By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The publisher of a Vancouver Island newspaper caught in the midst of a flaring controversy after publishing a “hate-filled letter” about First Nations people says the issue is a “non-story” that was an “unfortunate incident” and it was time to “move on.”
Nanaimo Daily News publisher Hugh Nicholson said the newspaper had tightened up its vetting process after the newspaper published a letter Wednesday titled, “Educate First Nations to be modern citizens,” which was penned by Nanaimo, B.C., resident Don Olsen.
Nicholson said the letter should never have been published and it has been pulled off the newspaper’s website.
“While we would defend Mr. Olsen’s right to hold and express his opinion, the sentiments expressed were entirely his own and in no way reflect the views of the newspaper,” it said. “The letter should not have run. We apologize for any distress this may have caused our readers.”
Nicholson said the paper would print the apology “close to the front” of the Friday edition.
He said no one in the newsroom would face reprimand over the issue.
“Every day we make decisions about stories that we cover and letters that you run,” said Nicholson. “People make mistakes and they are fallible.”
The letter has plunged the newspaper into the midst of a raging controversy which has manifested through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and at the doors of the newspaper which saw protesters gather there on Thursday.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo travelled to Nanaimo to express solidarity with the protestors.
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council issued a statement Thursday saying they would be “cutting ties” with the newspaper for printing the “hate-filled letter.”
The tribal council said it would cease printing its own newspaper at a press owned by the company that owns the newspaper.
“The decision to publish it was meant to offend. And we are offended. It was meant to insult and we are insulted. It was meant to incite and we have responded,” said the tribal council’s vice-president Ken Watts, in the statement.
Nicholson said there was no debate in the newsroom around the letter before it was given the go-ahead for publishing. He said the decision was based on a “judgement call” that was wrong.
“People are trying to do the best job they can in a limited amount of time,” he said.
The letter, written by Olsen claimed First Nations people never invented anything and were incapable of taking care of themselves. Olsen also claimed First Nations people “have a history that is notable only for underachievement.”
Olsen is described as being about 80 years-old with an interest in woodcarving, according to members of the Nanaimo Probus club. Olsen is a long-time member of the club. He is the one who usually collects money and crosses people’s names off the list during club events, said the club’s president.
“He is fabulous,” said club president Kathleen Saunders. “All I know is that (Olsen) is a really nice guy and has a really great sense of humor.”
Another club member who requested anonymity given the controversy around the man said Olsen also tells “racy jokes” and was “up in arms” over Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence during her protest fast which began last December and ended this past January.
“Some older people are more conservative and maybe have biases,” said the club member.
At the request of a reporter, the club member asked Olsen if he would be willing to submit to an interview. Olsen told the club member, “He had no comment.”
Olsen did not return repeated phone calls.
Olsen is also a member of the Mid Island Carving Club and, in an interview last year with the Nanaimo Bulletin, said he considered himself an artist. The article said Olsen liked to carve birds, wolves, deer and moose. He has also won awards for his work.