Byline: COLIN FREEZE
Jeff Rubin, the famously voluble chief economist of CIBC World Markets, has been sent to sensitivity training after angering Canada's most prominent Islamic lobby group with language he used in a report on the oil market.
In April, he predicted that oil prices would double by 2010. Demand will outstrip supply because "this time around there won't be any tap that some appeased mullah or sheik can suddenly turn back on," he wrote.
While Mr. Rubin used the terms to describe the OPEC-induced price shocks of years past, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) found the language offensive. In fact, CAIR-CAN wrote the bank saying it was "gravely concerned that Mr. Rubin is promoting stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs."
Two weeks after the complaint, CIBC World Markets chief executive Brian Shaw responded.
Mr. Shaw said in a letter to CAIR-CAN that the remarks "were not meant to offend anyone" but "in hindsight, the comments were insensitive."
Mr. Shaw went on to say that "we will be providing him [Mr. Rubin] with training to ensure that this situation does not occur again in the future . . . in addition, Jeff has withdrawn the research report from the World Markets website [and] redrafted the paragraph in question."
CAIR-CAN has posted the text of the exchange with Mr. Shaw on its website and urged its supporters to thank CIBC for excising the mentions of mullahs and sheiks. Mr. Rubin's revised forecast now concludes that "this time around, with suppliers already running full tilt, there's no tap that can suddenly be turned back on."
The controversy went unreported in mainstream newspapers, though one right-wing website that saw CAIR-CAN's statement on the controversy accused the group of going "way, way overboard in the name of political correctness."
But safeguarding the image of Canada's 600,000 Muslims is very serious business for CAIR-CAN, which has lately been gaining clout and publicity. Last week, it arranged a meeting between Prime Minister Paul Martin and several spiritual leaders, who have signed a statement condemning the terrorist attacks in Britain.
Likely the best organized and most outspoken of the dozens of Muslim groups that exist in Canada, CAIR-CAN has lately been denouncing several groups and individuals for what it terms careless comments and actions.
For example, it has released a report called Presumption of Guilt, a criticism of the way Canadian security agencies are questioning Muslims.
It has also recently criticized the Israeli consul-general for what CAIR-CAN characterized as "Islamophobic" remarks, and taken Quebec politicians to task for making what it calls "xenophobic" remarks about sharia law tribunals.
Mr. Rubin could not be reached for comment. CAIR-CAN would not elaborate other than to point to the information on its website about the case.
It is understood that Mr. Rubin has completed some sort of in-house sensitivity training since he wrote his report, though CIBC World Markets officials would not divulge details.
Some of his contemporaries find the whole situation strange. "Is that true?" asked a surprised David Rosenberg, chief North American economist for Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. in New York.
He said that Mr. Rubin has "got a flair and unique writing style. I know him and he's a good guy.
"I have a tough time believing Jeff Rubin would be purposefully offensive to a certain group."
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is an 11-member organization comprising some of the world's largest oil exporters. It includes mostly Muslim nations.
Oil closed at $62 (U.S.) yesterday, a record high despite reassurances from the new Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, that he would keep the oil flowing the way his deceased predecessor did. King Abdullah's officials say they would like to get oil down to $50 a barrel.