An organizer of a lavish Bollywood awards show, funded with $9.5-million of British Columbia taxpayer money, requested that people of South Asian heritage not be hired as security guards or drivers for the event because they would be starstruck by Indian film stars.
Officials with the Times of India Film Awards (TOIFA), taking place in Vancouver April 4-6, are now apologizing for the remarks in what is the latest controversy to envelop the government-sponsored event.
"It was not a directive from the Times of India Group. It was a word choice by one staff member within dozens of staff members. It is very unfortunate and they have apologized for that," Laura Ballance, a spokeswoman for the TOIFA event, said in an interview on Sunday.
Ms. Ballance said the unidentified person who made the comments works as part of the event's "logistics team" and is currently in Vancouver from Mumbai. The individual continues to be employed by the awards show.
CTV British Columbia reported Saturday that local contractors were instructed that TOIFA did not want "brown" drivers or security guards working in close proximity to the Bollywood stars flying in for the festivities. NDP MLA Raj Chouhan told CTV he was "appalled" by the remarks, which were reportedly made at two separate meetings.
"They should be treating people with respect. There should be no discrimination whatsoever," Mr. Chouhan said.
However, an executive with the company hired to provide the majority of the security for the stars and events surrounding the Times of India Awards said he never heard such a directive from TOIFA officials.
"To my knowledge, they've never come to us and put in a no-hiring policy for certain types of people at all. To us, it has always just been that the people are properly trained and qualified," Ashley Meehan, vice-president of the Genesis Security Group, said in an interview.
Mr. Meehan said more than 200 people from his firm, including those of South Asian heritage, will be working various duties for TOIFA events, including "close-contact" security for the Bollywood stars.
"We will have people from all backgrounds working," he said.
Officials from Legacy Limousine Service, the local firm hired by TOIFA to provide personal transportation services to visiting South Asian stars, did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.
With more than $9.5-million in funding by the B.C. Liberal government, the first-ever Times of India Awards have been dogged by controversy since they were announced in January. The government had originally sought to play host to the 2013 edition of the long-running International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards, a well-established gala show held each summer.
Sabbas Joseph, an official with the company that owns and operates the IIFA event, recently told The Globe and Mail that B.C. government officials made a "request that was almost a demand," that IIFA take place ahead of the provincial election scheduled for May 14. After IIFA refused to switch the timing of the event, the province offered just $5-million in funding, Mr. Joseph said.
When the IIFA event was held in Toronto in 2011, the cost to the Ontario government was $12-million.
Officials from the office of the Premier and the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, have strongly denied Mr. Joseph's allegations.
The IIFA festivities were to have included events in the city of Surrey where about 30 per cent of the population is of South Asian heritage. Currently, no TOIFA events are planned for Surrey.
The taxpayer-funded TOIFA comes as the government faces criticism from B.C.'s film industry stemming from cuts to provincial film and television tax credits.
The funding cuts have resulted in lost business, the B.C. industry claims, as productions are shooting in provinces where tax breaks are more generous.