Talking Racism

The complainant, Byron Perry, thought a panel discussion on hate crime in Canada condemned all white people. He said they were blamed for things that weren’t true or there was no proof the perpetrators were white. This wide-ranging discussion did not generalize in this way and had no violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

You objected to a panel discussion broadcast on The Current on November 16. It was entitled: Trump win gives ‘permission’ to racists, but hate crimes nothing new in Canada.” You said you were “offended by what I believe is racism against an identifiable demographic.” The demographic was white people, as you believed that the host and the panellists stated that only white people are racist. You cited instances that you thought proved your point.

One guest stated white people needed to address the problem of racism, you noted. You thought this was proof that the panellists “implied through their comments that only white people are racist.” “Since when are other races not racist, you asked.

You said that the hosts and participants implied in quoting a public opinion survey that racism was widespread among Canadians because they want other races to adapt and “fit in.” You objected to generalizing this to white people:

Firstly, there's no evidence that only white people answered this survey. Secondly, how many people were surveyed out other (sic) the entire Canadian population?

Your next objection was that you thought the citing of “one anti-Semitic and two racist occurrences on the TTC did not prove there was widespread racism in Toronto. On the contrary, you quoted a Toronto police spokesperson who said there had not been an increase in racist incidents.

You asserted that there was no proof that the anti-Semitic incident referenced was carried out by a white person.

You objected to an analysis of President-elect Trump’s victory and where he got his support:

30% of Hispanics voted for Trump and millions of white people voted for Clinton. As well, white people did not vote for Trump because they feel a loss of some mythical "white power", but because they feel a loss of jobs and anger at a mainstream media that continually insults them.

You objected to one panellist citing the fact that black and Middle Eastern people were more likely to be stopped while driving. Police forces are multiracial and so some of the officers stopping them would have to be people of color as well. This is further evidence that you can’t only blame whites for racism.

Why connect what police officers do to what the public, white public, think about non-whites? Please show me the relationship between these two groups?

You also commented that the panel was entirely one-sided, and so violated journalistic policy because it did not provide another point of view.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of The Current, Kathleen Goldhar, responded to your complaint.

She agreed that “people of one race or colour have no hedge on discrimination.” Having said that, she noted that the panel discussion never implied or stated that all white people are racist and explained what was addressed:

There was however, conversation about the increase in the number of people who say they are "White nationalists" or in alliance with what is being termed the "alt right" in Canada. And there was discussion around the number of reported instances in Canada involving hate speech by white people. These instances included video taken on a Toronto streetcar where a white man is seen, and heard, making racist remarks to a man who appears to have brown skin; and another clip from a man who came across a poster in his community promoting the “alt-right”. Whoever put up the poster has not been identified, nor did the panellists say he was white. However, they did note that the poster’s headline read "Hey White People". In that context talking about "white people" is relevant and appropriate.

She provided you information about the Angus Reid CBC poll, giving the sample size and how it was conducted. She agreed that there was no evidence to support the idea that only white people were sampled; she added that was never stated. She noted the result of the poll indicated 68% of Canadians believe minorities should be doing more to adapt to mainstream society. She explained what the context was for raising the result with the panel:

The results of that poll were introduced to ask our panelists if they thought it might suggest Canadians (not just white Canadians, but all Canadians) were becoming less patient with our "multicultural" identity. It’s a good question and in a slightly different form one being discussed in countries throughout Europe.

On your next point, you stated that the panel said racism was widespread in Toronto. Despite a police spokesperson saying the contrary, she had a similar response to your other points - that what you think was said was not. Neither host Anna Maria Tremonti nor the panellists talked about widespread hate crimes in the city. They cited these incidents to consider the question of whether the election of Donald Trump would somehow encourage racist outbursts because there are some who believe that his campaign had a racist component. The panel did not assert that racists had elected Mr. Trump. The panel, she said, asked a question about whether the election had “emboldened white nationalism.”

She also told you that none of the panellists assumed that all police officers are white, nor did anyone say the person who spray-painted a swastika was white.

She concluded by telling you that the four panellists were chosen because they brought different experiences and perspectives on the issue under discussion. They had different explanations for why people are angry and acting out, but none of them said that all hate crime was committed by whites. She also told you that other aspects of the issue of racism had been and would continue being discussed on the programme.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices include a guideline on balance. In part it states:

On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held these views are. We also ensure that they are represented over a reasonable period of time.

The critical phrase here is “relevant views.” It is hard to imagine what other perspective is needed in this discussion, given the context and framing of the segment. This was a panel discussion with three experienced and thoughtful people about the impact of attention paid to the so-called alt-right and white supremacist groups during the U.S. presidential election - Donald Trump had the support of both. The thesis is spelt out in the title given to the segment: Trump win gives ‘permission’ to racists, but hate crimes nothing new in Canada.” Ms. Tremonti introduced it this way:

Well, the amount of hate speech being reported in the media appears to be on the rise and with more than 100 white supremacist groups operating in Canada today, many fear the election of Donald Trump as US President may embolden them all. Especially if what's happening now in the US is any indication. With more than 300 racially charged incidents recorded by the Southern Poverty Law Center since last Tuesday's election. For more of a sense of the Canadian situation, I'm joined by three guests. Desmond Cole is a freelance journalist and activist, Bernie Farber is the Executive Director of the Mosaic Institute. They're both with me in our Toronto studio. Barbara Perry is a Professor in the faculty of Social Science and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. And she joins us from New Orleans today.

The discussion ranged from specific acts of racism recently reported to a broader and historical view of hate crimes in Canada. I will reiterate what Ms. Goldhar said - “nowhere did they say all white people are racist.” You are under the impression that the message from this panel discussion is that all white people are racist and no other races are guilty of this. There is absolutely no evidence to support this. On the other hand, the example of the “hey white people” poster on Toronto’s streets is evidence a white supremacist mentality is at work. In fact, the panellists also point to the fact that many people came to the defense of the person who was verbally abused on the Toronto streetcar. At another point in the interview, Mr. Farber says that “individuals, loners out there are empowered by Trump” - again, just the opposite of a broad generalization. They do not use the same broad brush you do. Your belief that all white people are implicated is one that you are entitled to hold. It is not one this panel is obliged to address or even mention, since that is not what they are discussing. To have introduced an argument that racism is not a factor in our society, and/or that the majority of the victims are not minorities, would be the definition of false equivalence.

As for your specific concerns, a review of the transcript supports the points Ms. Goldhar made. The Angus Reid poll is discussed in this fashion:

AMT:
Ok, so let me ask you. Last month, a national poll by the Angus Reid Institute and the CBC found 68 per cent of Canadians believe minorities should be doing more to fit in with mainstream society, instead of keeping their own customs and languages. When the same question was put to Americans, 53 percent agreed with that idea. So 68 per cent of Canadians agree with that idea, 53 per cent of Americans. What do you make of that?

BERNIE FARBER:
So here's my problem. It's a poll. And I'm not so sure how much I trust polls, certainly since Brexit and certainly since the American elections. I want to know what were the reference points on the polls? What were the follow up questions after that? What were they referring to exactly, when you ask an open ended question and expect a straight up yes or no answer?

You yourself made the point when you were concerned that the implication was that “racism was widespread among Canadians because they want other races to do more to fit in..there’s no evidence that only white people answered this survey.” Exactly. When the panel talked about Canadians, they did not mean just whites because this is a multi-racial society. And I would also point out Mr. Farber was dubious about the result.

It was Desmond Cole who brought up the issue of carding and the disproportionate number of people of color stopped by police. The color of the officer is not the relevant issue he raised in the context of what he sees as institutional racism in our society. You don’t have to agree, but there is absolutely nothing against policy to hear him talk about his lived experience as a black person. Mr. Cole is described at the outset as a journalist and activist - listeners to The Current can judge for themselves what they think of his perspective. Mr. Cole wrote of his experiences in a 2015 Toronto Life article entitled: The skin I’m in: I’ve been interrogated by the police more than 50 times all because I’m black.

None of the panellists said there was an epidemic, but they did all say vigilance is required. They brought different experiences and approaches to the discussion. They all shared the view that this is a vulnerable time for minorities. Another piece of CBC policy states that journalists use their knowledge and expertise to explain important issues. The decision to have this discussion fits more than comfortably within that rubric. There is no denying that people of color and other marginalized groups face discrimination - and while there may be other races involved, our institutions and power structures are largely the creation of white society. This discussion was an appropriate examination of an issue of public concern and in no way violated CBC journalistic policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman