The other day Iris Evans, the finance minister of Alberta, gave a speech to the Economic Club of Toronto. And right at the end she suggested that parents ought to be prepared to make some economic sacrifice in order to be at home with their young kids. “When you’re raising children,” she said, “you don’t both go off to work and leave them for somebody else to raise.”
For some reason, David Swann, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, felt this warranted an official statement from him. Can you guess what it said? Okay, stand well back:
“If she really said these things, she must apologize. If she doesn’t apologize, the premier must fire her,” said Mr. Swann. “These are truly outrageous claims. I have never been as stunned by the sheer arrogance and ignorance of the Tories as I am today.”
Golly. Given the Mount Logan of “sheer arrogance and ignorance” piled up by the Tories, if the poor wee truly outraged thing has never been as totally stunningly stunned as he is today, he must have led a very sheltered life.
In Canada, it is now apparently reflexive to shriek: “You can’t say that!” Ms. Evans was careful to observe the niceties—“This is not a statement about daycare”—and she would certainly have no difficulty producing studies and statistics in support of her assertion. To be sure, other studies say other things. Obviously, her view is—what’s the word?—“debatable.” But in the decayed Dominion why bother debating? It’s easier just to get dissident views rendered unsayable.
In a previous incarnation, David Swann was fired for his support of the Kyoto treaty. So you’d think he’d be less quick off the trigger in demanding from Ms. Evans full-blown formal recantation or expulsion from public life. I see the Liberal leader lists as his principal leisure activity “peace and justice work.” Perhaps he’d have a more temperate demeanour if he took up hunting or cage-wrestling.
Needless to say, he got his way. Ed Stelmach, the premier of Alberta, pronounced Ms. Evans’ words “regrettable,” and a day or two later the minister apologized. Whether it was sincere or not is of no consequence. Young, ambitious politicians eager to climb the greasy pole will get the message. You will still, from time to time, hear such totally stunningly outrageous opinions but only whispered furtively between the like-minded, in the dead of night, far from the corridors of power. That wet farting sound you hear is the bounds of Canadian public discourse shrivelling just a little more.
In such a craven culture, isn’t legally enforceable thought-policing all but superfluous? Over in Ottawa, the House of Commons sub-committee on international human rights was discussing Canada’s “human rights” commissions. Don’t ask me why the domestic HRCs come under an international subcommittee: one can well understand why, in respect of its “human rights” regime, Canada increasingly seems like a foreign country, so perhaps it’s more convenient to lump ’em in with the Sudanese and Iranian human rights commissions. Anyway, professor Robert I. Martin of the University of Western Ontario gave a sober presentation on the evolution of Canadian “human rights” over the past two-thirds of a century. He considered the case of “a particularly odious man called John Ross Taylor,” a self-proclaimed Nazi who in 1981 became “the first person in Canada to be imprisoned for expressing an opinion” since the Second World War. Tracing the remorseless expansion of the “human rights” commissions’ thought-policing in the years since, he examined the Alberta commission’s prosecution of the Reverend Stephen Boissoin for writing a letter to his local newspaper objecting to what he called the “homosexual agenda.” The Province of Alberta punished the Reverend Boissoin by imposing a fine, a public apology and a lifetime speech ban ordering him never to make a “disparaging” remark (a fine legal concept, no?) about homosexuals ever again, in speech or in writing, in public or in private, anywhere on the planet—or, for all I know, the galaxy. Professor Martin wondered why they didn’t just have the heretic burned at the stake. He characterized such decisions as the judgments of a secular theocracy in which the “human rights” enforcers serve as the holy inquisition.
After the witness’s remarks, the chairman of the committee turned to Liberal member Mario Silva for the first question. Did he have any concerns about incarcerating chaps for their opinions, or imposing lifetime speech bans? Not at all. “As a gay man,” began Mr. Silva, “I’m not very fond of the good old days before the commission existed, where it was okay to spit on gays, it was okay to discriminate against them, it was okay to beat them up . . . So I’m not going to go back to those old days.”
Unless I dozed off in the crucial part, professor Martin hadn’t said a word about spitting on gays or beating them up. Presumably, had the Liberals had a black member to hand, he’d have said he wouldn’t want to go back to the good old days when the professor would climb into his white sheet and string him up from a tree on the edge of town. As it happens, opponents of Section 13—Canada’s thought-crime law—include the Liberal MP Dr. Keith Martin, “the brown guy” (as he styles himself); members of the gay group EGALE; the multiculti CanCon novelists at PEN. Yet, no matter how coolly you lay out the case, the assumption of Mr. Silva and the group-think drones is that you’re just an old-time white-supremacist homophobic bigot itching to get out the tire iron. Under the circumstances, professor Martin demonstrated remarkable forbearance. “That is a classic example of the kind of argumentative technique used by people who support the thought police,” he replied quietly. “I make a principled argument, sir, in favour of freedom of expression. I do not add any baggage to that argument.”
Mr. Silva had no response to this and handed over to his Liberal colleague Jean Dorion. “It’s quite hurtful to hear the denial of a historical fact,” mused M. Dorion apropos Holocaust denial. “These people should be able to prosecute.”
Professor Martin very politely suggested that free societies do not “establish an official version of history and punish anyone who might deviate from the official version.”
And so it went, the Liberal members declining to engage with the very concept of principle. Indeed, their principal principle seems to be a principled objection to principle: they disagree with what you say but they will fight to the death for the right not to have to listen to it. That’s why we need government agencies to police all these opinions and determine which ones are sufficiently homogenous to be compatible with a diverse society.
Meanwhile, in Montreal, Jennifer Lynch, Q.C., Canada’s Chief Censor, gave a speech to CASHRA. Do you know what CASHRA is? You should. You pay for it. It’s the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies. That’s right; they have a club they all belong to. Alas, the conga lines were more muted this year. Like professor Martin, Commissar Lynch worries about the threat to free speech in Canada. But, in her case, the Chief Censor is now complaining that I’m suppressing the free speech of her massive government bureaucracy. Seriously. As the National Post put it:
“She also claimed that those who accused the CHRC and its provincial counterparts of ‘chilling’ free expression with the prosecutions of writers such as Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant were themselves guilty of ‘reverse chill.’ Harsh criticism of the commissions in the media had discouraged many of their supporters from coming forward to defend their missions, she said. Others who were brave enough to speak out had been subjected to withering personal criticism in opinion pieces and letters to the editor.”
Oh, dear, what’s the country coming to? Defenders of state censorship are too cowed to speak out in favour of not letting people speak out? You could hardly ask for a better snapshot of the degradation of “human rights” in contemporary Canada than the chief censor whining to a banqueting suite full of government apparatchiks that the ingrate citizenry are insufficiently respectful of them. The bureaucrats at the top table control hundreds of millions of public dollars. Jennifer Lynch represents state power; Ezra and I represent a bunch of impecunious bloggers. Yet the Dominion of Canada has been reduced to complaining that Blazing Cat Fur is out to get it.
“Human rights” are rights for humans, for individuals . . . and restraints upon government power. Canada has now precisely inverted the concept to mean enhanced government power and restraints on individuals. The CHRC justifies it thus:
“In the debate about freedom of expression and freedom from hate, Canada’s commitment to equality lies at the centre.”
Ah, but there is no equality. An Alberta pastor writes a short letter to the paper about homosexuals and gets a lifetime speech ban. A Montreal imam publishes an entire book calling for homosexuals to be “beheaded,” and the CHRC rejects the complaint.
There is no “equality,” because tyranny is always whimsical. From Alberta to the House of Commons to CASHRA, the light of vigorous open debate essential to any free society goes ever feebler—and, under the smiley-face buzzwords, the PC enforcers annex ever more of the public space.
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