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Ad that depicts Harper as the Godfather enrages anti-defamation group

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting insist the ad featuring Stephen Harper is a satirical take on the Oscar-winning 1972 film The Godfather, with the Prime Minister in place of Marlon Brando’s much-feared Vito Corleone.

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An Italian-American anti-defamation group is accusing a Canadian TV watchdog of using ugly stereotypes in an ad depicting Stephen Harper as a Godfather figure who deploys Mafia thugs to silence journalists.

The New Jersey-based Italian-American One Voice Coalition (IAOVC) is calling on the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting to pull the ad, in which a reporter who asks the Prime Minister too many pointed questions ends up stuffed into the trunk of a car. The ad, which argues that Bill C-60 will muzzle CBC journalists, has been running online and on television since late July.

"This is probably one of the worst instances of stereotyping that we've ever seen," said Sebastian D'Elia, the communications director of the IAOVC.

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Previous IAOVC campaigns have targeted the television shows The Jersey Shore and Bob the Builder, the restaurant Godfather Pizza, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's new film about a pornography-addled New Jersey bartender, Don Jon. The group also accuses Robert De Niro, who has played a string of violent Italian-Americans, of "a lifetime of stereotyping his culture."

In the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting ad, mandolin music plays on the soundtrack as two thugs stand uncomfortably close to a journalist asking tough questions of a figure glimpsed only from behind – presumably Prime Minister Harper.

"To put out something this outrageous in terms of stereotyping Italians, and targeting the Prime Minister with something like this, is an affront to all Italian-Americans in Canada," said Mr. D'Elia.

A spokesperson for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting insisted the ad was a satirical take on the Oscar-winning 1972 film The Godfather, with the Prime Minister in place of Marlon Brando's much-feared Vito Corleone. "They may not understand that Canada is the video satire capital of the world, and maybe they don't understand our culture," said Ian Morrison.

The ad ran into trouble upon its debut last July when the CBC refused to air it, saying viewers might assume the public broadcaster was endorsing its content. And though it was approved for broadcast by the Television Bureau, Mr. Morrison said the ad has hit interference from some private broadcasters too.

Still, he said, Friends had not received any complaints from the Italo-Canadian community or others about ethnic stereotyping.

The IAOVC told The Globe it had decided to go public with its disgust, rather than appeal quietly to the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, because of the "egregious" nature of the ad.

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"We wanted to get an initial shot across the bow to say, 'Look, we're serious here,' " said Mr. D'Elia. "We're not just going to call them up and say, 'Look, we're about to punch you in the face.' We're going to punch them in the face first."

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Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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