Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Canadian Senators for Freedom!

Don't laugh! The spirit of freedom has enflamed (at least some of) the appointed members of the upper house of Canada's Parliament. Maybe this has something to do with PM Harper's decision only to appoint Senators who promise to work for democratic reform of that house.

Tory Senators call for changes to Canada's Human Rights Act

Blazing Cat Fur has the two great speeches from Senators Doug Finley and Mike Duffey, which I will reproduce after the fold.

Senator Finley Opens Up Freedom of Speech Inquiry

For immediate release Senator Finley Opens Up Freedom of Speech Inquiry
March 30, 2010

“Honourable Senators,

“I rise to call the attention of the Senate to the erosion of freedom of speech in Canada." “There could scarcely be a more important issue than this. “Freedom of speech is, and always has been, the bedrock of our Canadian democracy.

“The great Alan Borovoy, who was the head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for more than forty years, calls freedom of speech a “strategic freedom”. “Because it is the freedom upon which all of our other freedoms are built. “For example, how could we exercise our democratic right to hold elections, without free speech? “How could we have a fair trial, without free speech? “And what would be the point of freedom of assembly, if we couldn’t talk freely at a public meeting? “It is the most important freedom. Indeed, if you had all of your other rights taken away, you could still win them back with freedom of speech.

“Benjamin Franklin once said that “Without Freedom of thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as public Liberty, without Freedom of speech” “Freedom of speech is embedded in Parliament’s DNA. The word Parliament itself comes from the French word, parler – to speak.

“And as Parliamentarians, we guard our freedom jealously. No Member of Parliament or the Senate may be sued for anything he says in here. Our freedom of speech is absolute. “And yet just last week, only a few miles from here, censorship reared its ugly head.

“Ann Coulter, an American political commentator, had been invited to speak at the University of Ottawa.
“But before she even said a word, she was served with a letter from Francois Houle, the university’s vice-president, containing a thinly-veiled threat that she could face criminal charges if she proceeded with her speech. “And on the night of her speech, an unruly mob of nearly 1,000 people, some of whom had publicly mused about assaulting her, succeeded in shutting down her lecture, after overwhelmed police said they could not guarantee her safety. “Colleagues, it was the most un-Canadian display I have seen in years.
“It was so shocking that hundreds of foreign news media covered the fiasco, from the BBC to the New York Times to CNN.

“It was an embarrassing moment for Canada, because it besmirched our reputation as a bastion of human rights, a reputation hard-won in places like Vimy Ridge, Juno Beach, and Kandahar. “More important than international embarrassment is the truth those ugly news stories revealed. “Too many Canadians, especially those in positions of authority, have replaced the real human right of freedom of speech with a counterfeit human right not to be offended. “An angry mob is bad enough. That might be written off as misguided youths, overcome by their enthusiasm. “But such excuses are not available to a university vice president who obviously wrote his warning letter to Ms. Coulter after careful thought.

“Ann Coulter is controversial. She is not to everyone’s taste. But that is irrelevant. “Because freedom of speech means nothing if it only applies to people with whom we agree. To quote George Orwell, “Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” “In a pluralistic society like Canada, we must protect our right to peacefully disagree with each other. We must allow a diversity of opinion – even if we find some opinions offensive.“Unless someone actually counsels violence or other crimes, we must never use the law to silence them.

“Freedom of speech is as Canadian as maple syrup, hockey and the Northern Lights. It’s part of our national identity, our history and our culture. “It is section two of our 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, listed as one of our “fundamental freedoms”. “And it’s in the very first section of Canada’s 1960 Bill of Rights.

“But our Canadian tradition of liberty goes much farther back than that. “In 1835, a 30-year-old newspaper publisher in Nova Scotia was charged with seditious libel for exposing corruption amongst Halifax politicians.
“The judge instructed the jury to convict him. At the time, truth was not a defence. “But the publisher passionately called on the jury to, quote "leave an unshackled press as a legacy to your children”, unquote. After just ten minutes of deliberations, the jury acquitted him. “That young man, of course, was Joseph Howe, who would go on to become the Premier of Nova Scotia.

“Our Canadian tradition of free speech is even older than that. It is part of our inheritance from Great Britain and France. “Les Québécois sont les héritiers de l’article 11 de la Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen de 1789. “L’article stipule que : « La libre communication des pensées et des opinions est un des droits les plus précieux de l’homme; tout citoyen peut donc parler, écrire [et] imprimer librement … »
“La France a produit le défenseur de la libre expression le plus réputé dans le monde, François-Marie Arouet, mieux connu sous son nom de plume, Voltaire. “Voltaire était un provocateur, qui usait de la satire et de la critique pour faire pression en faveur de réformes politiques et religieuses. Il en a payé le prix personnel, face aux censeurs et aux menaces de poursuites.
“Voltaire put it best when he wrote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” “His passionate advocacy helped shape liberty on both sides of the Atlantic.

“English Canada has an impressive legacy of free speech, too. Like Voltaire, John Milton, the great poet who wrote Paradise Lost, was constantly hounded for his political views. “His 1644 pamphlet on free speech, called Areopagitica, is perhaps the greatest defence of free speech ever written, and it is as relevant today as it was 350 years ago. “In it, Milton wrote, quote, “let [truth] and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” and “Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature… but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself.”

“Yet, despite our 400 year tradition of free speech, the tyrannical instinct to censor still exists. “We saw it on a university campus last week. And we see it every week in Canada’s misleadingly-named human rights commissions. “This week, in Vancouver, a stand-up comedian named Guy Earle goes on trial before the B.C. human rights tribunal for the crime of telling jokes that someone didn’t find funny. “An audience member who heckled him is suing him for $20,000 because she found his retorts offensive.

“They may have been offensive. But what’s more offensive is that a government agency would be the arbiter of good taste or humour. “Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years of hard labour for telling a joke about Stalin’s moustache. It’s a disgrace that Canada is now putting comedians on trial, too. Earle has already spent $20,000 defending himself.

“There is not a lot that the Senate can do about the B.C. human rights tribunal. But our own Canadian Human Rights Commission has egregiously violated freedom of speech – without any shame.
“In a censorship trial in 2007, a CHRC investigator named Dean Steacy testified[1] that, quote “freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value.” “He actually said that. The Canadian Human Rights Commission actually admits they don’t give free speech any value.

“That’s totally unacceptable.

“Freedom of speech is the great non-partisan principle that every member of Parliament can agree on – that every Canadian can agree on. “I will never tire of quoting the great Liberal prime minister, Wilfred Laurier, when he said “Canada is free, and freedom is its nationality.” “And I will readily give credit to Keith Martin, the Liberal MP from British Columbia, who, two years ago, introduced a private member’s motion to repeal the censorship provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

“Fellow Senators, I called for this inquiry to accomplish five things:

1. To reaffirm that freedom of speech is a great Canadian principle, that goes back hundreds of years;

2. To put Canada’s censors on notice that their days of infringing upon our freedoms with impunity are over;

3. To show moral support for those who are battling censors;

4. To inquire into the details of what went so desperately wrong at the University of Ottawa, to ensure those awful events never happen again;

5. To inspire a debate that may lead to a re-definition of Section 13.1 of the Human Rights Act;

“Colleagues, there are times for partisan debate, when the parties must naturally be at odds with one another. This is not one of those times. “Freedom of speech, and respect for differing views, is the foundational principle of our entire Parliamentary system – indeed for our entire legal system as well. “I look forward to the constructive comments of my friends on both sides of the aisle, to build on the bi-partisan history that Canadian free speech enjoys. “If we can rededicate our parliament to protecting this most important right, we will have done our country a great service. “But if we fail to stop and indeed reverse this erosion of freedom, we will have failed our most basic duty – the duty to uphold our Constitution and the rights it guarantees for all Canadians.
“I know that, like so many generations of Canadians before us, we will meet the challenges of our time, and live up to our responsibility to pass on to our children the same freedoms that we inherited from our parents.

“God keep our land, glorious and free.”

Free Speech Inquiry: Senator Duffy Emphasizes Value of Free Speech

For immediate release Senator Duffy Emphasizes Value of Free Speech
( See also "Senator Finley Opens Up Freedom of Speech Inquiry" here)

March 30, 2010

“Mr. Speaker; Honourable Senators,

“I rise to join my colleague, Senator Finley, in support of an inquiry into the state of freedom of speech in Canada. “I share Senator Finley’s love of freedom and his concern about the growing phenomena of censorship. “I approach the subject from the perspective of someone who, as a journalist for more than forty years, has used freedom of speech every day of my life, and has seen its essential role in keeping our democracy healthy. “And that’s my first observation: freedom of speech is much bigger than just politics.
“It’s about our right as free men and women to express ourselves in any way we choose – not just politically, but socially, musically, artistically and through every other human endeavour.

“Our freedom of expression is inextricably linked to our right to think for ourselves, to choose our place in the world, to talk back to the world, and even to fight against the world. “If you doubt that, ask any high school rock band why they do what they do! “So while it’s often political speech that grabs the news headlines – we should never forget that millions of Canadians put freedom of speech into action every day, from film-makers to authors, to stand-up comedians, to advertising agencies to PTA meetings and Rotary Clubs. “Free speech is a thread of personal liberty that is woven into every part of Canadian society.

“As a journalist, I exercised my freedom of speech every day. “And I was proud to offer a platform to many whose ideas were sometimes controversial. Senator Cools for example was often a guest on my program, as she fought for the rights of fathers. “And there are many other examples, involving both Senators and members of the “other place.” “Free speech oils the gears of democracy, to keep them running smoothly, especially in times of great controversy.  “Freedom of speech doesn’t just help the system work; it invites people into the system; it gives them a seat at the table of national discussions. “It turns dissidents into participants; it invites people to opt in, not to drop out. “We sometimes take that for granted, but we shouldn’t. “Because in countries where there is no freedom of speech, people who feel marginalized can’t voice their grievances peacefully. “They don’t have the safety valve of public debate in which to vent their passions. “It is no coincidence that many of the countries with the least freedom of speech are countries with the most political violence.

“Some people say that if we ban offensive or rude opinions in Canada, society will be more harmonious.
“But experience around the world shows that’s just not how it works; and if we stop people from expressing themselves verbally, even in ways we find distasteful, they might be tempted to express themselves violently.
“Free speech is our national safety valve! “I’m impressed by how many grassroots Canadians have joined the ranks of democratic, participatory journalism through blogs and YouTube and social media like Facebook and Twitter.

“Journalism was once seen as a private club. There were enormous barriers to entry. “Ordinary people couldn't join in the national discussion. They were reduced to the role of spectators, with little chance to participate beyond shaking their fists at the TV set, or writing an occasional letter to the editor.  “But now, anyone with a laptop – or a camera, – can help make the news and have their say, and through the power of their ideas, reach millions of people, and sometimes even change the world. “It’s not just healthy for journalism, it’s healthy for democracy too. And it's young people at the vanguard.

“That's free speech.

“Just ask the hard-liners of Iran, who are losing the battle of ideas against university students armed only with the power of Twitter. “Or consider Communist China.  “During the events in Tienamin Square, our distinguished colleague Senator Munson provided Canadians with a window on that historic event. “Today, thanks to technology, instead of just a few valiant journalists, the main voice for reform in China is that country’s 20 million bloggers, blowing the whistle on corruption and pressing for greater liberty.

“So, even if censorship were morally correct, and it's not, it has been rendered obsolete by technology.
“The Canadian Human Rights Commission, has shut down offensive websites here in Canada. “But persistent dissidents can simply move their websites to the United States or to Iceland, which has announced its plans to be the world's leading free speech jurisdiction.  “And there's another paradox of censorship in the Internet age: out of the billions of pages on the Web, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre estimates that around 8,000 sites are serious purveyors of racism or anti-Semitism. “But by prosecuting these obscure Web sites, we give fringe, marginal ideas more attention and publicity than they would ever have received on their own.

“There is a better way.

“There may be thousands of hate sites, but there are millions of amateur bloggers out there ready to expose and rebut racist lies.  “People like Ken McVay of British Columbia, a righteous Gentile who has spent thousands of hours meticulously rebutting Holocaust denial on the Internet.  “He doesn't sue anyone. But he'll debate anyone. His website. www.nizkor.org, is now one of the most comprehensive archives of knowledge about the Holocaust anywhere.  “Ken McVay hasn't created celebrity haters, like our censorship laws have. But he's been tremendously effective at rebutting racist lies, as a citizen blogger.

“Of course, we all agree that anti-Semitism and Holocaust denials are odious ideas. But one of the problems with censorship is that the definition of what's offensive is open to political bias. “Maclean's columnist Mark Steyn was put on trial for a week in Vancouver for merely expressing his political views.  “Ezra Levant and the Western Standard magazine were prosecuted for 900 days for illustrating a news story about the Danish cartoons of Mohammed with eight of those cartoons.  “Prosecuting those acts of journalism was clearly not the intention of Parliament when hate speech laws were enacted.

“And the chilling effect has been much wider than just these and a few other notorious prosecutions. “How many other journalists have quietly decided to pull their punches on controversial issues, just to avoid a nuisance suit or human rights complaint? “How many TV and radio stations have avoided vigorous discussions of controversial issues, out of fear of censorship from the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, acting on behalf of the CRTC? “(And why is it the CBC has an in-house Ombud to deal with questions of fairness, while private broadcasters have a different regeime?)

“ This not hypothetical; in 2004, a handful of complaints convinced the CRTC to yank the licence of CHOI-FM, one of Quebec's most popular radio stations.  “Imagine that -- a government order that, had it been allowed to stand, would have destroyed dozens of careers, a successful business, all because of hurt political feelings.  “That's how Hugo Chavez handles radio stations he doesn't like. But that's just not the Canadian way.

“That’s why non-partisan NGOs like PEN Canada, the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Canadian Constitution Foundation and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have all condemned government censorship, and section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act in particular.

“Even anti-hate groups like B’nai Brith Canada have expressed grave reservations about human rights commissions, which were created to be a shield to protect Canadians and their rights, have instead become swords, used to destroy our rights. “B’nai Brith itself was the subject of just such a nuisance complaint.

“My last observation is that as technology has enhanced our freedom of speech, Canadian courts have too.
“In the 2008 Supreme Court case about defamation law, -- “WIC Radio versus Simpson.”
“The court unanimously ruled that: "[w]e live in a free country where people have as much right to express ridiculous and outrageous opinions as moderate ones." “And just last September, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal declared section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act unconstitutional.

“Mr. Speaker, censorship was never a moral idea, but now it's impractical too.  “Technology and human innovation came first, making the censors obsolete.  “Our judges were the next to weigh in, reaffirming that censorship is a violation of our Charter values of free speech.  “So now it's time for Parliament to modernize our laws, and remove the archaic censorship provisions. They are unwelcome remnants of a different era.

“It is my hope that this Senate inquiry will begin the process by which Parliament brings our laws into synch with Canada’s values:

“Our love of freedom;
“Our ability to handle differences of opinion peacefully;
“Our national embrace of the technologies of communication; and
“A clear message from the courts that Canada as a country must live up to our national promise of freedom for all.

“As a journalist, I know the value of free speech. And as a Senator, I have a duty to protect it. Thank you.”

1 comment:

Patrick Ross said...

It's a confidence-inspiring development, but they need to avoid what I call the Christine Elliott Error:

If they're going to call for reform to the Human Rights Commissions, they need to make it clear what those reforms will entail.