Monday night, Canadians learned that Tom Flanagan is not a particularly funny man.
Asked to comment on the latest WikiLeaks revelations by CBC’s Power & Politics with Evan Solomon, the University of Calgary professor and former PMO adviser said, “I think Assange should be assassinated, actually. I think Obama should put out a contract to maybe use a drone or something.”
Is your side splitting yet?
Interrupted by Solomon calling Flanagan’s comments “pretty harsh stuff,” Flanagan replied, “Well, I’m feeling very manly today.”
Cue the drums; he’ll be here all week.
As it turned out, Flanagan did hijack headlines for the most of the week, as he was called out by Julian Assange himself and a served as a brief topic of discussion in the House of Commons. Flanagan has since apologized, saying he did not seriously intend to advocate the assassination of the Wikileaks founder with his “glib” comment.
Too little too late for some, however. A group of students and alumni of the University of Calgary has begun circulating a letter calling for the university to “condemn [Flanagan] in the harshest possible terms” for disgracing the reputation of the university. Others, including Julian Assange, have called for Flanagan to be charged for “incitement to commit murder” and handed over to authorities. And then of course there are some, such as my colleague Sarah Petz, who believe we should just “let Flanagan’s remarks die.”
Yet these positions each seem somewhat misguided. An official censure, as advocated by the signatories of the U of C open letter, would be counter-productive to the supposed intention of salvaging the university’s reputation. How can you at once ask the administration to officially admonish Flanagan’s behaviour, while at the same time ask for distance from the unwitty professor?
Charging Flanagan under the Criminal Code of Canada would be problematic also, nevermind difficult. There is no “incitement to commit murder” provision, and as far as I can tell, any charge that could be laid in relation to counseling another to commit an offense would, at minimum, require an attempt. Even if authorities could find a way to wade in the matter, and I have no doubt they could, the infiltration would only serve to convolute the issue. The incident would evolve from a straightforward case of a professor making deplorable comments on air to a shades-of-grey wider debate about free speech and Big Brother. Why create the opportunity to shift blame?
That said, Flanagan is in the midst of receiving the worst punishment possible: public condemnation. Indeed, there are many who have brushed off Flanagan’s comments as simply made in mirth, but even still, there are few applauding his “manly” call for murder or his acerbic wit. We don’t need government to get involved or the university to slap his wrist; all we need is to keep talking. For a man of Flanagan’s esteem and reputation, that is the worst punishment of all.