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Racial profiling : Canada's Indian-born author, Rohington Mistry, cancels U.S. tour

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Hello all, Rohington Mistry is one of Canada s leading authors. Born in Bombay, Mistry is a Zoroastrian and has won many awards as well as being nominated for
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2002
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      Hello all,

      Rohington Mistry is one of Canada's leading authors. Born in Bombay, Mistry
      is a Zoroastrian and has won many awards as well as being nominated for this
      Booker Prize. His books provide a refreshing insight into India's urban

      Usually a non-political person, Mistry has stepped right into the middle of
      the racial profiling debate.

      Read and reflect.

      Tarek Fatah
      Mistry cancels U.S. tour over racial profiling

      Globe and Mail

      An award-winning Canadian author told a Toronto literary event Saturday
      that he cancelled a portion of his U.S. book tour after overzealous
      scruinty at U.S. airports target him repeatedly and started giving him
      "visions of Guantanamo [Bay] and of concrete slabs."

      Rohinton Mistry, author of Family Matters and A Fine Balance said the
      security inspections were degrading and made him feel like a second-class
      citizen. He decided that he would simply not travel to the U.S. due to the

      The author said he felt compelled to speak out after the Globe and Mail
      published an article Saturday on his cancelled tour.

      "The way you look, where you were born, these things are what will
      determine how you will be treated at certain airports," said the
      celebrated Canadian author at a Toronto literary event on Saturday

      Mr. Mistry, an native of India who came to Canada in 1975, had been
      scheduled to travel to six American cities this week.

      "The first flight we took my wife and I, we were greeted by a ticket agent
      who cheerfully told us that we had been selected randomly for a special
      security check," he told an audience of several hundred people.

      "Then it began to happen at every single stop, at every single airport.
      The random process took on a 100 per cent certitude."

      Mr. Mistry has won the Giller Prize, was shortlisted for this year's Man
      Booker award, and was recommended to millions of Americans last year by
      Oprah Winfrey as one of her book club selections.

      Yet, he said, he was constantly made to feel like a second-class citizen
      before boarding planes.

      "They pull you aside and while your fellow passengers stream onto the
      plane they look at you and think 'Oh, what have you been up to, you've
      been a naughty boy," Mr. Mistry said.

      "Meanwhile, someone is taking your luggage apart and taking your shoes off
      and examining them very closely."

      Canada-U.S. relations have been strained lately because of racial
      profiling. The U.S. has marked travellers origninating from several muslim
      countries for increased scrutiny, including ones with Canadian passports.

      Mr. Mistry is not a muslim, however, nor is he from any of the countries
      that the U.S. has recently targetted for increased scrutiny.

      By background, he is Parsi — a Zoraostrian sect that migrated from Persia
      to India centuries ago. He himself migrated to Toronto in 1975 and worked
      in a bank before becoming an accomplished writer.

      The scrutiny in airports had gotten so frequent that Mr. Mistry said he
      had even contemplated shaving his beard, because it might have led some
      guards to target him as an Islamic terrorist.

      "But when I caught myself thinking in this manner, trying to appease a bad
      policy, I knew it was time to call off the rest of it," Mr. Mistry said.

      He pointed out that "there are others who for various reasons are
      condemned to endure this because they have to, because they don't have a

      After addressing the issue of racial profiling, Mr. Mistry was happier to
      read from his books and to answer questions about his writings.

      He read one passage particularly passionately — about an Indian family who
      extolled the "magnificence" of Canada's multicultural policy.

      Yet, they become sorely disillusioned after they encounter an immigration
      officer with "prejudiced and bigoted ideas."

      This spring, he was asked by The Globe's Sandra Martin about whether the
      aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had complicated his travels.
      At the time, he said he was taking it in stride.

      "I did feel for the first few weeks, right through to December when I was
      travelling, that a brown skin and a beard were not a felicitous
      combination," he said. "I could feel the looks from the security
      personnel. That is okay; it is part of their job."

      But his opinion appears to have changed since the first leg of the tour.
      This week, Mr. Mistry told his publishers he was fed up. He cancelled
      scheduled stops in Chicago; San Francisco; Boston; Salt Lake City, Utah;
      Iowa City, and Madison, Wis.

      The reason behind the cancellations has upset U.S. booksellers.

      "I find it outrageous," said Betsy Burton of The King's English bookstore
      in Salt Lake City. "It makes me feel ashamed of my country."

      She had planned to fill a high-school auditorium on Monday with 300 people
      for Mr. Mistry's visit. The proceeds were to benefit a local food bank.

      The author's agent, Bruce Westwood, spoke to him yesterday by telephone
      and discussed comments that Foreign Minister Bill Graham has been making
      about racial profiling in the United States. Mr. Mistry is said to be
      considering making a public statement, but has yet to speak out to anyone
      but those close to him.

      He is scheduled to appear at an on-stage interview this evening with the
      CBC's Shelagh Rogers at Toronto's Harbourfront.

      "There certainly is an issue surrounding the security issues he faced in
      the States," Mr. Westwood said. "It was sufficient to cancel the rest of
      the tour."

      In September, the Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a travel advisory,
      saying Canadians born in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, or Syria could be
      subjected to increased attention from U.S. authorities. Pakistan, Saudi
      Arabia and Yemen were later added to the list.

      That meant Canadians were fingerprinted and photographed at certain border
      crossings. Reaction from senior Canadian officials has been vigorous.
      Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal called it "the ugly face of

      Yesterday, the U.S. embassy in Ottawa attempted to quell concerns, issuing
      a statement that "place of birth by itself will not automatically trigger

      With reports from Sandra Martin, John Stackhouse, Jeff Sallot and The
      Canadian Press
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