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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Toronto Transit Commission board to review policy after controversy over Tibet ad

December 26, 2016

The Star, December 21, 2016 - The TTC board has voted to review its advertising policy after members of Toronto's Tibetan community accused the transit agency of running racist posters on the subway system.

The board made the decision at a meeting on Tuesday after hearing from several Tibetan residents, who said the ads from the China National Tourist Office were an attempt to erase their culture and legitimize the oppression of their people.

The board’s decision didn’t go nearly far enough for Sonam Chokey, national director of Students for a Free Tibet Canada. She said she was “very disappointed” that TTC commissioners didn’t agree to remove the ads and apologize to the Tibetan community.

“There’s a difference between free speech and hate speech. What a lot of Tibetans are feeling about this is it’s falling into the category of hate speech,” she said of the ad.

Roughly 200 of the posters have run on the subway since Nov. 28 and are scheduled to be taken down on Friday.

The ads contrast two images of Tibet: one that shows a cluster of tents in a bleak mountain valley, and another that depicts a modern city in the same mountain setting. The accompanying caption is “Old Culture, New Tibet.”

Chokey said the ads portray traditional Tibetan culture as backwards and undeveloped. The China National Tourist Office said they’re intended to show a Tibet that “enjoys both tradition and modernity.”

In accordance with TTC policy, an agency working group reviewed the ad after receiving more than five complaints about it, but determined it didn’t violate any laws or internal policies.

TTC staff will now review the agency’s ad policy, but it’s not clear if the exercise will result in any substantive changes.

The TTC’s legal counsel Brian Leck told the board that the Supreme Court has set a “very, very high threshold” for any public transit agency to clear in order to reject an ad.

“It must be truly offensive. It must be something that is absolutely discriminatory in terms of content, and (the court) used the example of something that would advocate violence and terrorism,” he said.

TTC chair Josh Colle, who moved the review motion, told the meeting that he found the posters “distasteful.”

“At the same time I understand some of the limitations that we’re bound by as an organization,” he said.

In an interview with the Star, he said “my preference would be that there be no kind of politically minded ads on the TTC.”

“Because I don’t want to get into this situation where you’re like, all of a sudden, debating world history or geopolitical events, on what is deemed controversial enough or not, or offensive or not,” he said.

TTC staff are expected to report back with the findings of their review in early 2017.

Tibet has been under Chinese control since the Chinese army took over in 1950. Tibetans consider it an invasion, while the Chinese government claims Tibet is a part of China and the government liberated it.

A May 2016 Amnesty International Report accused China of persecuting Tibetans who oppose the Beijing government, using methods that include unlawful detention and excessive force against peaceful protesters.

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