Liberal Party of Canada leader Michael Ignatieff is concerned about the extent to which politics and religion are dividing some visible minority groups across Canada. He has called on ethnic media serving those communities to refrain from disseminating inflammatory stories that could spark tension and lead to violence.
“We are playing with fire if we do that and we destroy what it is about Canada that we like,” Ignatieff said at the opening recently of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada’s (NEPMCC) annual exhibition at City Hall. “We just mustn’t go there. We are all Canadians and we have to put being Canadian first, last and always.”
Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh and another Sikh-Canadian politician were in April told to stay away from an annual Sikh festival in Surrey, British Columbia, because the organizers could not guarantee their safety.
“That’s just one community where there’s ethnic hatred and intimidation,” added Ignatieff. “It’s just unacceptable and all of us have to stand up and say that’s not Canada and that’s not what we want. Extremism has no place in any community…We cannot be opposed to separatism in Canada and promote it in other countries. And we cannot be in favour of tolerance and freedom in this country and promote terrorism in another country.
“If we can’t create a shared truth and we can’t create reconciliation in this country between groups that are at war somewhere else, there’s no chance we can do it anywhere else. We just cannot continue to settle scores we brought from another country.”
A former journalist, Ignatieff reminded ethnic media practitioners in Canada that many of them came from countries where there’s no press freedom, and he encouraged them to cherish the right.
“You now know how precious freedom is and you know how important it is,” he said. “That’s what you are doing every time you put those papers out every week. You know there are countries all round the world that cannot have an exhibition of this kind. This is what we have and we must try to defend and protect it.”
Mayor David Miller proclaimed May 10-16 “Ethnic Media Week” in Toronto.
“We are proud of the way you tell the city’s stories,” he said. “I am here today to say thank you. Whether it’s a story that suggests the city’s government can do a bit better or it’s a story that suggests we are on the right track like we are on public transit, your coverage of those stories matters tremendously.”
Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Dr. Eric Hoskins also attended the opening and told ethnic journalists that their publications and programs help people in their communities make sense of the news of the day.
“You give them the ability to read about it in their own language and think about it in the context of their own culture,” he said. “But you also provide Ontario’s immigrants with a connection to their roots, helping them stay in touch with events back home while establishing new roots in Ontario and Canada.
“You provide an essential service and the information you provide and the news you report empower your communities to be active and engaged Ontarians. You are the voice of our province. And you are the voice of a vibrant, diverse and multicultural Ontario. Visitors to this exhibition will gain a sense of the diversity of our province and the lively involvement of our immigrant communities…You have a lot to be proud of. Your traditions are rich and your future is bright.”
Of the $67.6 million the federal government spent in media advertising in 2007-2008, only $3.1 million was allocated to the ethnic media.