Printed in the Edmonton Journal
Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Also reprinted in National Post, page A1
Click to view: [ Part 1 | Part 2 ]

Poster offends Asian-Canadians

'We don't like that,' Senator Vivienne Poy asserts

Bill Mah
Journal Staff Writer

A federal Heritage Department poster has offended some Canadians of Asian ancestry.

A poster unveiled by the federal government to honour Asian Heritage Month has offended some Asian-Canadians who say it promotes stereotypes of slanted eyes and coolie hats.

Kenda Gee, a filmmaker and co-founder of Edmonton's Asian Heritage Month activities, called the poster produced by the Heritage Department "disappointing, if not personally offensive.

"I would hope that those responsible for this intrusion will make a sincere effort to issue a formal apology."

The poster depicts cartoon-like drawings of 11 people wearing traditional Asian costumes, including a Thai-style headdress, a pointed Chinese hat and a Japanese kimono.

Many of the Asian faces are drawn with lines instead of eyeballs.

"The intent of the minister was to celebrate Asians, not to insult them," Senator Vivienne Poy said from Toronto.

"Unfortunately, whoever designed the poster obviously has some kind of stereotyped image of what Asians look like and what Asians are.

"I don't have slit eyes and most of the people I know don't have slit eyes."

Poy is the Chinese-Canadian politician who introduced a motion in 2001 for the Senate to adopt May as Asian Heritage Month to recognize the contributions of Asian-Canadians to the settlement and growth of the country and the diversity of the Asian community.

She said angry e-mails her office is receiving about the poster are being forwarded to Canadian Heritage.

Poy said Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps unveiled the poster in Ottawa at the minister's Forum on Diversity and Culture in late April. Before that, Poy was given an advance look at it. She warned Heritage officials that it might offend, but was told there wasn't time to make major changes.

"Why are people in costumes? We're talking about Asians who might have been here for generations," Poy said of Asian Heritage Month.

"We're not talking about the old country. I think most Asians would say 'Come on. We don't look like that.'"

But a Canadian Heritage spokeswoman said Tuesday a few people may be misinterpreting the work done by a professional artist.

"We're very saddened to think that some people may have misunderstood our intent," said Anne-Sophie Lawless.

"This person, I'm told, researched various Asian cultures, particularly in the depicting of the traditional clothing that they were wearing.

"The traditional dress was to represent their heritage and was designed to fit within the theme of Asian Heritage Month."

The two children in the poster depicted in "regular, everyday clothes that you would wear in Canada" showed not only where Asian-Canadians come from but "also what's happening
in Canada with the Asian community."

Gee said organizers of various Asian Heritage Month activities across Canada hadn't asked for the poster.

"You can see that it's a very simplistic depiction of Asians in their national costumes. Some of the organizers I've talked to across Canada have reacted with disgust or

In Ottawa, Jonas Ma, president of that city's chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council, is demanding the poster be recalled and pulled from the government's Web site. He
also calls for an apology.

Lawless said Heritage officials will follow up with people who complain but didn't know what specific plans the department has.

Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, who was in Regina Thursday, said the controversial poster was created by an artist.

"I don't do posters and surely you wouldn't expect that a minister is involved in the art," she said. "It's creative thinking that prevails and not the minister's opinion."

When asked if she would pull the poster, Copps said: "I haven't seen the poster. I think the poster was actually very well-received bycertain people in the community, but like
any poster, some people like the art and some don't. I'm not going to start deciding on the art."

With files from CanWest News Service