Michele Gerard, co-owner of Atlantic News on Morris Street in Halifax, says her newsstand will be carrying the special edition of Charlie Hebdo. She said the store has asked for 50 copies. They’re expected to arrive next week. (RYAN TAPLIN / Staff))
A co-owner of a Halifax magazine shop says a special edition of Charlie Hebdo, the French magazine devastated in a terrorist attack in Paris last week, will be available at the store next week but will be kept out of sight.
“As the owner of Atlantic News, what is important to me is that we have always and will always respect our very diverse customers and their interests,” co-owner Michele Gerard wrote Wednesday in an email explaining the situation.
“We are one of the few remaining newsstands in Atlantic Canada, and we are proud to supply our community with an extensive variety of titles, including Charlie Hebdo. The next issue should (be) arriving next week, and as we have always done with other covers that customers may find offensive, we will be sensitive and not be displaying the title.”
Gerard said her Morris Street business is probably the only place in Nova Scotia that can get copies of Charlie Hebdo from the distributor. It asked for 50 copies but it’s not known if the distributor will be able to provide that many. A normal edition costs $5.45, but Gerard was unsure how much the special edition will go for.
“Originally, the idea was for me to bring in a few copies,” she said in an interview conducted before she sent the email.
“I was feeling that that would satisfy some of my local customers. For me, it was about servicing my regular customers, knowing that there would be some interest in the title.”
Charlie Hebdo has printed cartoons with controversial depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and was previously the target of threats before the killing last week of 12 people, including some cartoonists in the magazine headquarters.
“They have a right to print (depictions of the Prophet) and we have to criticize it,” said Zia Khan, director of the Centre for Islamic Development in Halifax on Wednesday.
Khan said carrying the magazine with its depictions of the Prophet in Halifax will be offensive to the city’s 20,000 Muslims. While he supports the right of the retailer to sell the magazine, he said the publication is in bad taste.
He said printing images of the Prophet offends but doesn’t contribute to reasonable discourse on relations between Islamic and non-Islamic cultures or any other topic.
“You cannot use the N-word, you cannot use anti-Semitic words and you cannot use slanderous words about North American aboriginals in the media,” said Khan.
“And you shouldn’t because it harms groups of people without contributing to a discussion. Why this double standard when it comes to the Muslim community?”
Khan said freedom comes with a responsibility to carry on public discussion with respect.
He added that no matter how offensive Charlie Hebdo’s publications may have been, he and his community have been “unequivocal” in their denunciation of violence as a response.
Gerard said she struggled with the issue as the store started hearing more from people who wanted the post-attack edition of Charlie Hebdo.
The phone rang a number of times during Wednesday’s interview, and Gerard said the calls were likely coming from people interested in buying Charlie Hebdo. She said callers from Ottawa and the consul general of France in Moncton have asked if it will be available.
The BBC has said Charlie Hebdo is printing 3,000,000 copies of the edition, which has drawn worldwide interest. The front page features a drawing of a crying Prophet Muhammad holding a sign that states “Je suis Charlie,” with a caption at the top of the page stating, in French, “All is forgiven.”
As The Associated Press reported in a recent story, “many Muslims consider any depictions of Muhammad to be blasphemous.” Gerard said that tears at her.
“I’m conflicted. I come back to tolerance and respect,” she said.
“This magazine has offended other people. I’m terribly torn. I don’t know how to put it. It’s gone from being an interest and curiosity to feeling like one of, I don’t know, a keepsake.” She said she knows the images are available to anyone who looks for them online.
Gerard said she wants to be true to her customers who want the magazine, while showing tolerance for anyone who could be offended by the images.
Atlantic News distributes 5,000 publications and has been in business for 41 years. Gerard said she previously experienced similar demand — and some controversy — for international editions after tragedies such as the 1997 death of the Princess of Wales and the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
She said Diana’s death was controversial because her limousine crashed while tabloid photographers were following it. Gerard chose to sell tabloids afterwards.
“We didn’t take them off the shelves. We had them in a section that they weren’t in people’s faces.”
Atlantic News also sells the locally published Frank Magazine. At the time of the interview, Gerard was unaware Frank’s new cover showed a drawing of Muhammad.
The store is selling copies of Frank, but has turned them around so the cover can’t be seen.
Outside the retailer, two pedestrians said they didn’t think Charlie Hebdo should be sold there.
Retired able seaman Will LeCain said it’s inappropriate to distribute drawings that are offensive to Muslims.
“They’re a different culture than us. We don’t understand (and) we don’t understand how much they hate this, but they have their reasons.”
In addition, he said, it’s not smart to provoke radical Muslims as “the more motivated they’re going to be to attack.”
Spa employee Melisa Simpson said she saw the new Charlie Hebdo cover online but doesn’t think the magazine is needed in Halifax.
“I don’t really think that it’s something we should carry around here. I wasn’t offended, but I can understand how people would be.”
About the Author – Dan Arsenault, Staff Reporter, The Chronicle Herald