More than six months after Ezra Levant ranted on his show, The Source, about the Roma community — sparking outcries and an ongoing hate crime investigation — he and Sun News Network vice-president Kory Teneycke issued an on-air apology Monday. Eric Mark Do reports. The apology came on the same day that Sun News Network filed papers with CRTC seeking a five-year mandatory coverage digital basic deal in an attempt to mitigate its nearly $17-million a year losses, J-Source associate editor Tamara Baluja reports.

By Eric Mark Do

More than six months after Ezra Levant ranted on his show about the Roma community — sparking outcry and a ongoing hate crime investigation — he and Sun News Network vice-president Kory Teneycke issued an on-air apology Monday. Levant's apology aired on the same day that Sun News Network submitted their final application to the CRTC in a bid to gain mandatory carriage on basic cable. Levant said on his show: 

“There were some criticisms after that show, but I dismissed them as coming from the usual soft-on-crime liberals and grievance groups. But when I look at some of the words I used in that show – like "the gypsies have gypped us" – I must admit that I did more than just attack a crime or immigration fraud problem. I attacked a particular group, and painted them all with the same brush. And to those I hurt, I'm sorry.”

On the Sept. 5 episode of The Source, Levant repeatedly referred to the Roma as gypsies and called them “swindlers” who “have come here as false refugees. And they come here to gyp us again and rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries.” He added, “One of the central characteristics of that culture is that their chief economy is theft and begging.”

On Sept. 17, Sun News Network issued an on-screen apology:

"Two weeks ago on the Sun News program “The Source” we looked at the issue of Canadian refugee claims by the Roma people. Following the broadcast we received a number of complaints from viewers who felt the broadcast reinforced negative stereotypes about the Roma people. We have completed a review of the material and we agree that this content was inappropriate and should not have gone to air. It was not the intent of Sun News, or anyone employed by Sun News, to promote negative stereotypes about the Roma people. We regret our error in these broadcasts, and we apologize unreservedly to the Roma people and to you, our viewers. Sun News is on your side."

The latest apology comes a month before Sun News Network's hearing with the CRTC on April 23 that will determine whether it receives mandatory carriage on basic cable. Sun News Network cited this apology in its application as an example of voluntarily issuing a correction and apology “when we believe we have made an error or violated the CBSC’s codes.” According to the CRTC's criteria for mandatory distribution on digital basic, a network's programming should fit the composition of basic service, which among other things, “serves to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada” and “reflects and contributes to Canada’s linguistic duality and ethno-cultural diversity.”

Teneycke painted Levant in a positive light before telling him, “you [Levant] crossed a line on this one and I don't think it was done for any reason of malice or with any ill motivation at heart — I think you were trying to be entertaining — but words matter in this business and I think you crossed the line.” He added that the broadcast should never have gone to air and that it's the network's responsibility to have checks and balances in place as a preventative measure. “That part is ultimately my responsibility, and so we're very sorry and I'm very sorry that we're even in this position,” he said.

When J-Source first reported that a hate crime investigation was launched by the Toronto Police in response to a complaint from the Roma Community Centre, the centre's executive director Gina Csanyi-Robah said the apology “was supposed to come from Ezra Levant.” She added that “it was basically words on a screen, it wasn't even a face.”

Now that Levant went on air to give his apology on Monday, Csanyi-Robah says although the Roma Community Centre accepts the apology, she questions whether it was genuine — and she questions the timing.“I don't think that it is quite sincere at all,” she said. “If there was any sincerity toward it, it would have been done around the time that it happened and not six months later.”

The apology comes on the heels of a meeting attended by Csanyi-Robah, police officers, the deputy attorney general, lawyers and other members of the community held at the attorney general's office last Thursday. Csanyi-Robah says they discussed the findings of the hate crime investigation.

“This is a very calculated response by Ezra Levant,” she said, adding that it feels to her that the timing is coincidental. “One of the things we had discussed in that meeting [with Deputy Attorney General Patrick Monahan] was any lack of remorse or lack of apology from Ezra Levant himself.”

Toronto Police Constable Victor Kwong confirmed to J-Source the findings in the hate crime investigation have been turned over to the attorney general's office, which is a normal process, he said.

Sun News Network vice president Teneycke painted Levant in a positive light on Monday’s segment before telling him, “you [Levant] crossed a line on this one and I don't think it was done for any reason of malice or with any ill motivation at heart — I think you were trying to be entertaining — but words matter in this business and I think you crossed the line.” He added that the broadcast should never have gone to air and that it's the network's responsibility to have checks and balances in place as a preventative measure. “That part is ultimately my responsibility, and so we're very sorry and I'm very sorry that we're even in this position,” he said.

Csanyi-Robah said she doubts that either Teneycke's or Levant's apologies were pure.

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“The words were very well-chosen, and carefully chosen in his apology. I am absolutely sure that he's doing this because he's scared of this actually going into a court of law.” 

Transcript of Levant's apology from March 18:

I host the most controversial news show in Canada, The Source.

If there's some politically correct sacred cow out there, it's my job to barbecue it. From exposing David Suzuki's outrageous speaking fees to taking a run at corrupt Indian chiefs, I do it with gusto every day. I try to be entertaining as well as informative, using drama and sarcasm, and the occasional dance moves. And I always make sure to poke the most fun at myself – including reading gems from my hate mail every day.

Last summer, I talked about a grave problem in Ontario – a 400-person crime ring, all recent immigrants from Romania, busted by Durham Regional Police. I let it rip against crime and immigration fraud, and for the most part it was just a pretty good rant, the kind I love to do, poking fun at the gypsies who had been arrested, and even poking fun at myself as a Jew.

There were some criticisms after that show, but I dismissed them as coming from the usual soft-on-crime liberals and grievance groups. But when I look at some of the words I used in that show – like "the gypsies have gypped us" – I must admit that I did more than just attack a crime or immigration fraud problem. I attacked a particular group, and painted them all with the same brush. And to those I hurt, I'm sorry.

As a Canadian citizen and a journalist, I enjoy freedom of speech. Without that right, we would not be a democracy.

But as someone who seeks to influence the public debate, I have to think about the words I choose. It's just wrong to slur a group of people. I made the moral mistake of judging people collectively.

I owe a duty to my employer, who has allowed me to be the freest journalist in Canada, and has defended me against every attempt to silence me. I owe a duty to my viewers to give them the most thoughtful arguments I can. And I owe it to my own philosophy of liberty to judge people as individuals.

As the philosopher Ayn Rand explained, the problem with stereotyping is that it's "the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man's genetic lineage… that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors."

There's nothing wrong with going after a criminal gang.

But it's wrong to brand an entire community with a broad brush – I wouldn't like it as a Jew, and the whole point of my crusade against the Indian Act is to free ordinary Indians from the corrupt chiefs who rule them. I am an anti-racism activist.

I remain concerned about immigration fraud and crime gangs, but I can be better in the way I express those concerns.

The Source is a show about ideas. I want my words to spur debate. When my show is finished on any given day, I want viewers to discuss these matters at the dinner table and write their MPs.

I don't apologize simply for the sake of being consistent in my views. I regret having made these statements and I'm hopeful that those remarks will serve as an example of what not to do when commenting on social issues. I have the privilege of commenting regularly in this forum and I'm committed to doing so responsibly.