Too Asian?

On 25 January 1980, students in Toronto and Edmonton staged protests at CTV and its affiliated stations, protesting the controversial W5 program "Campus Giveaway." Strong reaction to the program resulted in the creation of the Chinese Canadian National Council (courtesy Chinese Canadian National Council).

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In November 2010, Maclean’s magazine published an article titled “Too Asian?” that examined American practices of abandoning merit as the sole basis for admission in favour of more racially significant, and racist, criteria and claimed that similar practices are becoming a matter of concern on Canadian university campuses. University administrators hesitated to discuss the issue, but it is a hot topic for students, according to the magazine. The issue is not about racism, claim students, but that White students are more likely to seek a university experience that is about more than academics—they build their school lives around social activities, athletics and self-actualization—whereas Asian students tend to be more single-minded in their approach, striving to be high achievers and working harder. According to Maclean’s, this throws off the balance of the student body, privileging Asian students, and requires sacrifices White students are not willing to make. Asian students, both from Canada and abroad, say they are resented for taking the spots of White students.

The Maclean’s article was alarmingly similar to a 1979 episode of CTV’s W5 program called "The Campus Giveaway." Over footage of Asian-looking faces in a pharmacy class at the University of Toronto, the show declared that "foreign" students were invading Canadian universities, and that the federal government was subsidizing their education and denying Canadian students the opportunity of higher education.

The W5 episode politicized Chinese communities across Canada. Outraged, several joined together to protest the show. They countered that the story ignored the possibility that such individuals could be Canadian. Supported by other ethnic communities and by politicians, they filed official complaints that the program was false and misleading and incited racist sentiment, in violation, therefore, of human rights and broadcasting standards. In the face of mounting public pressure, W5 aired a terse apology: "W5 regrets any offense that may unintentionally have been given to the Chinese Canadian community."

The apology did not satisfy. Finally, CTV issued a fuller apology: "Although it was never our intention to produce a racist program, there is no doubt that the distorted statistics, combined with our visual presentation, made the program appear racist in tone and effect… We sincerely apologize for the fact that Chinese Canadians were depicted as foreigners, and for whatever distress this stereotyping may have caused them in the context of our multicultural society."

The response to the Maclean’s article included charges of racism and insensitivity. The magazine declared that "the trend toward race-based admission policies in some American schools is deplorable" and noted that Canadian universities select students "regardless of race or creed." At issue, said the magazine, is that universities risk becoming skewed, with a resulting change in campus life, and so the issue of race must be addressed. About the “Too Asian?” article, Maclean’s stated: “We expected that it would be provocative, but we did not intend to cause offense.”

Sound familiar?

Learn more:
“Too Asian?” is too simplified
On being “Too Asian?”