Indigenous rights representatives are accusing the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and provincial universities of not doing enough to prevent racism.
The debate started when Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) in Manitoba, a provincial indigenous advocacy group, accused CBC of allowing racist comments on its website.
After a year monitoring comments posted by the public on the CBC website, the SCO responded with some particularly inflammatory statements on their own website.
“The CBC website is providing a vehicle for the expression of hatred, intolerance and ignorance through the perpetuation of stereotypes,” read a news release on the SCO website.
“What happened last week (refers to a particular post) was a direct result of the deliberate and ongoing policy of CBC.”
The University of Winnipeg Aboriginal Student Council (ASC) was also involved with the monitoring.
The aboriginal students’ director Ryan Bruyere believes many of these comments were made by university-aged people, requiring response at the university level.
“We see a youth-oriented problem and we see a youth-oriented solution,” Bruyere said.
The ASC wants the U of W to instate a mandatory three credit hour course to increase awareness of aboriginal issues among university students.
The idea is currently in the discussion phase with university administration.
Jeff Keay, a CBC spokesperson, acknowledged SCO’s concerns over the content.
CBC has moderators monitoring user posts, but some offensive comments still get through.
“We`re pretty sympathetic with their point of view; When you try to provide a forum like that which is as unfettered as that, it brings with it the risk that occasionally there will be content that people will find offensive,” he said.
SCO grand chief Morris Swan Shannacappo said it is important that media organizations control comments like the comments the SCO flagged because, “racism is still alive and well in this country.”
“For a country that voted ‘no’ on the declaration of aboriginal rights, we have a long way to go,” he said, referring to the United Nations declaration on native rights that passed in 2007.
Keay said it is important that free speech not be unreasonably limited.
“The question is: how do you strike a balance with free expression.”
Chris Buors believes that too much is being made of this issue. A member of the Libertarian Party of Canada – a party that runs on a platform of unfettered individual and property rights – who ran in Winnipeg North last election, Buors believes people should be allowed to make comments that are offensive because racism can be confronted in the open.
“You should tell these people they are wrong; that their opinions are wrong.”
But there should be no limits on what can be said, Buors said.
Bruyere believes while freedom of speech is important, it is often used ignorantly when it comes to racial issues.
“A lot of these people are uneducated. These people should try to understand these issues from another perspective,” he said.
At CBC’s invitation, the university’s ASC went to a staff briefing to discuss issues of race.
Published in Volume 63, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 5, 2009)