Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Afraid to say what they think

Conservative journalist Ric Dolphin has been sacked by the Calgary Herald and Colby Cosh argues persuasively that the real reason that Mr. Dolphin was sacked was due to being censured for some columns arguing that Canada is actually harming its aboriginals through race-based programs and special treatment.

This reminded me of a small item that I recently found in the North Island Gazette, a Port Hardy B.C. based newspaper. There is a largish percentage of natives in the northern end of Vancouver Island, where the paper is based. The paper always runs an "inquiring reporter" or "Vox populi" feature, where people are asked about a current issue and their quoted response runs, with their photo, in the newspaper.

In the January 29 edition, the paper had intended to ask Port Hardyites what they felt about the idea of a race-based fishery. This proposal would at the least set aside a large amount, if not all, of the local commercial fishery for natives to use alone. Geoff Plant, B.C.'s attorney-general has suggested giving huge swaths of commercial fishing in B.C. to native bands as a sweetener in treaty negotiations.

Instead of the regular feature, though, the paper ran a letter criticizing the idea of a race-based fishery and this note. Sorry, it's not online:

Editor's note: Reporter Christine vanReeuwyk was unable to persuade even one North Islander to answer our question of the week for the record.

Online respondents voted 12-0 against awarding commercial fisheries on the basis of race.

Email your opinion to....

We're not talking about anything that's obviously racist, such as a proposal that no natives should be allowed to fish, but I still find it very unnerving that people feel afraid to express what their opinions are in their home town newspaper, on an issue where it should be perfectly fair to advocate a colour-blind approach.

All of which goes to show that the kind of chill on "incorrect" arguments that Colby sees in the Ric Dolphin case blows through B.C. as well. It blows in great gusts and, in the case of this small note in an upcountry newspaper, slight breezes...that chill you to the bone.