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More visible minorities at closing, VANOC hints

Last Updated: Thursday, February 18, 2010 | 10:09 AM PT

From left to right, Betty Fox, Donald Sutherland, Jacques Villeneuve, Barbara Ann Scott, Anne Murray, Romeo Dallaire, Bobby Orr, Julie Payette carried the Olympic Flag during the opening ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, on Feb 12, 2010. From left to right, Betty Fox, Donald Sutherland, Jacques Villeneuve, Barbara Ann Scott, Anne Murray, Romeo Dallaire, Bobby Orr, Julie Payette carried the Olympic Flag during the opening ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, on Feb 12, 2010. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

VANOC CEO John Furlong is hinting Canada's racial diversity may be better represented in the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics after criticism that ethnic minorities were mostly missing from the opening.

With its large South Asian and Chinese communities, Metro Vancouver is one of Canada's most diverse regions. Forty-one per cent of residents are part of visible minorities. But none of that diversity appeared in the big show that opened the 2010 Winter Games on Feb 12, critics say.

'We can't force ourselves on VANOC if they don't welcome us.' — Charan Gill, CEO of Progressive Intercultural Community Services

Canadian-born Sukhi Sandhu wrote a letter to Furlong, saying Olympic organizers missed an opportunity during the final torch-lighting ceremony "to represent our nation's diversity."

Sandhu said he and his family are proud Canadians and excited to attend events at the Games, but he was disappointed visible minorities were excluded from key roles during the opening ceremony.

"If I look at the eight individuals who carried the Olympic flag and the final torchbearers, who are all rightfully outstanding Canadians — no one is disputing that — however, out of 13 people there isn't one outstanding visible minority that you could think of — David Suzuki, Donovan Bailey, Jerome Iginla or Daniel Igali," Sandu said.

Closing ceremony could offer more

This is not the first time the opening ceremony has been criticized for its lack of diversity. Federal Heritage Minister James Moore said earlier this week that "there should have been more French."

The 2½-hour show that opened the Olympics in BC Place did include a segment showing immigrant families — including visible minorities — arriving in a cold northern ice land.

It also featured a strong First Nations segment, and segments highlighting the rainforests of the West Coast, eastern Canada's fiddling tradition, and the openness of the Prairies.

On Wednesday, Furlong defended the opening ceremony but hinted the closing on Feb. 28 will be different.

"We did a very good job of showing Canada and we had a goal to tell a story, and at the closing ceremony … we will have a very certain kind of celebration, and I don't think you'll have any doubt when the ceremonies are over who we are and who's here."

The traditional Lion Dance was part of an special Olympic celebration held in Vancouver's Chinatown to mark the Olympics in Beijing in August 2008. 
The traditional Lion Dance was part of an special Olympic celebration held in Vancouver's Chinatown to mark the Olympics in Beijing in August 2008. (CBC)

Sandhu said he doesn't want to just see bhangra dancers or hear drumbeats. He wants to see accomplished visible minorities represented in the closing ceremony.

"Our nation is a cultural mosaic, and our diversity is our strength and frankly I am surprised in 2010 we need to continue educating our leaders on this Canadian value," he wrote. "There is no shame or justifiable reason to not showcase this significant part of our nation’s identity."

His concerns are echoed by Peter Kwok, the chairman of the immigrant services organization SUCCESS, which provides services for new Chinese Canadians.

"You know we have Chinese New Year, just a few days ago and when attending all those New Year's celebrations I have been chatting with people and I've heard from quite a few people that they, too, feel that it was a spectacular show," Kwok said. "And they only wish that they had a bit more portrayal of the multiculturalism in Canada."

Charan Gill, the CEO of the Progressive Intercultural Community Services, an immigrant organization based in Surrey, B.C., said he tried to reach out to VANOC to encourage more visible minorities to get involved and volunteer for the Games but got no response.

"We can't force ourselves on VANOC if they don't welcome us," he said.

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