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(July 9, 2001) MONTREAL -- The Black Coalition of Quebec has demanded an apology from organizers of the Montreal International Jazz Festival for a poster that it considers racist. The small but vocal group is promoting a product boycott of Jazz Fest sponsor La Brasserie Labatt, the Quebec arm of Labatt Breweries.

The poster is a caricature of a black man with thick lips wearing African clothing playing drums on bottle caps of Labatt Bleue beer bottles. Produced by Omnicom Group's BBDO Montreal, it is used on billboards, posters and pamphlets during the Jazz Fest currently under way. (the promotion also features a caricature of a white man using a beer bottle as a cello.)

Dan Philip, the coalition's president, said the ad regarding the black man is obscene and humiliating.

The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) -- a much bigger and long-established organization that defends minorities and specializes in research, education, litigation and training on anti-racism -- has been relatively less critical of the poster.

"It's dicey," said CRARR Executive Director Fo Nieme. "The ad does reinforce the stereotypes of blacks to some extent, and it's surprising that it wasn't noted in focus groups. The historical understanding isn't there."

Canada's black community is extra-sensitive right now following recent comments made by the mayor of Toronto, Mel Lastman, that garnered plenty of media attention. Mr. Lastman stated publicly that he was nervous about an upcoming trip to Africa, saying, "I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me."

It's thought that Mr. Lastman's comments could jeopardize Toronto's bid to host the 2008 Olympics.

Although Black Coalition members met with Labatt, the caricature ad has not been withdrawn. It had been seen by focus groups, which viewed the campaign as a whole, said Paul Wilson, vice president of public affairs at the brewery. "In the future, we'll be more aware of the impact such advertising can have," he said.

Separately, CRARR is working to bolster the number of minorities in the media. Mr. Niemi said the four traditional French-language TV networks have a total of only two blacks as program hosts and none in prime time as news or sports commentators.

CRARR has announced a national forum to be held in October on the topic of cultural diversity in the Canadian broadcasting, new media and film industries.

CRARR fought hard at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s for more ethnic representation in advertising.

"We don't work so much for that now because, with globalization, it's often hard to know where ads originated," Mr. Niemi said. -- Gail Chiasson

Copyright July 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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