It was ugly.
Two Sikh men and their friend, a Toronto woman with family ties in Tignish, thought they’d enjoy a bit of Island hospitality by dropping into the local legion on a recent Wednesday night.
Could it get any more Canadian? Perhaps if they’d stopped first at a Tim’s for a double-double after watching the first period of a Leafs-Canadien’s game on TV.
But Sunnydeep singh Pannu (Sunni), Jaswinder singh Dhaliwal and Annemarie Blanchard didn’t get the reception they expected. Instead, about an hour into their evening, during a friendly game of pool, things went bad.
Take off your ‘hat,’ Jaswinder singh Dhaliwal was told.
He wasn’t wearing a hat. He was wearing a religious head covering, a small turban called a patka. It was more practical than wearing a full turban given the weather and the need to throw on a winter hat against the cold.
“We were playing pool for about an hour before this big guy came over and told my friend that he had to remove his headdress,” Blanchard told reporter Jillian Trainor of the incident.
“Right away we told them ‘No, I’m sorry, he wears this for religious reasons and he’s not going to remove it.’ We tried to educate them, tell them why, and explain things.”
No dice. The confrontation escalated fast. There was shouting. There were racial slurs. The visitors decided safety was best and left.
And it was all on video.
That’s the key. Smart phones with their video cameras have changed the way the news is covered. What makes news. Who covers it. Where it earns headlines.
Google ‘Tignish legion’ and – unfair as it is to the many good people who frequent it - the results are predictable.
‘Sikh man gets apology after a P.E.I. legion told him to remove his turban,’ says a Jan. 19 story on the CBC’s website. ‘National legion issues policy reminder after Sikh man told to remove turban,’ says another from the same site three days later.
The National Post, the Journal-Pioneer, peicanada.com all weighed in. Not a shining moment in the history of Tignish and its legion.
It’s the new reality of news. In my Manipulation And The Media course I describe the phenomenon as The Pipeline. News has to fit through the pipeline to reach you. The better it fits, the easier the trip and the more attention it gets.
There was a time when the pipeline was oral. People told stories around campfires and in castles. Storytellers were entertainers with good memories.
Then came the printing press and a pent-up desire for reading exploded. Radio dominated next, then TV.
Now, the internet rules all. Tack onto that a news cycle that has gone from daily, to every few hours, to every moment of every day – thank you Twitter - and you have a witch’s brew.
And today’s news loves raw, amateur-shot video.
That love affair began with the gruesome assassination video of U.S. president John F. Kennedy, shot by Abraham Zapruder.
Today it includes scenes like a group of RCMP officers jumping Robert Dziekański in the Vancouver airport. He died, they said he was threatening them. He was holding a stapler.
The video doesn’t tell the whole story, police said. Maybe. But it told a compelling one. Same thing in Tignish.
- Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.