THUNDER BAY -- The fallout from a controversial political ad is still haunting the city’s daily newspaper.
About two dozen Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal protestors gathered Thursday outside the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal’s Cumberland Street headquarters for a rally espousing anger at the paper for running a racially charged ad during the recent election campaign by outspoken Libertarian candidate Tamara Johnson.
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy said he was shocked the paper allowed the ad, which suggested First Nations people believed in a culture of entitlement and think themselves above the law and owed a debt by today’s taxpayer, to run within its pages.
Beardy said he’s concerned that if people don’t stand out and voice their disfavor with the paper and the attitudes the advertisement encouraged, racism will continue to escalate in Thunder Bay.
“It’s important we come out and deal with it before it gets out of hand,” Beardy said, adding he knows many of the sentiments expressed by Johnson in the ad are shared by people in the community.
“We need to deal with it collectively, not just one group, but all members of society from the grassroots community level needs to figure out how to strengthen our relationships.”
It was a mistake to run the ad, Beardy added, saying the paper must make more space available for First Nation stories.
“We need to be given space with the CJ to make sure that our stories as First Nations people are published, our successes, our challenges, so that it educates the general public. Racism comes because of a lack of information or outright ignorance,” Beardy said.
“I think it’s very important with the newspaper and the media that space is given to us to be able to tell our stories.”
He added that the calmness of the protest suggest people want to co-exist peacefully.
Chronicle Journal publisher Clint Harris, who has agreed to print submissions from First Nations groups, said he has no regrets about allowing Johnson’s ad to run in the June 10 edition of his paper.
According to Harris the ad sparked a much-needed dialogue in the community.
“It’s created this,” he said, pointing to the protestors. “It’s created awareness and I think it’s about time,” he said.
Harris said he’s not worried about any long-lasting negativity toward the Chronicle Journal.
“I think the newspaper has a role to play and I believe the newspaper will come out on top in almost any circumstance, not allowing censorship and making sure people get their say in whatever media there is,” he said.
“If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be a newspaper and it’s important that people get to say what they need to say to make sure the information that gets to the community is accurate.”
Peterborough’s John Fox made the trek to Thunder Bay for the protest and said the advertisement has ramifications across the country and did nothing but foster hatred and division. There’s already enough fear in the First Nations community. And it’s unnecessary, he said.
“So far what I’m hearing this morning is they want to be recognized as contributors to this community and that stereotypes shouldn’t be allowed and that racism shouldn’t be tolerated by anybody. That’s why you have Native and non-Native people at this rally. We want to try to bridge the community to move away from what’s been going on.”