-changing, as they should be. And our new arrivals will and have [sic] a say in how they evolve. So imagine my surprise and shock when I opened my door to get the Sunday paper and see a copy of the Province with the headline “Furor Erupts after Radio Comments”. What furor? Because the media needed a story so they fabricated one? Because this radio station and their high-paid talk show host dragged this story out so for once they had something controversial to talk about and didn’t have to climb off the fence to create it? Because politicians who are currently out of favour now had something to twist around to hopefully help them move up the food chain? And so it goes. Once again, people are listening and not hearing. Those with an agenda prey upon that and feed the uninformed. I am the product of immigrants. Most of us are. Canada would not be the great country it is without immigration. That’s a given. But when the media misquotes and is being fuelled by malcontents, we stir up a situation where only the media benefits. The story should’ve been stillborn and for a week it was. But when politics entered the picture, the gloves were off. I go back to the first line of the piece: “If I didn’t know better, it would seem that there has been a lot of immigrant-bashing going on these past few months.” People heard, but didn’t listen. The furor has been manufactured for political gain. The only good thing coming out of this is the subsequent dialogue. People are talking. Many are talking to me and I have learned a great deal. As long as we talk with an open mind, Canada will be a better place. But we cannot let the politicians play their games at our expense. I’m sick of the misinformation, the obvious promotion of political agendas and the words “racist” and “hate-mongering” being used to describe my commentary. And so it dragged on with calls for my job, both at CKNW and VANOC. Oh that’s really good. I don’t like your opinion, so you should lose your job. I don’t like your opinion, so I’m gonna threaten your life. I don’t like your opinion, so I’m going to vilify you. You’re allowed to disagree, but at least get your facts right. Give your head a shake. Stop and take time to listen to the entire comment. If I didn’t know better, it would seem that there has been a lot of immigrant-bashing going on these past few months. I’m Bruce Allen. This is the Giant, CKNW NewsTalk 980.
The CBSC received approximately 176 complaints about the initial Reality Check editorial. The majority of complainants cited the segment of September 13, but a few also mentioned his appearance on The Christy Clark Show of September 21. Not all of the complainants were given the opportunity to request a CBSC ruling either because they had not provided a date and time of broadcast or had only learned of the commentary from newspaper or other reports without personally hearing the broadcast about which they were lodging their complaints. Of the 75 complainants who had apparently heard the editorial and were permitted to request a ruling, only two did so. Their complaints follow.
The first was a complaint dated September 21, originally filed with the CRTC, which forwarded it to the CBSC in due course. It read in principal part as follows (the text of all correspondence is included in Appendix B).
I would like to file a complaint regarding a segment of The Christy Clark Show whereby an individual by the name Bruce Allen was a guest and during a ranting or some speech was inciting hatred, and racist comments towards several ethnic communities in Canada. […]
Specifically the individual states "These immigrants should get out" and various other hatred-filled comments about turbans and RCMP and making disturbing comments to say the least.
On October 1, the second complainant also filed his original concerns with the CRTC, which forwarded them in the customary way to the CBSC. He said in principal part,
Here it is quite evident what Bruce Allen is doing and saying. He has identified it as “Immigrant Bashing” and then gives examples.
1. The Sikh Boys with Handkerchiefs (said to ridicule the situation).
2. The Burka-clad Muslim voter.
He then says all of these issues join the list where other immigrants have sought and were given exceptions. Turban for Helmet, etc.
He then says, if you don't fit in, go home. A classic line of a man whose mind is darkened by IGNORANCE.
Bruce Allen is clearly a racist, and expressed his honest viewpoint in this snippet, as would any redneck, I suppose.
Bruce Allen should be taken off the air, and CKNW fined for allowing such atrocious viewpoints to enter our airwaves; where Sikhs, Muslims, Anglos, French, Spanish and many others have lived in harmony all along. We do not need someone in the media to be stirring the pot and spreading hatred.
In his apology on September 26th, Allen has tried to save face as it may have become apparent to him that he had opened his mouth a bit too wide. Maybe the listenership of CKNW has changed to multicultural!
He was not using the examples of immigrant-bashing to help them fight a battle of any sort! He was using it to add to the list of his redneck objections.
The Broadcaster’s Responses
During the month of October, the broadcaster sent the following reply to each of the 176 complainants, even, in other words, to those who likely had not heard the challenged program themselves, but had expressed concerns about the editorial:
As you know, Reality Check is a short editorial segment, during which Mr. Allen routinely expresses his point of view on particular issues. Depending on the topic he is discussing, the program can be controversial.
Having listened to a tape of Reality Check, originally aired on September 13, 2007, we confirm that while Mr. Allen did use strong (and in part, incorrect) language to make a controversial point about a matter of public policy, his comments were not racist or discriminatory, nor did they breach the CAB Code of Ethics, which is administered by the CBSC and to which we adhere.
The CBSC has frequently stated that it is not any reference to race, national or ethnic origin, religion, sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap that will be sanctioned, but rather, only those references that contain abusive or unduly discriminatory material (CFYI-AM re Scruff Connors and John Derringer Morning Show, Decision 01/02-0279). We do not believe that Mr. Allen’s comments fit this description.
The piece was centered around the issue of how far, in Mr. Allen’s opinion, we should go as a country to accommodate the cultural needs of Canadian immigrants. In making the point that he believes immigrants should accept the laws of the country they immigrate to, he referred to a number of examples in which Canadian Sikhs have either asked for accommodation as a result of their religious customs or beliefs, or have been asked to compromise those customs or beliefs in order to comply with Canadian rules. While Mr. Allen referred specifically to members of the Sikh community, those references were not racist or discriminatory comments about Sikhs, but were comments about well known cultural conflicts from which the question of reasonable accommodation arises. By stating that “we are being pilloried by special-interest groups that want special rules for themselves”, Mr. Allen is making it clear that he is not taking issue with any particular group, but rather with the fact that we have collectively agreed, as Canadians, to create laws that apply to some and not others; that Canada’s laws do not apply to everyone equally. In this sense, Mr. Allen’s comments were not abusive, discriminatory or racist.
As you may know, the topic of “reasonable accommodation” is currently being widely discussed in Canada, most notably as a result of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, an initiative spearheaded by Quebec Premier Charest for the purpose of gauging public sentiment on the issue of how far the province should go to accommodate religious minorities. In making a statement about what Canada’s approach to “reasonable accommodation” should be, it is our view that Mr. Allen was, on this particular occasion, commenting on a matter of public interest about which he is entitled to express an opinion. The CBSC has stated that there is nothing “more fundamental to the principle of freedom of speech enshrined in the Charter than the entitlement of an individual to express a differing view on a matter of public concern” (CKTB-AM re the John Gilbert Show, Decision 92/93-0179). However unpopular his point of view may be, we maintain that Mr. Allen should be free to comment on what is an issue of public policy.
All this being said, we appreciate that Mr. Allen was clumsy in his use of language during the segment, referring, for example, to a “patka” as a “handkerchief”. He also incorrectly referred to the name “Kaur”, a Sikh name, as “Khan”, a Muslim name. Mr. Allen appeared on The Christy Clark Show on September 14, 2007 [sic, actually September 21] and apologized to anyone who may have been offended by these errors. We further recognize that the manner in which Mr. Allen expressed himself may have been hurtful to some listeners. In order to make amends for comments such as “shut up and fit in” – comments Mr. Allen admits may have been “too harsh” - he broadcast a clarification on September 26, 2007, during which he recognized the importance of immigration to Canada’s continued vitality and success. As a result of the September 26th broadcast, the Canadian Organization of Sikh Students, a group that had lodged a complaint regarding the piece to the CBSC, issued a press release stating that they would not be pursuing the matter any further.
One of the main objectives of talk-radio is to stimulate debate about topics that concern its listeners. While we understand that the topic in question was a delicate one that should have been handled with greater care, we do not believe that it violated the CBSC Code of Ethics.
The Ruling Requests
Neither of the two complainants was satisfied by the broadcaster’s response. The first supplemented his Ruling Request of October 18 with the following addendum:
The response from the broadcaster did not address my complaint that the commentary was not factual, was intended to incite hatred towards a specific immigrant group and that the comments were claimed to be an "editorial". It is important a ruling be provided to prevent in the future such non-factual comments directed at selected minority groups that are singled out by commentators based on non-factual information perpetuating hatred towards that group by the public. If not addressed, many people may feel they can make non-factual commentary towards ethnic groups based on personal bias, hatred or intolerance. I find it extremely alarming that an individual can single out an ethnic group on the personal basis of what he/she feels is not Canadian and does not adhere to the commentator’s personal subjective views of what is acceptable.
The second sent a reaction to the station’s response on October 31. In his letter, he said in principal part:
I am sorry to say that I do not agree with you. As a taxi driver, I have been at the receiving end of racist aggression at least two times since the broadcast. Once the people actually cited Bruce Allen as being their hero! They were upset that someone wanted to translate the Canadian National Anthem to Punjabi.
Your response to me does not tally with Bruce Allen's rebuttal […] In his apology, Mr. Allen has said very clearly that he was actually batting for the immigrant. The boys and girls with last name Singh, Kaur, the burka-clad voter, also citing the old issues of helmet and turban on motorcycles. And RCMP officer wearing a turban.
In your letter to me you have said that Bruce Allen has an opinion (from Sep 13 audio). But Bruce Allen has contradicted you, saying he was on the side of the turban guys.
I have no qualms about people discussing these issues in an amicable manner. However, when your show host says that those that do not fit in should go home, this is a racist remark with clear repercussions. He did not say those that break the laws should be deported. “Who does not fit in? And into what?” are my questions. Charter of Rights ring a bell?
On November 7, he did file a Ruling Request, adding the following comments to it: “The broadcaster does not say why Bruce Allen would make such inflammatory, and clearly racist, remarks on its Radio Station. The ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ explanation is stepping aside from the inflammatory and racist remarks made.”
The B.C. Regional Panel considered the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Code of Ethics:
Clause 2 – Human Rights
Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
Clause 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation
It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster. This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers.
Clause 7 – Controversial Public Issues
Recognizing in a democracy the necessity of presenting all sides of a public issue, it shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to treat fairly all subjects of a controversial nature. Time shall be allotted with due regard to all the other elements of balanced program schedules, and the degree of public interest in the questions presented. Recognizing that healthy controversy is essential to the maintenance of democratic institutions, broadcasters will endeavour to encourage the presentation of news and opinion on any controversy which contains an element of the public interest.
The British Columbia Regional Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the Bruce Allen commentary, the Christy Clark Show on which Bruce Allen was the invited guest, and the second Reality Check of September 26. The Panel concludes unanimously that the broadcasts are not in breach of either Clause 2 or Clause 7 of the CAB Code of Ethics. On the question of whether they are in breach of Clause 6 of the Code, the Panel is evenly divided, with the result that the Panel does not conclude that there is a breach of that Clause by CKNW.
Limits: A Preliminary Misunderstanding?
There are aspects of this decision on which the British Columbia Regional Panel agrees and others on which the Panel is split, as will become apparent from the decision text that follows. Among those on which there is agreement is that discussed in this section. Bruce Allen stated on several occasions during the Christy Clark Show that his job as an editorialist is to “give my opinion”, and, on another occasion, “I’m entitled to take my opinion and put it on the air. That’s my job.” From there, on a couple of occasions he said, “I don’t lose my job for having an opinion.” It goes without saying that the Panel has no issue whatsoever with the question of the editorialist’s job, but, to the extent that the implication of Allen’s view is that there are no limits to his right as an editorialist to broadcast his opinion, the Panel disagrees. Ironically, he did observe once that “my opinions stop when my fist hits your nose”, but nowhere in his first or second Reality Check or during the Christy Clark Show, did he appear to relate that concession to the reality of limitation, on the one hand, or excess, on the other.
Consequently, the Panel wishes to dispel the sense of absolute freedom conveyed by Allen and to make it abundantly clear that there are limitations to what can be said on Canadian airwaves, even in the context of an opinion expressed by an editorialist. An opinion is not a blank cheque. It is not the equivalent of the Monopoly game “Get out of Jail Free” card. As is provided in Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, the expression of opinion, editorial or comment is restricted to that which is “fair and proper”. In that sense, the underlying principle of freedom of expression is not absolute; it must always be weighed against other societal values. In CHOM-FM and CILQ-FM re The Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision 97/98-0001+, October 17-18, 1997), the Quebec and Ontario Panels put the point in the following words:
The CBSC has frequently observed that freedom of expression is the basic rule which it applies in the rendering of its decisions but it believes that this principle is not absolute. It is and must be subject to those values which, in a free and democratic society, entitle all members of society, on the one hand, to speak freely while, on the other hand, remaining free from the abrogation of those other values in which they and other Canadians believe. Free speech without responsibility is not liberty; it is licence. The freedom to swing one’s arm ends where it makes contact with one’s neighbour’s nose. The length of that arc is what the CBSC must determine from case to case.
This decision will attempt to measure that arc and to determine whether anyone’s nose has been bloodied by the broadcasts.
Abusive or Unduly Discriminatory Comments
The Panel is also in agreement on the measure of the first Reality Check against the Human Rights Clause.
It has long been an established principle of the CBSC’s decisions in the area of human rights that there can be comments broadcast that, while undeniably discriminatory, do not breach the prohibition established in Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics. In order to exceed the bounds of the freedom of expression defined there, the discriminatory comments must be abusive or unduly discriminatory, on the one hand, and must target one of the groups identified in the concluding 18 words of the clause, on the other. The human rights issue for the British Columbia Regional Panel to assess in the case of the Bruce Allen commentary is, therefore, confined to whether the two foregoing conditions have been met.
The first of these is whether any of the comments are abusive or unduly discriminatory. In order to respond to that inquiry, the Panel must categorize and characterize the comments. That is not an easy task, for the Panel finds that the Reality Check is somewhat jumbled, unclear in its structure and presentation, and not skilfully crafted.
After the fact, Bruce Allen has tried to explain that his piece began with a sympathetic observation on his part, namely, that “there’s been a lot of immigrant-bashing going on in the past few months” and that he wanted no part of it, that he disagreed with it. To use his words during the Christy Clark Show, “I don’t believe in that stuff. I hate it.” Then, in his September 26 opinion piece, in which he deconstructed the original Reality Check, he accused others of twisting his rant (the term used by Bruce Allen to characterize his opinion piece) “into something more controversial” on the basis of their “political objectives”. He asserted that the critics hadn’t “really heard what I was saying.” He also framed the matter as “people are listening and not hearing” what he said. Allen also cast blame on the media. He expressed his own “surprise and shock”, whether feigned or real, at the fact that his commentary had generated a newspaper headline. He then went so far as to accuse the media generally of promoting the story, using the following language: “Because the media needed a story so they fabricated one.”
Bruce Allen’s observations remind the Panel of the old story of the mother watching her son in a military parade who exclaims “Look, everyone’s out of step but my Johnny.” With the exception of a brief instant, when he provided his maximum concession, “at worst, the wrong choice of words,” Allen seems to have blamed anyone and everyone but himself for the furore that arose. The Panel does not share his view of where responsibility lies. If listeners did not take away what Allen, after the fact, asserts they ought to have, it is not because they have mis-heard or mis-read; it has solely to do with what he wrote and said. Had he skilfully articulated the position he subsequently said he meant in the first place, this public controversy might have been avoided. He did not do so. He did not leave the sense in his first commentary that he in any way disagreed with the examples of Government rulings he cited. In that respect, he was the author of his own misfortune. The misunderstanding results primarily from his words, not from the public’s absorption of them.
The foregoing being said, the Panel must assess the nature of the challenged comments. It concludes that they are of two varieties, first of all, those that are the examples of what the commentator called “immigrant-bashing” (in the first two-thirds of the piece), and, second, the references to laws, choices and rules (in the final third). The first category refers specifically to: Sikh religious headgear and passport photographs; the predominance of the names stated to be Singh and Khan; burka-covered Muslim women voting; turban-wearing Mounties; and the conflict between turbans and helmets for motorcycle riders.
While most of the examples appear to be Sikh community focussed, they are not all of that nature. In any event, the Panel finds none of the examples cited problematic in their mere mention, under the Human Rights Clause. They are all issues of current, or recent, public discussion, and, even if controversial, absolutely fair to raise and discuss. (The question of their presentation is a matter dealt with below, under the heading “The Presentation of the First Reality Check”.) The Panel concludes, therefore, that the identification of the issues noted in this paragraph is neither unduly discriminatory nor tied specifically to an identifiable group. In such circumstances, the Panel cannot, and does not, conclude that the challenged Reality Check is in breach of the Human Rights Clause of the CAB Code of Ethics.
The Presentation of the First Reality Check
The Panel is unable to agree on whether the presentation of the editorial opinion in Bruce Allen’s Reality Check of September 13 was proper, in the sense of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics. Three of the six Adjudicators consider that it was on the edge of acceptability and three consider that it was over that edge. Since a finding of breach requires a majority of Adjudicators on any Panel, and there is no such preponderance of views in this instance, there will be no finding of breach of the “full, fair and proper presentation” requirement in Clause 6. The separate opinions of those Adjudicators who would not uphold the complaints and those who would are provided immediately below.
Opinion of the Adjudicators Who Would Not Uphold the Complaint
The Adjudicators who consider that the broadcast of Bruce Allen’s commentary did not breach Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics do not declare themselves supportive of his editorial. They acknowledge that the following statements are bullying, ignorant and offensive: there are laws and rules in Canada that are “easy to find” and which you need not abide by, by exercising your “right […] not to live here”; if you choose to live here, “then shut up and fit in”; “we are being pilloried by special interest groups that just want to make special rules for themselves”; and “These are the rules, there’s the door. If you don’t like the rules, hit it. We don’t need you here. You have another place to go; it’s called home.”
In the view of this group of Adjudicators, that group of statements is clearly uninviting and not in the least inclusive. Moreover, they find those statements regrettable, if not reprehensible. That said, it is their view that the offensive matter does not, on that account, constitute a breach of the CAB Code of Ethics. They read the words as being of limited application, limited, that is, to persons contemplating immigration to Canada. On September 13, Allen said, “If you are immigrating to Canada” and “if you choose to come to a place like Canada [all emphasis added].” His language suggested, however unpleasantly, that immigrants must take the country as they find it, complete with its laws and rules. The choice, he asserted, is to take it or leave it. While these Adjudicators wish that his words had been less susceptible of the negative nuance in which they were awash, they agree that he was only expressing a political perspective, which he was free to espouse and to broadcast. Political speech is the most important kind of speech to protect, and its occasional unpleasantness does not change its nature. If anything, in this instance, as Allen himself argued, the provocative nature of what he said did result in a heightened awareness of the issue and considerable further discussion in the public place, a great democratic plus.
The bottom line for these Adjudicators is that the ineptitude and bullying tone of the editorial have not rendered it sufficiently improper or unfair to be in breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
Opinion of the Adjudicators Who Would Uphold the Complaint
The main problem for the Adjudicators who conclude that there has been a breach lies in the underlying assumptions of the language used by Allen. And here they find two principal issues. The first is his assertion that it is immigrants who want to reshape Canadian laws and rules. Allen says that, if you choose to come here, then you must fit in with the rules that we have made. Us and them. Wrong, if not also arrogant. Laws and rules are not immutable and they get reshaped by Canadians, who, in larger and larger numbers, come from different traditions and ethnicities. We includes those Canadians, both current immigrants and former, now established, immigrants.
Related to that is the second issue, namely, the mocking or condescending tone in his statement “The children were wearing those handkerchiefs which are knotted at the top of the head [emphasis added].” And in his reference to “Sikhs with the surname Singh or Khan. […] Too many Singhs, too many Khans, that was the problem.” In fact, the “handkerchief” is a “patka”, if not a dastar or a pugree. And Sikhs do not have the surname “Khan”; it is “Kaur”. In other words, he has felt free to lash out at the practices of those he characterizes as immigrants, and to do so without taking the time or showing the respect to get his research right in the first place.
His arrogant perspective does not allow him to admit that many, probably most, of the individuals who might wish some “reasonable accommodation” (to use the term that was the subject of the recent Quebec Bouchard-Taylor Commission of Inquiry) of their myths, traditions and practices are already Canadians. He (of the “we” camp) has no monopoly on the definition of acceptable Canadian practices. Because he and members of his family may not wear turbans or burkas does not entitle him to deride those religious or traditional practices of other Canadians, whether of the first or older generational presence in this country. While there is room for a legitimate debate on the current Canadian rules relating to turbans and helmets, burkas and voting, and other traditional issues to which he has not referred on this occasion, such as the wearing of the kirpan, yarmulkes or other religious paraphernalia, it is not on the “us and them” basis he has chosen. It is these incorrect and divisive statements that the Panel finds improper, and consequently in breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
The Christy Clark Show: An Issue of Balance
The first of the complainants mentioned above registered his complaint about the Bruce Allen rant made during the Christy Clark Show of September 21. While the foregoing part of this decision deals thoroughly with the issue of the rant itself, the role of the Christy Clark Show in this discussion merits comment.
On that episode of her afternoon show, Christy Clark pulled no punches. Having invited the besieged editorialist as her guest on that date, after the then eight-day old commentary had blown up, she got right to the point. She detailed the state of the deluge of complaints made to the CBSC, Punjabi-language radio stations and to CKNW itself. She then played the challenged 90-second Reality Check and then gave Bruce Allen five uninterrupted minutes “to explain what you were trying to say in that.” She began her reaction by stating her support for his right, as an editorialist, to say what he wanted on the air, and then criticized what he said. She stated that Canada needs immigrants, and that Canada is a multicultural country, far removed from its national persona as a “European country”, and she challenged Allen’s sensitivity by asking “But do you understand why what you said has offended so many people in the Indo-Canadian community?”. As her show progressed, she invited one of the Allen critics, Harjinder Thind, a host of the Surrey radio station CKYE-FM, to express his perspective, and she then opened the line to callers, who spoke both for and against Bruce Allen’s rant.
The point for the Panel is that Christy Clark provided strong balance on the challenged editorial, within a single program. The editorialist was given his opportunity to explain, and was then called upon to face critics and to taste some support as well. And program host Clark weighed in without hesitation. That is balance. That is interactive radio fulfilling an important societal function. That is Clause 7 of the CAB Code of Ethics dealing with a controversial public issue exactly as envisioned by the drafters. The Panel applauds Ms. Clark and the broadcaster for that extra effort.
In every formal CBSC decision, the adjudicating Panel takes the time to assess the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the complainant, in no small measure because of the CBSC membership obligation of broadcasters to be responsive to members of the public who take the time to express their concerns in writing. Occasionally, though, broadcasters take steps that are far and away more sensitive to their audiences than could reasonably be anticipated. This is such a case. In the first place, the broadcaster responded in writing, not only to the 75 complainants who had actually heard the show, but to all 176 complainants. The replies were focussed on the substance of the controversy, and did not shy away from references to Bruce Allen, including to his having been “clumsy” in his choice of language. They were thoughtful, sensitive to the complainants’ concerns, and contextual (in the sense that they referred to the then current Bouchard-Taylor Commission in Quebec and to the purpose of talk-radio). Beyond that, they opened their airwaves to comments and criticisms about the Bruce Allen editorial on the Christy Clark Show, the CKNW Morning News with Philip Till, the Bill Good Show and the World Today with John McComb. The Program Director of CKNW and Bruce Allen met with members of the community and Allen recorded another Reality Check responding to the issues. The Panel considers that CKNW took extraordinary steps to respond quickly and thoughtfully to the concerns of the public, well beyond the station’s CBSC membership obligations.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. It may be reported, announced or read by the station against which the complaint had originally been made; however, where, as in the present case, the decision is favourable, the station is under no obligation to announce the result.