Posted on May 18, 2005

Racist Slurs Taint B.C. Election Campaign

Jane Armstrong, Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 16

Vancouver — In B.C.’s Surrey-Newton riding, where more than half the residents are visible minorities including both leading candidates, the issue of race has vaulted to the top of the agenda in the waning days of the campaign.

The discovery on the weekend of racist pamphlets apparently aimed at Liberal candidate Daniel Igali, an Olympic gold medalist, has touched off a wave of heated accusations between Mr. Igali and his New Democratic opponent Harry Bains.

The leaflets, which popped up on Saturday, have the words “don’t vote ugly black” over Mr. Igali’s picture and “vote pretty brown” under Mr. Bains’s, who is Indo-Canadian.

Mr. Igali, who came to Canada from Nigeria in 1996, spent Saturday condemning the leaflets and hoped to put the issue to rest.

“I just dismissed them and told everyone to discard them and told them it was the work of somebody with a sick mind,” Mr. Igali said.

“I just pray to God that He forgives anyone who still has that kind of mindset in the 21st century. Especially in the kind of riding we live in, where it’s a multicultural riding with a lot of visible minorities — and a lot of the candidates running are visible minorities too.”

He also hoped his NDP rival would condemn the pamphlets and publicly distance the party from the offensive material.

Instead, the two rivals launched a bitter back-and-forth, with each candidate accusing the other camp of using dirty tactics in the tightly contested suburban Vancouver riding.

Mr. Bains’s campaign responded by denouncing the offensive leaflets, but suggested they could be the work of Liberals.

“It’s an act of desperation,” Mr. Bains said yesterday. “You have to ask yourself: ‘Who is this going to help? Who is this going to hurt?’

“It is going to hurt my campaign. An attempt is being made to help someone other than me. Who would do that?”

Mr. Bains did not accuse the Liberals by name of distributing the pamphlets, but said he believed they were the work of desperate people “from other camps.”

And he pulled out an anecdote from the campaign which left little doubt as to whom he believes is making mischief.

While knocking on doors in Surrey a few weeks ago, Mr. Bains said, a woman told him a caller who identified herself as a Liberal phoned to ask whether she was supporting Mr. Igali. When the resident said no, the caller asked whether that was because Mr. Igali is black. The resident was offended by the comment and told Mr. Bains. Mr. Bains said then that he was prepared to stay silent about the incident — until the pamphlets dropped.

“Now, when this kind of stuff is coming out, it seems to me to be strategically designed that way,” he said.

By yesterday, Mr. Igali, who won a gold medal in wrestling at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, was as furious at the NDP response as he was at the news of the racist leaflets.

“What upset me was — that they tried to put a spin on it,” Mr. Igali said.

“Let me just tell you what I would have done . . . I would have called Harry Bains’s office and I would have told him right away . . . ‘Listen, there are pamphlets like this going around. You know I would never be involved with something like that. If anyone sees them, they should completely discard them and throw them away and let’s together call a press conference and address this, because this is wrong and should never have happen.’ “

Instead, Mr. Igali said, the NDP are casting blame on the Liberals.

“And that is what was most disappointing of all. And I made that known.”

The contest in Surrey-Newton is a tight one. Mr. Igali, who was recruited as a star candidate for the Liberals, is running neck and neck with Mr. Bains, a union leader.

Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell has distanced the Liberals from the pamphlets. On Saturday, he said his party had nothing to do with leaflets, one of which appeared in a shopping cart at a Surrey grocery store.

“Our campaign has checked, we have absolutely nothing to do with it,” Mr. Campbell said. “There is no one associated with me who would do this. . . I can’t find the words to describe that kind of thing, I would find it amazing that anyone would even suggest it would be out of any legitimate campaign.”