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Charlie Hebdo shooting: Politicians join debate over publishing cartoons

01/09/2015 11:50 EST | Updated 03/11/2015 05:59 EDT
Some Conservative politicians have joined critics calling out CBC News and other Canadian media organizations for choosing not to publish controversial cartoons that likely led to Wednesday's deadly attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

In a blog entry posted to his MP website on Thursday, British Columbia MP Dan Albas said shares the concerns of those who have criticized media outlets, including CBC, for not showing the images.

"Canada, including the CBC, has long had a tradition of satire," he noted.

"Well known CBC shows such as the Rick Mercer Report, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, the Royal Canadian Air Farce and others have long used satire to poke comedic fun at many aspects of Canadian life, culture and our identity."

As such, he continued, "it, is in my view, concerning if our national broadcaster arbitrarily decides that some faiths can be subject to comedic interpretation, whereas others are exempt or otherwise deemed to be 'off limits.'"

Conservative Senator Linda Frum took to Twitter to express her dismay at the defence of the decision offered by CBC's director of journalistic standards and practices, David Studer.

"Staggering. Embarrassed for them," she tweeted in response to a video clip of an interview with Studer that aired on CBC News Network, in which he defended the decision not to publish the cartoons.

Later Thursday, Employment Minister Jason Kenney tweeted that, while he "appreciates CBC's policy of avoiding gratuitous offence to faith groups," he questioned why a story on the CBC website "shows a crucifix in a jar of urine" — a reference to the use of a photo of the controversial Piss Christ art exhibit to illustrate a 2010 blog post for CBC Radio show Q on art and religion.

"There are 10s of 1000s of works of art about religion that don't aim to cause gratuitous offence, which could have been chosen," he noted in a subsequent tweet.

"What am I not comprehending? Is it not gratuitously offensive to many Canadians to display a crucifix in a jar of urine?" he wondered.

Not all Conservative caucus members shared that point of view, however.

Former news anchor turned politician Peter Kent sided with the broadcaster.

"Wrong to diss CBC for not airing controversial cartoons," he tweeted. "Studer right; defence of free speech, #iamcharlie solidarity, doesn't require."

When another Twitter user suggested that, by not showing the cartoons, "they win," Kent pointed out many other Canadian media organizations also declined to publish the cartoons.

"Defending #iamcharlie#right2offend doesn't oblige re-offending."

'Strong level of concern': Albas

In an interview with CBC News, Albas said that his latest MP report reflects concerns he's heard firsthand from citizens.

"CBC is a Crown corporation, subsidized by the taxpayer, so I think people are directing their concerns over CBC's policy to me," he said.

"Obviously, if they were directing them towards private broadcasters, I'd direct them towards the presidents of those other outlets."

"In the emails and the phone conversations and the people I've run into, there's a strong level of concern being expressed by citizens who disagree with the decision."

He said he hasn't heard from "a single person" who agrees with the decision not to show the cartoons.

"Twelve people were executed by terrorists — a word that some media outlets, including CBC, sometimes refuses to use — because of these cartoons. I've heard from some media people here in British Columbia on Twitter that have they disagree with CBC as well."

That, he noted, "is what's great about our country — that we actually take these things seriously."

Albas said he's also heard from constituents who wonder why CBC will not show the same concerns to not offend people of other faiths.

"When you arbitrarily pick and choose what faiths are off limits for satire, that can be as divisive, and does not promote equality," he argued.

"Either all faiths are off limits, or all are fair game. I think that's the point that Canadians in my riding want CBC to hear."

'We should embrace the debate'

Albas hopes that, as  a result of his report, "we can have this discussion" — and he wasn't surprised to hear his Conservative colleague, Peter Kent, defending CBC's policy.

"Our Conservative caucus has shown to be the most diverse in the House of Commons, so his comments don't really surprise me," he noted.

"This is an area that some will disagree on, but we should embrace the debate," he added.

"The whole point of my report was to raise these concerns, but also to point out that our success as a country is predicated on being able to handle these issues in an open an d clear way without intimidation or fear of reprisal."

At the moment, however, it doesn't sound like he plans to post the images to his own website, or retweet through his Twitter account.

"I'm raising concerns as a representative of the people, specifically about CBC — It's not my role," he said.

"No, there's nothing stopping me, that's absolutely correct — that's the first suggestion that I've had. But my overall concern is to make sure that these concerns are raised in a way that we can have the discussion on it."

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