Holding APSA Conference in Toronto Canada: A Tale of Gasbags or Guts?

Stefan Braun

Professor Orwin [APSA September 2008] derides American academics with serious reservations about holding the next APSA conference in Toronto, as a “gasbag” petition and a “load of bupkes” by “the few, the proud, the cowering.” Tell that to Ezra Levant, editor of the Western Standard which was bankrupted into future silence thanks to a costly human rights complaint charging the magazine with hate for re-publishing the Muhammad cartoons;[1] or to Stephen Boisson, a vocal pastor muzzled to his dying days by a human rights complaint for his biblical take on homosexuality;[2] or  to publishers of the St. Catharines Standard,  now its sixth year defending against  a libel complaint by  Susan Howard-Azzeh, a prominent social rights activist, for the paper’s characterization of her pro-Palestinian activities at a St. Catherine’s rally as anti-Semitic; [3] or  to B’nai Brith, now into their fifth year defending against a  Manitoba human rights complaint filed against the Jewish organization  for hosting “anti-Muslim” comments at a global terrorism conference held in the province. [4]

 Oops! My mistake. This is not academe, and these are not academics, much less visiting ones, being quieted.  It’s only the rest of us insignificant mortals, Canadians, victims of our own chilling hate censorship laws.  Public self-abuse doesn’t count – for academic consideration.  If doesn’t count in our own academics’ books, why should it count in theirs?  Those meddling Yankee intellectuals should know better to mind their own business than to stick their ignorant noses into ours.    After all, it is only the choice of free speaking venue for the world’s largest association of visiting academics that we are talking about. 

OK. So, maybe they have a point. But it’s a “tempest” in their “teapot.”  They personally have nothing to worry about.  We promise. Canadians are good hosts.  We’ll be on our best anti hate censorship behaviour.  We’ll simply tolerate for them what we don’t care to tolerate for ourselves.  At least, our more enlightened academics will.  They’ll put on a nice “made in Canada” free speech show for them. We’re good at free-speech pretending.  Why shouldn’t we be?  We pretend to ourselves.  It’s more comforting that way.  Canadians like to be comfortable.  Besides, they won’t know any better.  They’re Americans.  As for those venue doubting gasbags who suspect to know better, well, we can always tell them as Professor Orwin does “Yankee stay home.”  How dare they impugn this fine nation’s shining reputation for academic tolerance!  As he says, they “neither know much about Canada, nor care about it.”   Then again, why should they, when one of our own distinguished but insulated occupants of the ivory tower can be so defensively blind to the point of their concern. 

Professor Orwin obviously cares deeply about Canada.  But how much does he really know about hate censorship in Canada?  “Canada‘s record on academic freedom,” he proudly asserts, “is exemplary.”   Really?  Tell that to St. Mary’s philosophy professor Peter March who posted the Mohammad cartoons on his office door.  Following warnings of a possible human rights complaint and fearing for his physical safety after receiving personal threats from irate Muslim students, he found himself seeking the protection of the police.[5] The administration’s response; remove the offending cartoons from your office door and class discussion.[6]  Tell that to University of New Brunswick mathematics professor Matin Yaqzan who became the subject of a devastating sexual harassment complaint led by the school’s official student union for his “hateful” comments to the local media questioning progressive wisdom on date rape – an assault on freedom of academic speech so brazen that even the CAUT’s own union that helped write the sexual harassment code under which he was so wrongly accused had to conceded it was a “witch hunt”.[7]   Exemplary, indeed!

Oops, my mistake again.  Faculty self-abuse, student abuse, and chilling threats to file human rights complaints, don’t count. Petitioners’ claims that human-rights commissions pose a threat to them “is bogus,” asserts Professor Orwin.  Challenging doubters to “adduce a single instance of the abridgement of academic freedom in Canada,” he triumphantly declares, “They could not.”   Really?  Tell that to UWO psychology professor Philippe Rushton, a much published scholar, who was threatened with police arrest and criminal prosecution, and became the subject of a career shattering five year human rights commission investigation, for asserting “differences between the races” in his book Race, Evolution, and Behavior.[8]  Tell that to university of Manitoba psychiatry professor Hymie Rubenstein, author of a pamphlet entitled “homosexual myths and reality”, who was accused of distributing “hate literature” in a complaint filed with the Manitoba human rights commission by the Manitoba Student’s Union.[9]  Bogus, indeed!

There I go again.  Harassment, intimidation, and threat are not the law of human rights in Canada. Besides, they’re our academics, not theirs, whose freedom to speak was trampled on.  Invited guests can rest easy.  “How many controversial guest speakers have I myself sponsored, many on the supposedly taboo issue of Islamic extremism,” asks professor Orwin, rhetorically.  Really? Tell that to Professor Daniel Pipes who, for fear of student violence, was ignominiously hidden behind a security curtain in a basketball court when he came to speak at York University – only to be further free speech honoured with the visit of a Toronto police officer who dutifully warned him to be careful not to violate Canada’s criminal code provisions against hate propaganda.[10]  Tell that to Harvard law professor Allan Dershowitz who, fearing a cross-campus pattern of physical threats to silence “Zionist hatemongers” was free speech blessed to have five armed guards accompany him to deliver a lecture at the University of Toronto.[11]  Tell that to future “hatemongering” Israeli dignitaries, and their Zionist academic invitees thinking to follow in the violence vetoed, venue debased, footsteps of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  How many speakers were not invited in the first place by less daring souls than Professor Orwin, declined invitations, or simply didn’t solicit them, for fear of legally led or legally fed, and administratively tolerated or ill-disciplined, campus climates of progressive intolerance of their speech as “hate”.  How many, indeed! Professor Orwin doesn’t ask such questions; much less explore their “chilling” censorship implications.  Rather, he lectures petitioners, “in political science empirical evidence matters.”   But, it seems, it is not, as he derisively asserts, the “signers of this gasbag of a petition” on whom it “has made no impression.” 

Professor Orwin sneers at his American petitioners “many” of whom “seem to think human rights commissions are criminal courts in which the government brings charges against defendants.”  Ignorance is never commendable, least of all of welcoming hosts by critical foreign guests.  But then, neither is it commendable by self-denying, self-righteous, indignant hosts, of their own nation or its critical guests.  Professor Orwin seems to think that our foreign guests’ beef about the sorry state of free speech in Canada is only about visible abuses of speech by human rights commissions and only about fear for themselves.  Perhaps our ill-informed guests gave him the wrong impression. For this misses the larger truth, and real point, of their free speech concerns. 

Which is?  In a social culture of legal silencing, like ours, silencing might can legitimately substitute for free speech demonstration of social right.  Ordinary folks, and rival minorities, here, if meaningfully offended, can be forgiven for mistaking the idea of legal force for the force of ideas.  How can they not be, when the socially enlightened chief investigating officer of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (Dean Stacey) proudly proclaims “free speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.”[12]  So why should anyone else give it any value?  Ay, but there’s the rub. In Canada anyone can legitimately be, or better, can aspire to be, a hate censor.  All they need is threat.  And most anyone can be the subject of their speech chilling intimidation. And most anyone is. 

Just ask defence lawyer  Eric Hafemann, threatened by the Canadian Jewish Congress with disbarment, police investigation, and possible criminal hate prosecution, for saying that the local Germany community “can explode” if his client is deported to stand trial in Germany for Nazi era war crimes.[13] Even high official censors can be threatened with public silencing!  Just ask that Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission who found himself publicly threatened by one of our most prominent and respected lawyers with a hate investigation for his comments comparing public funding of faith based schools to South African Apartheid.[14] So where’s the concern, eh?

Jurisdiction does not make hate censorship.  Politics, and people, do. And in Canada they do, proudly.  The boldness of our free speech abuse is a function of our abiding respect for hate censorship law.  In Canada, hate censorship laws are a celebrated badge of national honour, not of critical, much less self-critical, democratic doubt.  Censoring officials and soothing institutions of enforced quiet are as much useful public pawns in the chilling hands of the politically correct as empowered authorities. Our distinguished critical guests may have a thing or two to learn about our institutions, jurisdictions, and legal powers, of censorship. But their sense of the chilling public culture of threat and intimidation that such legal regimes of social silencing pose to freedom of public discourse, is right on the mark!  By all means, let’s educate our foreign guests. But first we need better educate ourselves.

We can start with a more discerning, self-critical, eye on our “exemplary” free speech record dealing with foreigners holding “foreign” ideas. We  cleverly sent Canada’s least secretive public hatemonger, Ernst Zundel, packing back to his native Germany as a “national security threat” (really?) after more than thirty years near-continuous, open, and conviction-less, residency in this country on a contrived “security certificate” – in a secret trial, before a secret tribunal, on secret charges.[15]  Ok. He was a transparent hatemongering scoundrel.  Noble social ends sometimes justify ignoble legal silencing means; at least, in Canada they do. Well, how about the cases of historical “revisionist” David Irving,  Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky?   Each became the subject of a speech chilling Immigration Canada watch, with threats of possible criminal arrest for “likelihood” to promote hate contrary to the Canadian Criminal Code, following complaints by the Canadian Jewish Congress of their intentions to enter this country and speak to their followers.[16]  OK. So they’re more sophisticated hate scoundrels. But they’re still hate scoundrels, nonetheless.

 But what about the Objectivist club at University of Toronto,  a student club whose members had a package of pro-Israeli scholarly materials, destined for them from the Aynd Rand Institute, “inexplicably” detained by Canada Customs following complaints by Muslim groups that the literature promoted hate propaganda contrary to the provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code?[17]  Are they hate scoundrels too?  What about Canada Customs chilling detention of Nelson Mandela’s film depicting Black struggles against South African Apartheid following complaints by some white folks that the film promoted hate contrary to the provision of the Canadian criminal code;[18] or the intimidating arrest by Toronto police officers of some over-exuberant protestors on suspicion of inciting hate propaganda for carrying placards saying “Yankee go home” at a Shriners parade.[19] 

Have we learned from our past censoring mistakes? Hardly.  Our targets may not be quite as haphazard.  But our eagerness to club social disagreement into submission is no less for it.  Indeed, it is stronger than ever. Our chilling public culture of enforced quiet is borderless and jurisdiction-less. It is  not just about legally led but legally fed abuse, where foreign speakers’ public pronouncements, depictions, writings, or internet sites may be put on a civil or criminal  “thought” watch list for possible, not just actual, violation of Canada’s hate speech laws;[20]  where investigative techniques of the Canadian Human Rights Commission apparently includes secretly posting hate messages on suspected foreign web sites to catch domestic bigots and hacking into the computer of an unsuspecting woman to deflect attention from the Commission as the source of the messages;[21] where cable T.V. providers can be ordered by the CRTC to act as public thought police for fear of contamination of our celebrated Canadian values of multiculturalism and  tolerance  of differences by foreign ideas – of the sort carried by Arab CNN Al Jazeera; [22] where Canada’s largest and only significant book store can proudly remove a historically vital work like Hitler’s Mein Kampf from its shelves on the grounds that they “don’t trade in hate literature.”[23]  Confidence inspiring, isn’t it?  Should any of this matter to the largest association of visiting foreign academics in choosing their venue of untrammelled search for truth? 

Professor Orwin derisively declares:  “they [change of venue petitioners] haven’t even looked into the question of whether any human-rights commission has ever claimed jurisdiction over visiting foreigners.”  With respect, they have done better. They have looked through and beyond it, to legal censorship’s chilling social and political reality.   And what they see, which our speech content academics do not or dare not is not pretty.  “Abuses,” Professor Orwin may think, is not the “law” of hate censorship in Canada.  But they are, no less, its intrinsic politically slippery reality, and its chilling socially seductive practice.  And isn’t that, in the end what really matters?

To be sure, professor Orwin does not deny that there are abuses, and minces no words in condemning them.  But he seems not to see their legitimating root cause or its academic implications, much less its academic obligations.  Speech abuse caught red-handed is not the test of silencing danger but its demonstrable result.  In a long-standing consolidated (but slipping) democracy like Canada, unlike a dictatorship (already fallen), the threat to speech is not so much a demonstrable problem of the visible, but an unnoticeable one of the hidden.  The free speech rot that we can actually see in and out of academia is only the tip of a much larger, politically cross-fertilizing ,socially cross-legitimizing, chilling iceberg of legally led and legally fed intimidation of speakers and their speech, lying beneath. It’s intellectually corrosive and cognitively retarding public impact knows no artificial legal, much less educational, boundaries set for it by self-denying academics.   Silencing legitimacy, embedded in law, is precisely the stuff of which career safety and professional comfort, not untrammelled search for truth and courageous intellectual challenge, are best made.  Canadian faculty, and campus administrators, have shown themselves more than capable of being chilling authors and cowering condoners of free speech abuse on their campuses, than courageous condemners’ of it.  And that, surely, not myopic legalisms about jurisdiction is the real point, not the affront, of our distinguished guests’ free speech concerns. 

And concerned, deeply concerned, is what Canadian academics should be; if not for themselves, than surely for the rest of our society.  Bold and brazen abuses of free speech of the sort widely tolerated in Canada are hardly reason for domestic academic smugness or defensive, self-righteous, nationalistic indignation.  They are tell-tale signs of a much deeper and more resistant public censorship disease than commonly thought, or admitted.   Circling the wagons, and diminishing the danger, by falsely clothing outrageous abuses in the soothing garb of “censorship aberrations” or in the false hopes of a censorship-friendly, self-critical, self led recovery may be comforting but is self-deceptive.  The hate censorship faithful, and their official apologists of enforced public quiet, can no more successfully “reform” our public institutions, much less our public culture, of social censorship to respect freedom of “legitimate” public discourse than the proverbial fox can be successfully reformed to safeguard the hen house from himself.  Only free speech can.

Acknowledging the existence of extra-academic abuses while gloating (wrongly) of exemplary domestic academic immunity does a terrible injustice to the public and a disservice to academia.  The ivory tower is not an island unto itself, but a trusted beacon on the hill of public opinion shining by example the ways of truth, knowledge, and objectivity for mere mortals to follow.  Professor Orwin’s example does not shine bright. If our own trusted guardians of the untrammelled search for truth can’t admit that they have a censorship problem how can the rest of society?  To be sure, in a legally comfortable political culture of public silencing, like ours, it is all too easy to confuse the chilled speech one knows and loves for the full free speech that includes what our most testing detractors know and love.  Ordinary folks can be forgiven for mistaking what is heard for what is missed.  Our academics cannot be.  To do be lenient here is not only to not know. It is to not care.  Canadians deserve better. 

Finding refuge in self-denial by impugning the moral integrity of petitioners as motivated by politics and revenge (presumably for the Left’s victory to rethink 2012 in gay marriage denying New Orleans) is not better.   Perhaps, some are so motivated.  So?  Tit- for- tat and legitimate concern for free speech, need not necessarily be mutually exclusive. They are not, here.  Even ill-motivation cannot render invalid the point of our visiting guests’ venue reservations, the questionability of holding a conference aspiring to the free, fearless and full search for knowledge and truth in a hate censorship proud, speech abusive, legal venue like Canada.  Should  their petition succeed, (most unlikely), they may well help do us a service that it seems we cannot or dare not independently do for ourselves – examine our social censorship selves in the political mirror of legal silencing as we really, not think, are.

Patronizing Americans for their often embarrassing ignorance about Canada is easy. Giving them credit where credit is due is hard.    Sometimes, the familiarity of one’s own skin can be the problem rather than the solution to deeper and more critical, self-knowledge.   De Tocqueville, a Frenchman visiting the U.S., was one step ahead of his hosts in seeing some disturbing things about them that they did not or dared not see about themselves, not because he was a local but because he was an outsider.   Just maybe these few, proud, cowering, ignorant, ill-motivated American gasbags, as Professor Orwin would like us to think of them and their petition, are here one step ahead, too. We should commend, not condemn them, for it.

*Dr. Stefan Braun LL.B., LL.M., MA., Ph.D.

Barrister & Solicitor (of the Bar of Ontario, Canada)

Author. Democracy off Balance: Freedom of Expression and Hate Propaganda Law in Canada, Toronto, (University of Toronto Press) 2004.  2005-2006 Harold Adams Innis Prize Finalist for the best peer-reviewed English language book in the social sciences in Canada.

[1] Ezra Levant, “What A Strange Place Canada

Is,” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080120.wcomment0121/BNStory/National/home

                [2]Alberta Human Rights And Citizenship Commission: Darren Lund v. Stephen Boissoin and The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc. - Decision on Remedy: http://www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca/1323.asp

[3]Scott Stockdale, “Million-Dollar Lawsuit launched against St. Catharines Standard,”


                [4]Rumour-driven, five-year-old human rights complaint against B’nai Brith exposed,” The Jewish Tribune, September 04, 2008, 2.

[5] Kristen Lipscombe, Prof Receives Threats over Muhammad Cartoons, Chronicle Herald, February 24, 2006 http://www.herald.ns.ca/Metro/482996.htm.

[6] Keith Doucette, Halifax Professor Plans to Display Drawing of Prophet in Classroom, Canadian press, February -8, 2007, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060208.wprof0208/BNStory/National/.

[7] “Date Rape Comments Cause Campus Furor,” Globe and Mail, November 23, 1993, A6

[8] “Informed of Hate Probe, Rushton Cancels Speech,” Globe and Mail, March 13, 1989, A1. Al. Borovooy, The New Anti-liberals, (Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press, 1999), 105.

[9] M. Love, “Prof. Draws Fire for Views on Anti-Homophobic Education,” Canadian Jewish News, May 13, 1999, 30.

[10] S. Kirshner, “Jewish interests harmed by anti-hate law, Borovoy says,” http://www.cjnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3708&Itemid=86

[11] S. Braun, “Second Class Citizens: Jews, Freedom of Speech, and Intolerance on Canadian University Campuses,” 12(2) Washington & Lee Journal of Civil Rights & Social Justice (2006), 12.

[12] http://richardwarman.com/transcripts/2007-01-Marc_Lemire/May_10_2007.pdf, 4793. See also: J. Kay,A disaster for Canada's Human Rights Commission,” http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=405744.

[13] P. Lungen, “Oberlander’s Lawyer Subject of Law Society Complaint,” Canadian Jewish News, March 23, 200, 6.

[14] P. Lungen, “Complaint Filed over OHRC Chief’s Remarks,” Canadian Jewish News, August 1, 2002, 2, 6.

[15]Holocaust denier Zundel behind bars in Germany,

 http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1109683146179_5/?hub=Canada. Zundel was never charged with any criminal act, not even conspiracy, or attempt to commit a criminal act.  The “false news” section of the Canadian Criminal Code, under which he was originally found guilty, was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. Shutting him up would have required recharging him under the Hate Propaganda provisions and a lengthy, censorship-bruising, media circus.

[16] S. Braun, Democracy off Balance:  Freedom of Expression and Hate Propaganda Law In Canada, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 97, 102, 234.

[17] Editorial “Do We Have Reason to Be Concerned?” Canadian Jewish News, October 10, 2002, 8; http://www.cjnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4263&Itemid=86.

[18] M. Polanyi, “Mandela Film Screened for Possible Hate Content,” December 24, 1986, A14.

[19] R. Boyle, “Hate Literature Charges against 3 to Be Dropped,” Globe and Mail, July 14, 1975, 1.

[20] Supra, note 12.

[21] http://richardwarman.com/transcripts/2007-01-Marc_Lemire/May_10_2007.pdf, 4793. See: J. Kay,A disaster for Canada's Human Rights Commission,” http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=405744.

[22] Canadian Jewish Congress, http://www.cjc.ca/template.php?action=oped&Rec=100

[23] P. Lungen, “Chapters, Indigo Pulls Mein Kampf from Their Bookstores,” Canadian Jewish News, December 2001, 22.