By Marvin Ross
Freedom of speech/free expression is a bed rock of democracy but it is being eroded by those on the left. There are, of course, limits to expression such as not inciting to violence or spewing hate crime which are covered in the Canadian Criminal Code, and not defaming people which can be remedied by civil action. Other than those examples, we are all entitled to express our opinions and no one should be blocked for doing so.
Three recent events I find very concerning because they do not seem isolated but appear to be a growing trend. The first took place in Hamilton just prior to the federal election. Maxime Bernier, the former Conservative member of parliament founded a new political party called the People’s Party – a right wing group that is anti-immigration (although he denies that). They have official party status, fielded candidates in all or most constituencies in Canada and participated in the TV debates.
Bernier is a controversial character. He was kicked out of the cabinet when the Conservatives were in power for leaving a briefcase full of classified documents at his girlfriend’s place. His girlfriend had ties to organized crime characters. As part of his campaign, he spoke at Mohawk College in Hamilton but not only did protesters show up (which is legitimate) but some of them wore masks to cover their faces and blocked people from entering the auditorium. One of those blocked was an elderly lady pushing a walker.
Those individuals were eventually found and arrested and, during the election, the People’s Party did not elect a single person and only got 1.64% of the popular vote. In my opinion, a testament to the intelligence of the electorate who heard what he had to say and rejected it. There was no need to prevent people from hearing him talk. People can decide and did decide.
Next up was a talk by a feminist writer (Megan Murphy) at a Toronto library branch who happens to hold contrary views on transgenders. Her talk was entitled “Gender Identity: What Does It Mean For Society, The Law and Women?” It was hosted by Radical Feminists Unite. She believes that allowing men to identify as women endangers women’s rights. OK. So what? She is entitled to her opinion and to argue that. She is entitled to speak.
Not so according to LGBTQ activists, a writers group and even the mayor of Toronto. All of them implored the library to cancel her talk and not allow her to use of the library. Writers should know better particularly given the history of authoritarian regimes that have banned books and burned them. The mayor of Toronto also disappointed but the librarians held their ground and refused to budge. The demonstration against her the night she spoke was peaceful but the constabulary was out in force to ensure it remained so. Police did have to escort those in attendance out of the building.
Finally, York University in Toronto where a talk put on by a Jewish group was violently disrupted by protesters shouting pro-intifada slogans. The speakers were Israeli Defence Force Reservists and the protesters pounded on the doors of the meeting room. Violence was kept to a minimum by a large contingent of Toronto police and university security staff.
A recent Syrian refugee to Canada (Aboud Danachi) attended the event and was so shocked by what he saw that he wrote an op ed in the Canadian Jewish News. His words should be taken to heart by those who oppose free speech. He wrote:
“I was always interested in meeting former soldiers of the IDF. Back in Syria, socializing with any Israeli whatsoever was the ultimate taboo. But I was in Canada now, browsing through the York University student cafeteria. Syrian President Bashar Assad could take his taboos and shove it. In Toronto, I was like anyone else. I could go where I pleased, when I pleased. And meet whom I pleased.
Or so I thought”
A Pakistani Canadian Muslim journalist also expressed disgust of how the Jewish group was treated at York. Raheel Raza, speaking on the Roy Green Show, was not surprised by what happened at York as she stated that it has a long history of anti-semitism and intolerance. She said her niece went to York and had threatening notes put on her door because she did not cover her hair.
We cannot afford to lose freedom of speech in this country but I am heartened by the fact that those who are new to this country are stepping up to defend it.