The campaign to spare Canada's most controversial radio station from the regulatory axe moves to the steps of Parliament Hill tomorrow, where one notorious shock jock and 2,000 of his supporters are headed for a boisterous protest.
About 50 busloads of people are scheduled to arrive in Ottawa from Quebec City, which is the chief battleground in the fight to prevent the silencing of CHOI-FM in three weeks time.
Among the protesters is morning host Jean-François (Jeff) Fillion, whose often inflammatory on-air commentary contributed to the decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission not to renew the station's licence after its expiry Aug. 31.
"The people of Quebec City want the CRTC to know that the sentence it imposed is much too severe," said Alexandre Caron, a vice-president of Genex Communications Inc., owners of CHOI-FM.
Mr. Caron acknowledged yesterday that the radio station "made mistakes," but he insisted it is ready to seek a compromise with the CRTC that would avert its demise.
"We're ready to change," he said in an interview. "We're not seeking total absolution, but you can find solutions without imposing the death penalty."
The station also plans to present a petition of support signed by 154,000 people tomorrow. The protesters who will descend on Parliament Hill are angry over the CRTC decision to not renew CHOI's licence because of a recurring pattern of invective from its morning hosts.
Widespread displeasure over the ruling continues to generate headlines and letters to the editor in Quebec. The radio station has even found some unlikely allies among provincial politicians, despite the fact they've been regular fodder for its hosts' most acerbic comments.
Premier Jean Charest has added his voice to the critics of the CRTC ruling. He said last week he wants Quebec to be better represented within the federal agency and called for an administrative agreement with Ottawa to give the province a greater say on rulings that affect it.
He said the CRTC needed to demonstrate "sensitivity" toward Quebec's language and culture. An administrative deal would rule out the need for constitutional amendments, since the regulation of Canada's airwaves is a federal jurisdiction, he added.
Mr. Charest rejected a proposal by Mario Dumont, leader of Action Démocratique du Québec, to recall the National Assembly to debate a law giving the province control over its broadcast industry. The Premier said such a law would be illegal.
CHOI also wants to appeal the CRTC decision in Federal Court. For its part, however, the federal watchdog agency says it is on solid ground in revoking the top station's licence because it ignored repeated warnings over on-air content that violates Canada's Broadcasting Act.
Tomorrow's protest in Ottawa is to feature Mr. Fillion and afternoon radio host Gilles Parent, as well as Quebec punk rock group Les Pistolets Roses.