MONTREAL — A Radio-Canada radio host’s comments about a Sabbath-observing Jewish hockey player did not meet the Broadcasting Act’s “high standard requirement,” but they weren’t abusive under the regulations of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the regulatory body has ruled.
The CRTC was referring to some of Joël Le Bigot’s remarks on the talk shows Pourquoi pas dimanche and Samedi et rien d’autre about the religious identity and practices of then-Quebec Remparts player Benjamin Rubin, which the host made on at least five occasions in September and October 2006.
While the comments were intended to be humourous, the CRTC concluded they were “gratuitous and repetitive, and that the manner in which the radio host chose to comment on the topic, including his choice of words, was inappropriate and uncalled for.”
However, it continues, the comments, “when taken in context, did not expose the Jewish community to hatred or contempt” or ridicule the player.
Radio-Canada is the CBC’s French-language network.
An individual filed three separate complaints with the CRTC about the comments, as well as others Le Bigot made on the same shows going back to December 2005 concerning Jews, as well as one about Muslims. He said he found them deeply offensive, both to himself and the Jewish community.
Le Bigot’s comments about what is taught in Jewish religious schools and kosher/halal slaughter were found by the CRTC to not be abusive nor to have failed to meet the “high standard” requirement.
The CRTC did find that Radio-Canada failed to meet the high standard by broadcasting Le Bigot’s commentary in September 2006 suggesting that Muslim women wearing burqas may be hiding explosives under the garment.
The remarks, it says, “imply that Muslims, simply by adhering to cultural or religious norms of wearing a veil, are likely to be or are automatically capable of being terrorists.”
The complainant alleged that Le Bigot, sometimes with a guest, had “ridiculed” Rubin for his refusal to play on Friday nights and by suggesting sports teams should not hire observant Jews.
The complainant also objected to Le Bigot’s referring Rubin as “notre ami, le hassidique” (“our friend the Chassid”) and “votre hassidique” (“your Chassid”) and to his “forelocks,” as well as to his suggestion that residents of Hutchison Street in Montreal (where many Chassidim live) should be consulted before the player received a penalty, as this may not be kosher or in keeping with the Torah.
The CBC acknowledged that referring to the player as “le hassidique” and the like was “unfortunate and that the radio host’s choice of words was not in the best of taste” and expressed its regrets.
It said the matter was discussed with Le Bigot “to ensure that he clearly understood that even if there was not ill intent on his part, such remarks have no place on public radio.” However, it made no apologies for his discussing the effects of Rubin regularly missing games for religious reasons.
(Rubin, although Orthodox, is not chassidic.)
The CRTC explained that Le Bigot’s remarks did not violate the act’s abusive comment regulations, because they were “not made in a serious or condescending tone” and “cannot be qualified as serious.”
“The commission considers that a reasonable listener to the conversation between the two parties may have found the remarks to be inappropriate, but would not have found, within the context, that the remarks were abusive or promoted hatred or contempt.”
The same person also complained that Le Bigot has said that Jewish schools teach that the earth is flat and that the sun rotates around the earth and are in violation of the education ministry’s curriculum requirements. He was especially offended because they were made in the aftermath of the firebombing of an Outremont yeshiva in September 2006.
The CBC and CRTC defended the comments, saying that there had been media reports that certain Jewish schools are, in fact, teaching these traditional chassidic beliefs.
“The CBC… noted that the comment on the firebombing of the Jewish Orthodox school was not meant to ridicule, but was the expression of a personal opinion on how certain Jewish lobbies reacted to this unfortunate incident,” the ruling states.
The CRTC said that this was legitimate opinion on an issue of public interest, namely, that of “chassidic institutions belonging to the parallel network of yeshivas that operate on the outer limits of the Education Act and where only religious instruction is offered, without any of the material on the curriculum” of the education ministry.
Similarly, the CRTC found that Le Bigot’s comments that slaughtering an animal by cutting its throat may be inhumane were permissible because he was raising questions concerning a current event.