Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The CRTC, Pierre Vallières, the N-word and broader principles

Jérôme Lussier in Vaste programme.

As you may have heard, Quebec has been roiled by a rather peculiar debate for the last two weeks: can someone legally say the N-word (in French) when quoting the title of an important political essay during a radio segment on Radio-Canada?

The debate arises from a recent decision of the CRTC, which ruled that uttering the word without proper warnings and attenuation measures was impermissible, even though, as the Board expressly acknowledged in its decision, “the word was not used in a discriminatory manner in the context of the segment, but rather to quote the title of a book that was central to a current issue.”

The current issue underlying the segment was the launch of a petition to demand the dismissal of Catherine Russell, a distinguished Concordia University professor who quoted the title of Pierre Vallières’s book, Nègres blancs d’Amérique, in a 2019 class. 

This was not a mere anecdote. 

A few months earlier, CBC journalist Wendy Mesley had been disciplined for mentioning the same book title during an internal meeting. 

A few weeks after the August 17, 2020 radio segment, yet another controversy would explode, for similar reasons, this time at the University of Ottawa.

Radio-Canada’s ombudsman had ruled that the radio segment, which aired almost two years ago, complied with the organization’s norms and practices. 

But then, two weeks ago, the CRTC overruled the ombudsman and ordered Radio-Canada to provide a written apology and to take other corrective measures. 

The CRTC decision included two significant dissents – one from Caroline J. Simard, Vice-Chair for Broadcasting, and the other from Joanne T. Levy, Commissioner for Manitoba and Saskatchewan. 

These dissenting opinions consider that the majority opinion is, to quote Ms. Levy, “deeply flawed”.

The full article here.

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