Some members of Montreal’s Indian community are accusing a popular Quebec New Year’s Eve show of culture appropriation. There was one particular segment of “Bye-bye” on Radio-Canada that some are calling offensive and disrespectful.
“It’s not the first time I’m experiencing prejudice or racism,” said McGill student Ashwin Nair. “I see it as racism.”
“Bye-bye” is well known for poking fun at politicians and the 2018 version was no different.
In one segment, an actor depicted Justin Trudeau smoking cannabis, then breaking out into a Bollywood-style dance. It was an obvious jab at the prime minister’s controversial trip to India last February. The segment has created anger among some Indian Montrealers.
“If you saw the way Prime Minister Trudeau’s actor in the skit was dancing, it’s very mocking of classic Indian dance,” said Nair, a professional dancer himself.
In the same segment, a gorilla with Donald Trump-style hair knocks over some paper cut-out cows.
“In our culture, cows are very sacred to some Hindus. To have cows kicked is very insulting,” said Ina Bhowmick, who also does Indian dancing and is the founder of Bollywood Blast.
The Trudeau character also acts as a snake charmer, but instead of snakes coming out of baskets, it’s gas pumps.
“Snake charmers are healers and to depict them in this way is actually a mockery of their ancient tradition,” added Bhowmick.
For both Bhowmick and Nair, the fact that this was put forward by Canada’s public broadcaster makes it even worse.
“They have a responsibility to all of us living here in Canada to treat us with respect. Is that too much to ask?” wondered Bhowmick.
“Radio-Canada is a Crown corporation and for something coming from the government to insult a group of Canadians, because we are Canadians first and foremost, I don’t think that’s acceptable,” said Nair.
Fo Niemi of the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations said this type of controversy is nothing new for Bye-bye.
“In 2008, you can recall Bye-bye made a lot of negative portrayals of Obama using the N-word,” Niemi told Global News.
When Global News reached out to Radio-Canada for comment, a spokesperson pointed to a Facebook response.
The Facebook comment says the “intention was in no way to disrespect the Indian community,” and the skit is “caricature and humorous, and should be perceived as such.”
“It hurts my feelings that no one will take a moment to listen to what we have to say,” said Bhowmick.
“Humour is not a license to offend, especially when there is a racial, ethnic culture bias in there,” said Niemi.
Bhowmick is looking into filing a complaint with the CRTC.