Sun News Network's Ezra Levant issued a rare on-air apology Monday, saying he hoped his comments about the Roma "will serve as an example of what not to do when commenting on social issues."
The television host sparked widespread criticism late last year when he went on a tirade against the Roma, after news reports surfaced about a crime ring operating in the Greater Toronto Area that focused on the ethnicity of those accused.
He said the Roma – who originate from Europe but have been in Canada for decades – are "a culture synonymous with swindlers … one of the central characteristics of that culture is that their chief economy is theft and begging."
In a statement after the show aired, the executive director of the Roma Community Centre described the television segment as "nearly nine minutes of on-air racist hate-speech targeting our community."
Mr. Levant said Monday in a voluntary apology during his television show that he was wrong to equate the actions of some individuals with an entire ethnic group. His original broadcast used the outdated term "gypsies" frequently, causing some in Canada's Roma community to ask police to investigate him for hate crimes.
"There were some criticisms afterwards, but I dismissed them as coming from the usual soft-on-crime liberals and grievance groups," he said. "But when I look at some of the words I used last summer – like 'the gypsies have gypped us' – I must admit that I did more than just attack a crime or immigration fraud problem. I attacked a particular group, and painted them all with the same brush. And to those I hurt, I'm sorry."
Sun News, which is losing $17-million a year as it tries to gain a foothold on Canadian televisions, is asking Canada's broadcast regulator to place the channel on basic cable packages across the country to help it win over viewers on a crowded dial.
The channel – and Mr. Levant in particular – has drawn the attention of ethics regulators since it launched. In one incident, Mr. Levant was forced to apologize on air for telling a Spanish banana executive, in Spanish, to have sex with his own mother.
The channel's executives must convince regulators next month that it's a service that contributes positively and uniquely to Canadian culture if it hopes to win its request for mandatory carriage.
Monday's apology wasn't made at the request of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which has the power to request such apologies if it investigates a complaint and feels it necessary (although it has received complaints in this case).
Mr. Levant said he felt he went too far, adding that "it's just wrong to slur a group of people."
"I don't apologize simply for the sake of being consistent in my views," he said. "I regret having made these statements and I'm hopeful that those remarks will serve as an example of what not to do when commenting on social issues. I have the privilege of commenting regularly in this forum and I'm committed to doing so responsibly."
Sun News vice-president Kory Teneycke also appeared on the show Monday, calling Mr. Levant a "happy warrior" as he gently took him to task for the comments.
"You crossed the line on this one, but I don't think it was done for reasons of malice or any ill motivation," he said. "I think you were trying to be entertaining, but words matter in this business and I think you crossed the line."
He added that the segment should never have made it to air, but added that the network "wears it as a badge of honour that in a voluntary way we correct things when we make a mistake."
Gina Csanyi-Robah, executive director of the Roma Community Centre in Toronto, said the apology struck her as insincere. She approached the police with a complaint and also submitted complaints to broadcast regulators.
"I don't think there was any sincerity whatsoever," she said late Monday. "At the same time I'm glad he finally said something, even if it was six months after his vile hatred was strewn across the airwaves."
Ms. Csanyi-Robah said she would invite Mr. Levant to a film screening on Thursday in Toronto to learn about the plight of the Roma in Europe, and said if he was serious about wanting to learn she would be willing to go on his show to set the record straight.
"He said he made some inappropriate remarks," she said. "Well, hello - he made racist remarks. He compared us to the Bloods and the Crips, he said the only true Romas were tomatoes, he denied our existence as an ethnic group ... if he's really sorry, he should show he's making an effort to learn about our community."
Read Ezra Levant's apology
March 18 on The Source with Ezra Levant
I host the most controversial news show in Canada The Source.
If there's some politically correct sacred cow out there, it's my job to barbecue it. From exposing David Suzuki's outrageous speaking fees to taking a run at corrupt Indian chiefs, I do it with gusto every day. I try to be entertaining as well as informative, using drama and sarcasm, and the occasional dance moves. And I always make sure to poke the most fun at myself - including reading gems from my hate mail every day.
Last summer, I talked about a grave problem in Ontario - a 400-person crime ring, all recent immigrants from Romania, busted by Durham Regional Police. I let it rip against crime and immigration fraud and for the most part it was just a pretty good rant. The kind I love to do, poking fun at the gypsies who had been arrested, and even poking fun at myself as a Jew.
There were some criticisms afterwards, but I dismissed them as coming from the usual soft-on-crime liberals and grievance groups. But when I look at some of the words I used last summer, like the gypsies have gypped us, I must admit that I did more than just attack a crime or immigration fraud problem. I attacked a particular group, and painted them all with the same brush. And to those I hurt, I'm sorry.
As a Canadian citizen and a journalist I enjoy freedom of speech. Without that right, we would not be a democracy. But as someone who seeks to influence the public debate, I have to think about the words I choose. It's just wrong to slur a group of people. I made the moral mistake of judging people collectively. I owe a duty to my employer, who has allowed me to be the freest journalist in Canada, and has defended me against every attempt to silence me. I owe a duty to my viewers to give them the most thoughtful arguments I can. And I owe it to my own philosophy of liberty to judge people as individuals.
As the philosopher Ayn Rand explained the problem with stereotyping is that it's "the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man's genetic lineage... that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors."
There's nothing wrong with going after a criminal gang. But it's wrong to brand an entire community with a broad brush - I wouldn't like it as a Jew, and the whole point of my crusade against the Indian Act is to free ordinary Indians from the corrupt chiefs who rule them.
I am an anti-racism activist.
I remain concerned about immigration fraud and crime gangs, but I can be better in the way I express those concerns. The Source is a show about ideas. I want my words to spur debate. When my show is finished on any given day, I want viewers to discuss these matters at the dinner table and write their MP's.
I don't apologize simply for the sake of being consistent in my views. I regret having made these statements and I'm hopeful that those remarks will serve as an example of what not to do when commenting on social issues. I have the privilege of commenting regularly in this forum and I'm committed to doing so responsibly.