In a crowded year for news such as 2008, there was one subject of vital importance for Canadians that did not receive sufficient media and public attention.
This is the grassroots campaign supporting freedom of speech unconstrained by the coercive arm of the state – the federal and provincial Human Rights Commissions (HRC). It is truly bizarre that in the 21st century such a campaign has to be organized in one of the oldest liberal democracies.
It is also bizarre that so many Canadians remain unconcerned that the foundational principle of liberal democracy – freedom of speech – has been assaulted systematically in their country in the name of tolerance.
And then making matters worse, the Canadian state armed the federal HRC – provincial governments have followed Ottawa – with section 13 in the Canadian Human Rights Act to penalize speech if it is “likely” to expose someone to contempt or hatred even though it might not be proven in court.
What might now seem a long time ago to Canadian legislators and bureaucrats of the HRCs, J.S. Mill, writing in On Liberty, observed some eight years before the Dominion of Canada was established that “unless the reasons (for free speech) are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case.”
Going back further by more than two centuries, the English poet John Milton laid out the argument against censoring free speech in his tract titled Areopagitica.Milton contended – and Mill returned to it – that truth does not need the aid of censor’s coercive powers to prevail.
Milton famously wrote, “Let her (truth) and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”
Individuals speaking confidently armed with reasons stand on their own without requiring state support against opponents. And those appealing to censors in making their arguments do so because their case is weak, or false. Our politicians have lost sight of how, through hard and bloody skirmishes, the principle of free speech was advanced to give strength, virtue and purpose to liberal democracy that we take for granted with so little thought.
In this campaign to keep free speech free Ezra Levant, lawyer, journalist, publisher, bon vivant, having experienced the Canadian version of HRC inquisition, has become the leader. He has emerged as Canada’s Emile Zola, marshalling the arguments and eloquently making the case in his blog – Ezra’s blog is a must read on this subject – of how the HRC censors ignominiously subvert Canadian democracy.
A just cause rallies free individuals and Ezra Levant stands at their head as a growing cadre of bloggers make this cause of keeping free speech free in Canada their own.
There are individuals such as Kathy Shaidle. Her little book on the subject, The Tyranny of Nice, has become an underground hot item across North America.
And then there is the inimitable Mark Steyn, a Canadian voice for uninhibited and critical discourse on politics and culture, gone global rallying his resources behind this cause.
Many of these individuals are without deep pockets – such as Mark and Connie Fournier operating the online forum Free Dominion – and while harassed by the HRCs have stepped into the breach defending free speech in Canada.
The big shameful question remains where are the politicians?