Communities seek to oust radio host from Olympics role following racist comments

by Ian Bailey, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- Despite remarks deemed racist by some critics, Bruce Allen will continue to help organize opening and closing ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Olympics because he can rally "some of the biggest stars in the Canadian industry," a spokeswoman for the organizing committee said yesterday.

"He has an important role to play in the area of securing top Canadian talent," said Renée Smith-Valade, offering the Vancouver Organizing Committee's first comments on the controversy over the remarks by the manager for several top singers, including Michael Bublé and Bryan Adams.

John Furlong, VANOC's chief executive officer, had a telephone chat with Mr. Allen yesterday because he was concerned about the situation, Ms. Smith-Valade said.

"[Mr. Furlong] wanted to ensure that Bruce had the opportunity to explain what he was trying to do in his comments, and how he felt about his role in the Games. And [Mr. Furlong] left that conversation satisfied we made the right choice and we go forward." She added: "[Mr. Allen] was quite clear that he regrets the controversy caused by his comments."

During a regular Sept. 13 commentary slot on Vancouver-based CKNW radio, Mr. Allen said immigrants to Canada should "shut up and fit in or leave the country. 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!"

He also condemned "special-interest groups" seeking special rules, mentioned the controversy over whether veiled women should be able to vote and raised concerns about "turban-wearing Mounties" who have complained about being compelled to wear helmets over their turbans.

Outrage over Mr. Allen's comments has been building, with particular anger from B.C.'s Indo-Canadian community, in light of the announcement late last week that the music-industry veteran will be one of 10 members of a team that will design ceremonies and live entertainment at the Olympics.

Harpreet Singh, host of a two-hour nightly call-in show on the Vancouver-area station Radio-India, said he fielded 200 to 250 calls on the issue on Friday and Saturday. Listeners are angry about Mr. Allen's comments, and his continued place among Olympic organizers.

Mr. Singh said he doubted VANOC's position yesterday would cool things down, suggesting Mr. Allen's comments raised concerns about whether he would be open to acts in 2010 from ethnic communities that are part of Canada.

Ms. Smith-Valade said Mr. Allen will work with VANOC on coming up with presentations that celebrate diversity.

"He has communicated his regret over the controversy and he has reconfirmed and emphasized that he shares our goal of showcasing [Canada's] culture and diversity through the ceremonies," she said.

She encouraged those critics to take their complaints about his comments to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Bob Stark, a Vancouver-based spokesman for the CRTC, said yesterday the commission had received a number of written complaints about Mr. Allen, which had been referred to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for action. The council is a self-regulatory body for private radio and TV stations.

MLA Harry Bains, the NDP Olympics critic, said he was disappointed by VANOC's response.

"The minimum they should have done is have Mr. Allen apologize to the community for the hurt he has caused. If they think he is the only person in Canada or British Columbia to help us secure some of the biggest stars to help us put together the opening and closing ceremonies ... I think they are undermining the many talented people who can help us secure the same goal."

In a follow-up broadcast last week, Mr. Allen said he was sorry if he offended anyone. "It was not a personal attack on anyone," he said.

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