VANOC Won’t Change Closing Ceremony Despite Complaints From Ethnic Groups

Vanoc won't change closing ceremony despite complaints from ethnic groups

Vancouver Sun
February 17, 2010

Vancouver Olympic CEO John Furlong will not make changes to the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games despite complaints from leaders of the city's ethnic groups about the content of the opening ceremony.

High-profile members of some ethnic communities including Sukhi Sandhu and S.U.C.C.E.S.S. chairman Peter Kwok had complained that the opening ceremony omitted a crucial aspect of Canadian life, the culture mosaic and the role of immigrants in Canadian society.

Sandhu, an anti-racism activist and community volunteer who lives in Surrey, wrote to Furlong seeking a meeting with the Vancouver Organizing Committee to air their concerns, but four days later Sandhu has no reply.

Sandhu and others had hoped that visible minorities could be better showcased in the closing ceremony.

Furlong stressed Wednesday that the closing ceremony is already planned and that it will leave little doubt about “who we are and who is here.”

He said telling the story of a country made up of people from all over the world is a complex task, but the opening ceremony did a good job of reflecting Canada.

“We feel like having a good cry,” said Sandhu. “We are surprised that it takes this much energy to bring some common sense to people.”

“I'm not going to call any more, I'm not going to beg,” Sandhu said.

The opening ceremony included strong first nations participation both in the show and the dignitaries box. Four local first nations chiefs sat as heads of state to welcome the world along with Canada's Gov.-Gen. Michalle Jean and Premier Gordon Campbell. But the show contained little to represent the country's other major ethnic groups, critics said.

Canadian Heritage and Official Languages Minister James Moore, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Quebec Premier Jean Charest complained that the ceremony didn't include enough French language content.

Canada's Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser will be investigating the complaints, but because his mandate only allows him to probe federal institutions, he will confine his investigation to Moore's heritage ministry, according to an e-mail sent to Canwest News Service by Fraser's office.

Fraser will release a preliminary report on the level of bilingualism at the Games following their conclusion.

The complaints hinge on the $20 million in funding that Heritage Canada gave to the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the opening ceremony, the most-watched televised event in Canadian history.

“There is an agreement between the federal government … and Vanoc that came with a certain amount of funding,” said Robin Cantin, a spokesman for the language commissioner's office. “And that agreement came with some language provisions.”

Langara College sociologist Indira Prahst will watch the closing ceremony carefully for signs of respect to Canada's visible minorities, but she is not satisfied with Vanoc's response to complaints.

“I want to be blunt: This should have been addressed at the very outset,” she said. “We should have showcased our diversity. Is this just a quick response meant to pacify the community?”

“That's really not enough,” she said. “I told Sukhi and the others that they were unrealistic to expect major changes [to the ceremony] because there is so much work, planning and technology that goes into it.”

“But they could have a person from a visible minority speak.”

Read Randy Shore's blog at

with files from Lindsay Kines and Canwest News Service