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Rock Promoter Cleared by Standards Council: your thoughts?

July 20, 2008

This week, the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council (CBSC), released their November decision on whether or not rock promoter and CKNW (Vancouver) radio station “Reality Check” commentator, Bruce Allen, violated ethical codes. The CBSC panel exonerated Allen on possible human rights violations but did scold him for his “bullying tone.”

Allen’s commentary is now infamous as the “shut-up and fit in/hit the road/go home” rant. I was one of those local yokels listening “live” to Allen that fine September day in 2007, when the pop music impresario, let loose his short snappy, somewhat unhinged, and certainly, for me, rather cruel zingers.

CKNW is affectionately know as “The Giant” in B.C. and its roots are in my home-town of New Westminster. There’s always been a kind of cultural divide between those who listen to the Mother Corp (CBC) and those who listen to the Giant, although i suspect everyone in these two pods at least once has tuned in, late at night, to “NW” after a Canucks Hockey Game. Go Canucks Go.

Bruce Allen’s comments bothered me a great deal. I wrote an online letter to the CRTC which later bounced to the CBSC. Once logged in at the CBSC, I then had to prove that i had heard Allen’s comments contemporaneously, not second-hand. Once I did so, i then was supposed to wait till the radion station contacted me (it never did) and then if still unhappy, within 14 days, file a specific type of complaint, a request for a ruling (in the midst of wedding arrangements, i forgot).

For what it’s worth, here’s the gist of why Allen’s rant bugged me:

1. As an immigrant-citizen brought up to fully adapt and conform to “mainstream” Canadian society, Allen’s rant to “shut up and fit in” sounded duplicitous. Too often, “shut up” doesn’t mean, “conform”, it means what it sounds like. I’ve been brought up to never say “shut up.” I wonder if this is an “immigrant sensitive” thing? “Shut up” in our family was one of the rudest things you could say and my mother would come down hard and immediate when and if she heard it. Can you relate?

2. Fit in to what? I’m as mainstream as you can get, but my skin is brown. This means that i’ve had my share of “stuff” come at me. Having listened to Allen on NW before, I didn’t believe his implied taunt, which i understood to mean, that if you conform, if you “fit in” then all will be well.

3. Rule of Law? Obey? You bet. But not all laws are just and sometimes even “immigrants” have the right to question them.

Here’s a snippet of what the transcript shows Allen said, “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.”

As always, i’m looking forward to your comments…particularly from any over seas readers….

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott Y permalink
    July 22, 2008 11:51 pm

    While I do think that Bruce Allen could take a page out of Trevor Philips’ book, especially on the eloquence front, I also believe that Bruce Allen, for the briefest instance, had a taste of freedom of speech. Wasn’t it Voltaire that said: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

    I’m less concerned about Allen’s comments, but the (essentially) predictable backlash he faced from the political correctness police. He was almost universally condemned for being racist, a bigot, so on and so forth. We’ve all heard this song before…

    But I must say that I’m relieved that the Standards Council exonerated Allen because failing to exonerate him would be yet another nail on the coffin of free speech.

    This whole song and dance was recently revived in the controversy surrounding Maclean’s magazine publishing an excerpt from Mark Steyn’s controversial (but wickedly acerbic) book “America Alone.” In a nutshell, the Canadian Islamic Congress felt that “the article subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt,” while propagating “flagrant Islamophobia,” and so the CIC dragged the case before the BC Human Rights Tribunal last month demanding that they be allowed to publish a ‘rebuttal’ article in the magazine. The HR Commission dismissed the case.

    Well, I’m actually reading Steyn’s book right now (because of my interest in the controversy), so I will decline to comment on my personal feelings about Mr. Steyn’s writings, but I do believe that the Commission made the right choice, because the alternative would’ve set a very uncomfortable (and very undemocratic) precedent in our country.

    Canadians, in having the right to free speech, also have the right to be offended. Critical debate, dialogue and discussion (not death by political correctness and human rights-based censorship) are the threads that tie a democratic society together. If you’re offended by what somebody else says, tell them, debate it, vote against their party, write a rebuttal article, but don’t hide under the cowardly cover of ‘human rights’. Censorship of any kind should be stopped before it becomes a full blown three-ring circus.

  2. reneethewriter permalink
    July 21, 2008 9:10 pm

    Derrick: Yup. The “fit in” issue is a litmus test for those who say, “‘they” should all just do x or else…’ “…it seems to become a slippery slope argument that can be tested by asking, as you’ve done, “fit into what and why and who decides what the norm is…”

    Prand: When i heard Mr. Allen live on cknw i don’t remember hearing a specific case…if you click on the CBSC link in the column it should take you to the decision which has the full transcript. Re bountiful, americans etc: If we all agree to obey the rule of law, and if polygamy is against the law, (btw, i’m not clear on the status of that in B.C.), then there’s an argument to be made, that those wishing to practice have to change society and the laws through democratic means. My sense is that d’wayne touches on the latter points.

    d’wayne: great point re “those who aren’t immigrants” and who don’t won’t to “fit in”…Mr. Allen wasn’t clear on these latter finer points…

    Great comments everyone…r

  3. reneethewriter permalink
    July 21, 2008 9:01 pm

    Dear Cor, Derrick, Prand, d’wayne: Yup. You’ve got me thinkin’

    Cor – You are spot on (again!) re the essential sameness of Trevor Phillips and Bruce Allen – but with one caveat – based on my observations, obviously incomplete and seen, well through the particularity of my “frame/point of view’ – Trevor Phillips takes no prisoners when it comes to combatting racism and what he calls “conformism” and at the same time, demands that everyone has a positive duty to comply with the rule of law. My take of Bruce Allen, having listened to his rants for years, and having had personal contact waaaay back in my university days when he was a less than totally high profile rock dude, is that he uses “rule of law” arguments as a ruse, behind which he spews out what i call, “shifting sands” benchmarks for what “the other” should and shouldn’t do. When i heard Trevor Phillips speak at SFU several years ago, i was stuck by how hardline he was at the then Chair of Britain’s anti-racism commission, about combatting racism issues head on via, for instance, judicial review.

    ‘Twould be might fine to have Mr. Phillips debate Mr. Allen – bring on the whiskey!…i’ll follow up on other comments here in a separate post so this thread doesn’t get too long.

    Cor, always diggin’ your comments.

  4. d'wayne marsonis permalink
    July 21, 2008 8:46 pm

    Testing laws and standards for validity will be seen as a threat by those who are afraid of change or want to protect their interests or both.

    Unless they’re under extreme duress to leave their country of origin, people who come to Canada should take the time to familiarize themselves with our cultural and legal practices. If they don’t agree with what they find, I would suggest they not bother to come here or prepare themselves to test out a different way of thinking and see if they like it. If not, then they can start convincing their fellow Canadians that the practice needs to change.

    I am reminded of new employees who agreed to the employment terms of an organization — how about a zoo? — e.g. “must like animals” then object when they realize their new job involves dealing with animals all day and their culture forbids them from dealing with animals. The employer is normally under obligation to accommodate the employee if possible and if the employer’s requirement is no longer valid then good for the employee. But sometimes one wonders what the employee was thinking when they applied — if you fear heights, you may want to think twice about how that window washing company is going to accommodate you before you apply for the job.

    Of course, the story becomes more problematic for people who aren’t immigrants but whose cultural/religious practices go against mainstream thinking. What if you were born and raised in Canada but don’t think women should be allowed to vote or you think you should be able to have multiple wives, as Prand puts forth? You can’t go back to your “home” country, as Allen would like.

  5. July 21, 2008 6:51 pm

    I like your post – I think the content of what Allen was saying is far more interesting and useful to dissect than his right or lack thereof to say it in the first place, and when this was first in the news, everyone took it as a ‘freedom of speech/Political Correctness Run Amok’ issue. Through most of the furor, the content of Allen’s comments was immaterial, which is really unfortunate! The guy became an (unwitting?) standard bearer for a whole crowd of lunkheads who may have never heard what he actually said.

    The ‘fit in’ bit is probably the crux of what bothers me here. Allen is making a claim to represent Canada against those who do not, when if fact he is only able to represent his idea Canada, which may or may not (and I would go with the latter, in Vancouver at least) be reflective of reality. If Allen is walking through our neighbourhood, for instance, it’s a funny thought to imagine him telling anyone else to ‘shut up and fit in,’ considering the extreme minority his views would place him in. It’s the total arrogance and hubris of this implicit assertion that HIS Canada is the proper Canada that galls me.

  6. Prand permalink
    July 20, 2008 10:18 pm

    I didn’t hear Mr. Allen’s comments. This snippet seems to be inflammatory, but did he have an actual case in point? If it was immigrant American’s destined for polygamous marriages in Bountiful would you feel different?

  7. corsullivan permalink*
    July 20, 2008 8:35 pm

    I’m an overseas reader only in body, not in spirit, but hopefully you won’t mind if I jump in with a couple of thoughts. I don’t know what Bruce Allen actually said (is the transcript posted somewhere?) but “bullying tone” is a good description of the excerpt you posted. It set my teeth on edge, although I do think that accusing Allen of some sort of human rights violation is basically hypersensitive.

    Something else that struck me: once you strip away the combative language, are Allen’s views really so different from the statements by Trevor Phillips that you referred to in your last post to this blog? Phillips wants core values to trump diversity, and Allen says “shut up and fit in”. I know which man I’d rather discuss the issue with over a couple of whiskies, but I suspect that the content of the discussion might be surprisingly similar.

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