True North strong not free

MARK STEYN: Strange that the more Canada congratulates itself on its ‘tolerance’ the less it’s prepared to tolerate
True north strong not free
Photograph by Chris Bolin

Well, Ann Coulter is no longer in Canada, but 30 million Canadians are. So, for the sake of argument, let us take as read the frankly rather boring observation of the northern punditocracy that the whole brouhaha worked to her advantage, and consider instead whether the Canada on display during her 96-hour layover actually works to Canadians’ advantage. Which was the claim advanced by the eminent Canadian “feminist” Susan Cole appearing on U.S. TV to support the protesters’ shutdown of Miss Coulter’s Ottawa speech:

“We don’t have a First Amendment, we don’t have a religion of free speech,” she explained patiently. “Students sign off on all kinds of agreements as to how they’ll behave on campus, in order to respect diversity, equity, all of the values that Canadians really care about. Those are the things that drive our political culture. Not freedoms, not rugged individualism, not free speech. It’s different, and for us, it works.”

Does it? You rarely hear it put quite that bluntly—“Freedoms”? Ha! Who needs ’em?—but there was a lot of similarly self-regarding blather in Coulter Week euphemizing a stultifying, enforced conformism as “respect” and “diversity” and whatnot. “I therefore ask you, while you are a guest on our campus, to weigh your words with respect and civility in mind,” wrote François Houle, the provost of the University of Ottawa, addressing Miss Coulter in the smug, condescending, preening tone that comes so naturally to your taxpayer-funded, tenured mediocrity. “There is a strong tradition in Canada, including at this university, of restraint, respect and consideration in expressing even provocative and controversial opinions and urge you [sic] to respect that Canadian tradition.”

Because, after all, nothing says “restraint” and “respect” and “civility” more than a snarling mob using the threat of violence to shut down those it dislikes—and all for that beloved “Canadian tradition.” Strange that the more Canada congratulates itself on its “tolerance” the less it’s prepared to tolerate. “If any Canadian spoke like Ann Coulter,” wrote Denise Cooke-Browne, “he’d be jailed.” And she says that like it’s a good thing. And she also says it as a former investigator for the Newfoundland “Human Rights” Commission. In Denise Cooke-Browne’s Canada, there are now not unfashionable or dissenting or wrong opinions, but criminal opinions.
What are the grounds for jailing Miss Coulter? In her letter to the National Post, Ms. Cooke-Browne cited only the following:

“Remember, she has said that Canada is lucky that the United States let us exist on the same continent.”

I think this is what less enlightened societies would call a “joke.” But, of course, since becoming a beacon of “restraint” and “civility,” Canada now prosecutes jokes. The British Columbia “Human Rights” Tribunal, under the same commissar who presided over a lengthy analysis of the “tone” of my own jokes, is currently trying stand-up comedian Guy Earle for his allegedly “homophobic” put-down of a heckler. Mr. Earle isn’t a right-wing hater like me and Miss Coulter. Until he fell afoul of his Sapphic heckler, he appears to have held conventionally Trudeaupian views. Left to his own devices, he would be more likely to essay an anti-Bush gag than one of Miss Coulter’s camel jests. But he’s wound up in court anyway, having lost three years of his life and facing $20,000 in punitive damages for a remark he made in the course of a stage act for which he received a $50 bar tab. The B.C. Supreme Court advised the tribunal against proceeding with their show trial on the grounds that it was not clear they had jurisdiction. So the tribunal went ahead anyway. Susan Cole’s Canada doesn’t “work” for Guy Earle. In fact, it’s destroyed him. “You better hope and pray that you aren’t next,” he writes. “And yet no one cares.”

Very true. Canada is now a land that prosecutes comedians for their jokes. You’d think that Mr. Earle’s fellow comics might be a little disturbed about where this leads. Yet the fellows who pride themselves on their “edgy,” “transgressive” comedy are remarkably silent on what’s happening in Vancouver. So are the organizers of Juste Pour Rire, who presumably will be sending out form letters of that François Houle email, advising any visiting “edgy” “transgressive” comics from down south that here in Canada we have a strong tradition of restrained and civil comedy, and why not try something on the lines of:

“Who was that lady I saw you with last night?”

“Oh, that was my drunken lesbian heckler. Isn’t she marvellously restrained?”

Ms. Cooke-Browne makes explicit the reality—that “diversity” and “equity” and “respect” are merely the fashionable cloaks for muscle. As readers well know, I personally would rather Ann Coulter were free to tell her camel jokes than Denise Cooke-Browne were empowered to prevent her from doing so. The cure is worse than the disease. For the corrosive effects of “diversity,” look no further than three critical societal institutions: the education system, law enforcement and the media.

True north strong not free
Photograph by Etienne Ranger/Le Droit/CP

Remember Allan Rock? Oh, come on, he was all the rage for 20 minutes back in the nineties. Was it only a decade ago that he was briefly a rising star among Liberal cabinet ministers and that week’s prime-minister-in-waiting? Having drunk from the poisoned chalice M. Chrétien reserved for his many putative successors, Mr. Rock landed with his bottom in the butter and, for not entirely obvious reasons, is now president of the University of Ottawa. After M. Houle’s Houligans had gone to work, president Rock felt obliged to defend his institution. “We have a long history of hosting contentious and controversial speakers on our campus.”

That’s good to know. By “long history,” you mean 50, 70 years ago? Because the speakers hosted in recent seasons seem to be the usual parade of dreary publicly funded identity-group ward-heelers living high off the hog of diversity. Anyone else has a tougher time wiggling through. The howling gang of rent-a-leftists that greeted Miss Coulter at Ottawa is the natural product of this shrivelled, desiccated environment. I don’t suppose M. Houle gave his email much thought, other than that it would impress the many colleagues to whom he copied it: what a man! Speaking truth to power blond! But most of the diversity-peddling faculty are old enough to have some residual acquaintanceship with the inheritance they affect to revile. Whatever bollocks they spout in class, they have no wish to live anywhere other than an advanced Western society: for one thing, it’s the only place you can make a living selling fatuous pap about diversity; in that and many other ways, multiculturalism is a unicultural phenomenon. In some deep unacknowledged sense, they understand they’re engaged in a pantomime.

But their students are another matter. If you’re born circa 1990, you have been raised entirely in a François Houle world: this is all you know; it’s the air that you breathe. It’s like the difference between the first generation of rock ’n’ rollers and those nineties gangsta rappers. Elvis sang, “If you’re looking for trouble, you’ve come to the right place / If you’re looking for trouble, look right in my face.” But when you did, as the novelist Tony Parsons noted, you couldn’t help noticing he was wearing a little too much mascara. Whereas when you looked into Snoop Dogg’s or the Notorious B.I.G.’s face, you really were looking for trouble. Asinine ham-fisted clods like Houle are play revolutionaries; I’m not so sure about his young charges. When he threatened criminal charges against Miss Coulter, it was a cheap rhetorical sneer. To his students, it was a call to arms. One was struck in news reports of the riot at the complete worthlessness of the “disciplines” the protesters are “studying”: “Sameena Topan, 26, a conflict studies and human rights major.” Twenty-six, huh?

As for Ottawa’s coppers, they certainly demonstrated that famously Canadian “restraint.” Faced with a law-abiding group engaging in legal activity and a bunch of thugs trying to prevent it, the police declined to maintain order. As George Jonas wrote, “Ottawa’s finest exemplified Canada’s definition of moral leadership by observing neutrality between lawful and lawless.” Allan Rock’s weasels attempted to defend themselves by pointing out that it was not the university but the organizers who cancelled the event. They did so because the police said they could not “guarantee security.” You’re certainly free to proceed, but, as David Warren pointed out, your liability insurance will decline to cover any damage if you go ahead against the coppers’ advice.

There seems to be rather a lot of this in the True North restrained and civil. I’m not just referring to obvious surrenders such as Caledonia, but to the bizarre episode of TVO’s The Agenda broadcast from the Munk Centre last week. No Ann Coulter around, only the finance minister of Ontario. But a Coulteresque mob rushed the stage, and the host Steve Paikin had to insert himself between protesters and the minister. “Regardless of what you thought of yesterday’s budget,” wrote Paikin, “I don’t believe guests who agree to appear on The Agenda ought to get beaten up.”

Oh, c’mon, you pussy. Where’s your commitment to social justice? As in Ottawa, law enforcement declined to enforce the law, the OPP remaining in the wings as thugs rushed the stage. “The police, I’m told, were urged not to intervene,” Paikin explained, “lest pictures of demonstrators being hauled off by the cops show up all over YouTube.”

True. You might haul off a Muslim or a lesbian and find yourself in “human rights” hell. Better just to linger nonchalantly by the side until it’s all over: O Canada, we stand around for thee. Her Majesty’s Constabulary seem to be sending the message that violence pays—at least for approved identity groups. That doesn’t seem a prudent strategy.

As for the media, they’ve long been too cowed by political correctness to do even elementary research. It took the blogger Blazing Cat Fur to discover that Fatima Al Dhaher, the poor wee thing traumatized by Ann Coulter’s camel joke at the University of Western Ontario, was a member of a Facebook group called “It’s Called Palestine Not Israel,” committed to the elimination of the Jewish state and regarding its present occupants as “subhuman” “zionazis/kikeroaches.” I have no objection to Miss Al Dhaher pursuing her extracurricular enthusiasms, but she would seem, even for Canada, too parodic a poster gal for “restraint” and “civility.”

True north strong not free
Photograph by Chris Bolin

Still, they liked the cut of her jib over at Bernie Farber’s Canadian Jewish Congress. The CJC declared:

“Remember that old childhood adage, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’?

“Well, it wasn’t true then and it’s not true now. Name-calling does hurt…Attacks against an individual’s—or a group’s—sexuality, ethnicity, religion or culture can cut to the quick, demoralizing victims and inflicting wounds that can last a lifetime.”

You mean like “kikeroaches”? Oh, perish the thought. The CJC continued:

“Students at the University of Ottawa this week made their intolerance for intolerant attitudes quite clear when they demonstrated against scheduled speaker Ann Coulter, an American right-winger with an apparent axe to grind against just about anyone who’s not a middle-class white American.”

Actually, that’s not true. She’s a great defender of the state of Israel, for example. Whereas the students the CJC praised for shutting her down are the same crowd who organized “Israeli Apartheid Week.” Given a choice between a steadfast friend of Israel and the new and ubiquitous campus Judenhass, the CJC characteristically chose the latter. For years, Bernie Farber’s CJC has never met a state censor it didn’t like. Now, it’s extolling the virtues of mob rule. By the “Israeli Apartheid” gang. Granted that the only plausible explanation for the CJC is that it’s an Islamist front organization, you surely don’t want to make it too obvious.

That seems an appropriately logical reductio for multiculturalism: the subhuman zionazis and the Riot Against Israeli Apartheid executive committee united by their opposition to Ann Coulter. Celebrate diversity! Thus, the new Canada: intolerance is “tolerance”; mob rule is “restraint”; “kike­roaches” is “civility”; law enforcement is optional; jokes are actionable; up is down; black is white; “conflict studies” majors are rioting; Steve Paikin interviewing the Ontario finance minister on public television makes Jerry Springer interviewing transsexuals who date their ex-wives’ dads look like Jack Paar hosting Kitty Carlisle Hart; and sticks and stones may break your bones, but Rocks like Allan will issue a soothing press release. What an Olympic opening ceremony it would make.

Editor’s Note: In this column, “True North strong not free,” (April 12, 2010), quotes were attributed to the Canadian Jewish Congress that came from The Mississauga News. The CJC had posted the quotes on their website under the heading ‘Articles of Interest.’ Subsequent commentary and satire in the column was linked to those quotes. Maclean’s regrets any confusion they might have caused by attributing certain positions directly to the CJC.