St. Catharines anti-racism committee wants Jeff Dunham comedy show cancelled
Comedy that relies on racism isn't funny, committee chair says
St. Catharines's anti-racism advisory committee is asking city council to cancel Jeff Dunham's comedy show at the Meridian Centre in November — but officials at the city-owned venue have not yet announced their plans.
Jeff Dunham is an American comedian best known for his ventriloquism. He gained global popularity in the 2000s but has also faced criticism in the past for portraying characters that rely on racial stereotypes.
Some of the characters on his current tour include a dead terrorist named Achmed and a "totally legal" jalapeño on a stick named José.
He's set to make a stop at the Meridian Centre on Nov. 20. Dunham's team didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Saleh Waziruddin, chair of the anti-racism advisory committee, told CBC Hamilton comedy that relies on racism isn't funny.
"What people need to understand is there's a lot of harm caused by these kinds of so called "comedy,"" he said. "Other people will hear it and think it's OK to be racist and misogynist and homophobic."
Venue 'committed' to providing safe environment
Kay Meilleur, the Meridian Centre's marketing director, said in an email the views expressed by acts aren't necessarily shared by the venue or staff, and said they present acts for a diverse community.
"ASM Global and the Meridian Centre remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a safe environment for all fans and employees who choose to attend an event, while supporting those groups who choose not to attend due to content that might be viewed by some as offensive," Meilleur wrote in an email.
Waziruddin notes the city has an Rzone policy that applies to city recreational properties and states the municipality has zero tolerance for things like racism.
... there's a lot of harm caused by these kinds of so called "comedy." Other people will hear it and think it's OK to be racist and misogynist and homophobic.- Saleh Waziruddin, chair of the anti-racism advisory committee
He said that policy should apply in this context given the Meridian Centre is city-owned.
Waziruddin said Dunham's show coming to the city is bad timing, especially given recent hate crimes and incidents, like a string of racist and homophobic graffiti near the downtown core.
City council to discuss motion Monday evening
Coun. Greg Miller, who is also on the committee, is putting forward a motion Monday before city council, calling on the city to ask ASM Global to consider cancelling the show.
The motion also asks city staff to create guiding principles for future performances at all city facilities with input from equity seeking groups and or advisory committees.
Miller said council likely doesn't want to be in the business of event management, but added it's important for councillors to listen to the anti-racism committee.
"I'm hopeful council will see the hypocrisy of asking fans who go to sporting events to not participate in intolerant behaviour abusive language and then paying someone to come to our city whose act has been called out in the past," he said.
"I don't think it's good enough to say 'it's just a joke.'"
Waziruddin said this is a chance for the city to be a leader, noting that Dunham is set to perform at other publicly-owned venues in Canada.
"We can't say we're a compassionate city with no place for racism when this kind of performance comes to town and we do nothing about it. We have to stop it," he said.