St. Catharines anti-racism committee wants Jeff Dunham comedy show canceled

St. Catharines’ Anti-Racism Advisory Committee is calling on City Council to cancel Jeff Dunham’s comedy show at the Meridian Center in November — but officials at the city-owned venue have yet to announce their plans.

Jeff Dunham is an American comedian best known for his ventriloquism. It gained worldwide popularity in the 2000s, but has also been criticized in the past for portraying characters that lean 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.

It is scheduled to stop at the Meridian Center on November 20. Dunham’s team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Saleh Waziruddin, chair of the anti-racism advisory committee, told CBC Hamilton that comedy that draws on racism is not funny.

« What people need to understand is that there’s a lot of harm done by this kind of so-called ‘comedy,' » he said. « Other people will hear it and think it’s okay to be racist, misogynistic and homophobic. »

Place « committed » to providing a safe environment

Meridian Center Marketing Director Kay Meilleur said in an email that the opinions expressed by the acts are not necessarily shared by the venue or the staff, and said they feature acts for a diverse community.

“ASM Global and the Meridian Center remain true to their commitment to providing a safe environment for all fans and employees who choose to attend an event, while supporting bands who choose not to attend due to content which might be considered by some to be offensive,” Meilleur wrote in an email.

Waziruddin notes that the city has an Rzone policy that applies to recreational properties in the city and states that the municipality has zero tolerance for things like racism.

…there is a lot of harm caused by this kind of so-called « comedy ». Other people will hear it and think it’s okay to be racist, misogynistic and homophobic.– Saleh Waziruddin, Chairman of the Anti-Racism Advisory Committee

He said the policy should apply in this context since the Meridian Center is owned by the city.

Waziruddin said Dunham’s upcoming show in the city is a bad time, especially given recent hate crimes and incidents, such as a spate of racist and homophobic graffiti near the city center.

City Council will discuss the motion on Monday evening

Com. Greg Miller, who is also on the committee, is bringing a motion Monday before city council, calling on the city to ask ASM Global to consider canceling the show.

The motion also directs city staff to create guiding principles for future performance at all city facilities with input from equity research groups and/or advisory committees.

Miller said council probably doesn’t want to deal with event management, but added it’s important councilors listen to the anti-racism committee.

« I hope the council will see the hypocrisy of asking fans who attend sporting events not to participate in intolerant behavior and pay for abusive language, and then pay someone to come to our city whose act has been denounced in the past, » he said.

« I don’t think it’s enough to say ‘it’s just a joke’. »

Waziruddin said it was a chance for the city to be a leader, noting Dunham is expected to perform in other public venues across Canada.

« We can’t say we’re a compassionate city with no room for racism when this kind of performance comes to town and we don’t do anything about it. We have to stop it, » he said.


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