Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Canadian Gag

Canadians are proud of their culture and government, and take particular delight in touting their advantages in comparison with America:

These days, Canadian publications are chockablock with surveys showing that Canadians see themselves as something akin to a superior race. . . This strain of nails-on-the-blackboard nationalism is most evident in the recent bestseller Fire and Ice, an Americans-are-from-Mars, Canadians-are-from-Venus study of the two countries' values by Canadian sociologist Michael Adams. Based on three head-to-head values surveys done over a decade, it shows Americans coming up short on matters from militarism to materialism. This is hardly news. But Adams pushes his luck, giving conventional wisdom a twirl by advancing that it is the Americans who are actually the slavish followers of an established order, while Canadians are rugged individualists and autonomous free thinkers.
Near the top of any list of Canadian accomplishments is their "Charter of Rights and Liberties," similar -- superior say Canadians -- to our Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, any serious look at freedom of speech reveals that -- except for Canadian Islamics -- Canada actually criminalizes the free thinking Michael Adams claims to revere.

In America, First Amendment protections for speech and press are just short of absolute:

Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.
Canada's parallel provision (Fundamental Freedom 2), appears similar on its face:

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;

b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

d) freedom of association.
However when read together with the Charter's First Article, the loophole's larger than the law:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
This limitation goes well beyond censoring "the sailing date of troopships," and subordinates the rights of the Canadian public to the perceived needs of the government. Compare Ford v. Quebec, [1988] 2 S.C.R. 712, with R v. Oakes, [1986] 1 S.C.R. 103.

The Canadian government has invoked this so-called "notwithstanding clause" to justify restrictions on speech that would be unconstitutional in the United States, most notoriously when Quebec mandated that signs outside any commercial premises be predominantly in French. More recently, Canada used the same authority to outlaw hate speech, defined to cover "advocat[ing] or promot[ing] genocide" or "communicating statements, other than in private conversation, [that] wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group." Further, Canada's established a "Tribunal" system, allowing judges to interrogate a suspect's state of mind and thought processes.

Such fuzzy standards produce some seemingly outrageous censorship, plus a pile of inconsistent rulings that -- because they blur the border of criminality -- undoubtedly "chill" free speech in Canada. A few examples:
  • R. v. Keegstra, [1990] 3 S.C.R. 697 and [1996] 1 S.C.R. 458, upholding the conviction of an Alberta school-teacher who had been communicating anti-Semitic statements to his students in the classroom.

  • Ross v. New Brunswick School District No. 15, [1996] 1 S.C.R. 825, upholding an 18 month suspension (but not firing) of an New Brunswick school- teacher for communicating anti-Semitic statements to his students in the classroom.

  • R. v. Zundel, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 731, 732, freeing a holocaust denier because he subjectively believed his publication to be true, even though "the majority regards [them] as wrong or false."

  • An Ontario tribunal upheld the firing of a teacher who participated in conferences held by white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups, despite the fact that "he never expressed racist views in the classroom or discriminated against any student."

  • Another tribunal convicted a Saskatchewan man for his advertisement in the local paper depicting two stick figures holding hands surrounded by a circle with a slash through it, despite his unchallenged defense that he believed, and was repeating, the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality. The magistrate held that while the symbol alone "may not itself communicate hate, when combined with the passages from the Bible, the board finds the advertisement would expose or tend to expose homosexuals to hatred or ridicule."

  • This week, the Halton, Ontario police declined to prosecute a controversial Muslim leader who insisted, on a television talk show, that all adult Israelis are "legitimate targets" for Palestinian terrorists:
    Investigators with Region police said that while the comments by Dr. Mohamed Elmasry "were described by many as [a] hate crime," they did not meet the legal definition.

    "Although the comments would be considered distasteful to many, in this context they do not constitute a criminal offence," police said in a news release. "The comments were made during a free-flowing discussion between subject-matter experts who were encouraged to express their opinions openly on a topic of significant public interest."
This odious and bizarre jurisprudence demonstrates that ill-defined powers to maintain public order invariably target those without political power, whether or not they're a numerical minority. Still, most Canadians support criminalizing hate crimes. Yet a Canadian MP who said " Damn Americans ... I hate those bastards" and, on a TV talk show, stomped on a George Bush doll was never prosecuted (though expelled from the Liberal Party). And, Canadians have booed American children at peewee hockey games. All in the spirit of debate and fun, I'm sure.

In sum, when traveling in Canada -- or, if by some chance you're Canadian -- freeze a smile on your face and don't even think critical thoughts, much less say 'um. Unless, of course, you're bashing Americans.


According to Sigmund Carl and Alfred via Maxed Out Mama:
[T]oday, on NPR (I heard it this AM) Carolyn Parrish was the voice of the 'reasonable' opposition to US policy. For real.

On taxpayer funded NPR.
More ammunition to de-fund this Alice-in-Wonderland programming. Don't forget to support President Bush's proposal to terminate the Public Telecommunications Facilities Planning and Construction program, which uses taxpayer money to give public broadcasting stations shinny new equipment every few years.

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