Nova Scotia

Immigrant agency says band's song sends wrong message to newcomers

The Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia says the Stanfields' lyric, "I don't think much of strangers" is unwelcoming to newcomers. But band frontman Jon Landry says the song, written in 2012, is being misinterpreted.

The lyric, 'I don't think much of strangers,' is hurtful, says executive director of ISANS

Gerry Mills, executive director of ISANS, said she hopes the lyrics are meant to be sarcastic, but she doesn't think they are. (Steve Berry/CBC)

A Halifax-based organization that works with immigrants to build new lives in Canada is taking issue with song lyrics from a local band, saying the words are unwelcoming to newcomers. 

Last week, CBC's Information Morning aired the song A Free Country by the Stanfields, in which frontman Jon Landry sings, "I don't think much of strangers, much of you or your kind, you best fit in or you're free to find a better place to be."

Gerry Mills, executive director of the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, said the organization was contacted by a community member who was upset by what she'd heard.

'Words can be weapons'

"The reality is words are usually taken at their face value and people in the public domain, and that includes bands, they have to understand that words can be weapons and that they can hurt," said Mills, whose organization is one of the largest immigrant-serving agencies in Atlantic Canada.

After Mills heard the complaint, she played the song for about 10 people at a meeting and said there was complete silence.

"There are many songs that have racist, sexist or have violent content and I wouldn't normally respond, but somehow when it's a band based in Halifax and when it gets played by the CBC in the morning to thousands of listeners here in Nova Scotia, it gets to be more personal," said Mills.

Lyrics meant to be sarcastic 

The song, which Landry wrote in 2012, appears on the Stanfields's album For King and Country.

"The song was written deep in the [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper era, where we were ... selling off our resources to the highest bidder and basically wholesale stripping our country of its compassion and natural resources all at the same time," Landry told CBC.

The song, he explained, is written from that perspective.

The lyrics go on to say: "I don't care about the noise, I don't care about the numbers. This wonderland is mine to run and I'll do what I please. I do what I do, 'cause I have the right to do it. To strip from post to pillar from the mountains to the sea."

Stanfields songwriter Jon Landry, centre, said he wrote the song "deep in the Harper era." (KT Lamond/The Stanfields)

"I can tell you unequivocally that the song itself was written the polar opposite view of how it was being perceived," said Landry. 

Landry said when he plays the song live he tells the story behind it, and that until now, he'd never had a complaint. 

"I'm sorry if somebody interprets it the wrong way, you know, the way I didn't mean it," he said. 

"But then again, at the same time, our job as songwriters is to create these kind of conversations and I have no problem with that.

With files from CBC's Information Morning