‘Star-struck’ security and limo drivers? Businesses complain TOIFA staff are making racist demands

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI 

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, left, and Indian dance choreographer Shiamak Davar at the announcement of the Times of India Film Awards in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. Several B.C. businesses are claiming that the organizers of the upcoming event have been making racist demands when it comes to the hiring of security guards and limousine drivers for their Bollywood celebrities. Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Several B.C. businesses are claiming that the organizers of the upcoming Times of India Film Awards have been making racist demands when it comes to the hiring of security guards and limousine drivers for their Bollywood celebrities.

The businesses allege that they have been told by staff working for the organizers that they do not want drivers or guards of South Asian origin as they fear they would become “star-struck” and cause problems.

The province is spending about $11.5 million on the star-studded event next month which is touted to boost B.C. trade and tourism in India.

Critics have panned the use of tax dollars for the event as an attempt by the Liberals to win votes in the South Asian community.

“In several meetings in December they said they don’t want any ‘brown people.’” one Vancouver company official told Vancouver Desi.

“They asked us if we have any Indian (employees) on our team … . We said yes, you have to have it because it’s a multicultural country — we have to have all the races.”

Another businesswoman said she experienced similar remarks at a March 7 transportation meeting at the Coast Plaza Hotel & Suites in Vancouver.

According to the woman, Times of India Film Award (TOIFA) staff said at the meeting that they did not want South Asians working as drivers for the Bollywood stars.

“I was really taken aback,” she said, adding she no longer wants anything to do with the company. “That was very racist.”

A third businessman said he too was told by TOIFA staff about wanting only “white drivers and security guards.”

“At one meeting we pointed out to them that is not possible for several reasons … first off, most of the companies that could bid for the contracts have South Asian guards and drivers, and more importantly this goes against everything this country stands for,” he said.

“What makes me really mad is that our government gives these guys millions of tax dollars and they come here and make a mockery of what we believe in.”

According to TOIFA spokeswoman Laura Ballance, the allegations of racism stem from “an unfortunate choice of words” by a “staff person who is not one of the overall organizers.”

“He was trying to impart … that they did not want people that are star-struck,” she said.

“The group they’re bringing in had an incident a while back — not here in Canada — where they hired a driver who drove the celebrity to [the driver’s] home and asked them to do photos with their family before they took them to the venue.”

“So they are very cognizant of that.”

According to Ballance, the message the staffer was trying to get across was they’re looking for “the highest level of professionalism.”

“They were very clear with all these companies that they were talking to — and they talked to a large number of them — that they want the very best, most professional,” she said.

Ballance insisted the offensive words were uttered by just one employee and that it’s “not the sentiments of the company.”

She said the TOIFA events have hired and will continue to hire people from all ethnic backgrounds.

Another TOIFA insider said some local limousine drivers had been tweeting that they can get access to Bollywood models and stars associated with the event.

“Unfortunately, they were South Asian drivers and I guess the organizers were taking precautions …maybe they did it the wrong way,” he told Vancouver Desi.

But the businesses that complained to Vancouver Desi said they don’t buy the explanations.

“These people are doing business in Canada. They should follow the guidelines — Canadian guidelines.”

The screening process security and limo companies routinely undergo should be enough, the woman who was at the March 7 meeting said.

“There’s a protocol for protection — you screen those people,” she said.

According to the woman, the March 7 meeting was attended by four of the “top people” within TOIFA.

“They agreed — they all sat there and agreed,” she said. “How come their superior did not say to (him), ‘You shouldn’t have said that — correct your comments right now’?”

She hopes Premier Christy Clark will take action.

“(Clark) should know that she used my tax money — and she’s hiring these people from the Times of India saying, ‘Sorry, no, we’re racist — no Indians please,’” she said. “That means, ‘Let’s have the Bollywood awards night and let’s not have any East Indians.’”

“I could take it as an innocent remark, but these people work on international business — they’ve been around.”

TOIFA organizers said they believe that the anonymous sources who approached Vancouver Desi were unsucessful bidders for contracts.

Organizers said in a statement Sunday night: “The nature, scale of the event as well as the security of the Bollywood celebrities requires us to be specific in our briefs to suppliers and set expectations clear from the beginning. Having said that, the statement has been taken out of context, proportion and generalised to suit the individual’s purpose. The statement does not reflect the values upheld by The Times of India group which has 175 years of legacy and credibility.”

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