The grand lobby and atrium of the gazillion-dollar CBC building is a national disgrace.The lobby is home to hundreds of photographs. But among 40 or so poster-sized cut-outs of radio and TV personalities and in an installation celebrating 50 years of CBC newsmaking, only one image depicts a non-white celebrity - Nelson Mandela.
Couldn't David Suzuki, for instance - one of the biggest CBC personalities - have been included? The Nature Of Things is one of the most successful and best-known series produced by the public broadcaster. Suzuki's series A Planet For The Taking won him a United Nations Environment Program Medal.
My cousin Rosie Douglas was jailed and deported for leading a riot at Concordia in the 1970s. He returned a couple of years ago as prime minister of Dominica and met with Jean Chretien. There's a big, fat slice of Canadian history right there. But no Rosie in the lobby. I immediately start up a phone and e-mail campaign.
My first phone call to CBC audience relations is a bust. I can't see the woman on the other end of the phone, but I'm certain she's rolling her eyes. Six months pass. No changes. No reply from the CBC.
I follow up. My second phone call lands me with a much more receptive woman who asks if I've seen the CBC Museum. I haven't. "It's just off the atrium," she says. "There are lots of photographs of visible minority people in there." I drop by a few days later to investigate her claim. I count one - Adrienne Clarkson in ponytails.
Sometime during what becomes a phone mini-campaign, I get an e-mail response from Annette Kirk, manager of national audience services. She's blowing me off.
"The CBC's policy on employment equity and equal opportunity emphasizes that as Canada's national public broadcaster, the CBC is 'committed to equity in employment and programming... (and) must reflect the diversity of Canadian society in our work force and on our airwaves,'" Kirk writes. "Although I do not have the authority to list the names of those staff members who may meet your criteria as 'people of colour,' I can assure you they do exist. Nevertheless, we do appreciate your comments on this issue."
My part-time "act locally" mission becomes clear to me. I begin hanging around the CBC atrium on my lunch hour to dialogue with young vizmins (the latest handle for visible minorities). The Academy of Design and Technology is located in the same building.
These mostly 20-something students don't notice anything amiss. Almost all of them express surprise. A few go on to explain that they use the north doors and had never really bothered to look at all the photos.
Most of them say they don't watch CBC except for the news, because the CBC is "old-school" and doesn't reflect them, their culture or their contemporary reality.
I begin to suspect that I'm the one with the problem. I'm old, pissed-off and bitter with baggage.
My cell rings. It's my very white friend Jane calling from Baghdad (where she's presently an aid worker) to ask how my diversity campaign is coming along. I confess I'm starting to feel concerned that my indignation may be out of line.
"Nonsense," Jane snaps in her rather posh British accent. "These kids you've been talking to have been brainwashed. They've been given absolutely no role models by the media. How could they possibly feel indignant? It's all they've ever known."
If I'm looking for a more highly charged reaction, Jane suggests I ask a black woman how she'd feel if her child were to inquire on a school trip to the CBC why only famous white people are on the wall.
So I phone up Shakura, a whip-smart, light-skinned sister who's a singer and broadcast professional with kids. But she strikes me as diplomatic to a fault about the whole issue.
"They probably just didn't notice what they were doing.
"The way the CBC lobby looks," Shakura adds, "is probably a fair and accurate representation of what (most places in Canada) might look like colour-wise." Yes, of course, I mutter to myself.
I thank Shakura for her informed response, which I describe to her as "eloquent and articulate." She pauses, "Oh, do I sound too politically correct?" Then I remember she just won the Open Door Pitch Award at the Innoversity Creative Summit, for which the CBC is a major sponsor.
At the Innoversity Summit I managed to corner the Honourable Jean Augustine, secretary of state for multiculturalism. I thought I'd get some support for my efforts. She's a large, dark-skinned sister who obviously means business about diversity. A former school principal, she immediately launched into a speech about the importance of diversity and role models for black children.
I was hoping she could whip off a smart little letter to CBC prez Bob Rabinovitch ordering him to clean up his billion-dollar act. Dear Bob: Your lobby looks more like the South African Broadcasting Corporation circa 1975. Fix it. Love, Jean.
Regretfully, she informed me that the CBC is Heritage Minister Sheila Copps's department, but that she'd "definitely talk to Sheila about it" next time she sees her.
Then, just this week, I bump into CBC Toronto publicist Trish Rorison erecting a vizmin-packed display. I tell Rorison about my seven-month odyssey. "All of that is changing," she says. "What you saw here in the lobby was the old face of the CBC. This is the new face: CBC Toronto," she says.