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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Intellectual freedom in Canada: When prudes, plods, and vigilantes stop public discourse ...

Franklin Carter at the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee sends me two stories:

Border police seize PG-rated gay films

Canada's border guards are holding prints of three films destined for a gay film festival in Ottawa, and they won't release them until they've had the chance to watch them from beginning to end.

That poses a problem for Inside Out, a Toronto-based film festival with an annual Ottawa satellite program. They intended to show all three films this weekend. Without the prints, they're left scrambling to find grainy lower-quality copies to show audiences.

Marcus McCann reports in Xtra:

In 2008, Matt Thomas spoke to film director Ella Lemhagen and Toronto International Film Festival programmer Noah Cowan about the Swedish film Patrick Age 1.5. The video is also in Xtra:

In this incident, Canada Customs has seized films--not books or magazines--but the procedure for seizing books and magazines is identical.
but just when you thought you knew the direction of censorship: Look at this:
A Kitchener mother says school trustees are violating their own rules by allowing Gideon Bibles to be distributed to Grade 5 students in public schools.

The Waterloo Region District School Board has a policy allowing religious material to be distributed through the schools if parents agree, and if the materials are not used in an attempt to convert the child to that religion.

For years, trustees have allowed Gideons International, based in Guelph, to give pocket-sized copies of the New Testament, plus the Hebrew Bible books of Proverbs and Psalms, to Grade 5 students.

But Fauzia Mazhar told trustees Monday night that she is “appalled” by this decision. The Gideons openly state on their website that their mission is “to win the lost for Christ, and our unique method is the distribution of Scripture in selected streams of life,” she said.

This duet beautifully demonstrates what is wrong with today's censorship. Every prude or vigilante across the country, on behalf of whatever cause, can try to get some article or book censored. It's not as if we have a national policy or direction. We just have plenty of prudes, plods, and vigilantes.

I am not even saying that censorship is always wrong. Obviously, if a person wrote a book claiming that you, dear reader, murdered your mom - and there is no evidence whatever for that proposition (for one thing, your mom is still alive, in the Sunset Retirement Villa) - you would be quite right to take legal action to get sales of the book suppressed. Your reputation as a law-abiding citizen is at stake, and the claims are clearly false or undemonstrable.

Similarly, I believe that head masters/ head mistresses should be in charge of what is offered to students in schools. The students are minors. No activist should be permitted to interfere with what is considered good education by responsible authorities - provided that no crime is occurring and a dissatisfied parent can easily switch the minor to a different school, if that is the only peaceable outcome.

However, what we have here in Canada today is this: Anyone with a grudge, a gripe, or a grievance can complain to the government via "human rights" commissions and various other bodies about anything they want - and damage our national life by limiting discussion to fluff like "What's wrong with the Toronto Maple Leafs?"

If you are a Canadian, you deserve better. If you are a loyal citizen of any free society, be very wary of schemes for censorship whose supposed goal is shutting down "hate." If you are a citizen of an unfree society, I pray for you. We are now starting to get free again here. It's fun.

While we are here: A reader points me to this "authoritarian personality" wheeze fronted by an apparently failing TV network in the US. That is, people who prefer to listen to some other outlet must have something wrong with them.

If there is a better way to chase off viewers, please let me know.

I wouldn't want to meddle in US internal affairs, just as I would prefer that Americans didn't meddle in ours, but - that said - I have always maintained that government has no business interfering with media - whether the genius's idea is localism or fairness or anything else.

Government is as dependent as any other type of organization on the dissemination of information through media. People who work in government are just as happy with favourable coverage and just as unhappy with unfavourable coverage as any other entity. So they can't and shouldn't try to be judges.

People often ask, "what about shouting 'Fire' in a crowded theatre"? 99.99 per cent of people who ask do not know that the phrase was part of a judgement by Oliver Wendell Holmes against people who opposed the draft in World War I - and it was considered a bad judgement, reversed on appeal. But it remains to haunt us, as long as society is full of apparatchiks and freelance busybodies who do not want their fellow citizens to be able to make reasonable decisions about what to pay attention to.

Franklin Carter at the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee also advises me of recent media articles on the seizure of films: Late last week, Canada Customs seized three imported gay movies that were destined for a film festival in Ottawa.
CBC News reports.

Canada Customs denies any wrongdoing in seizing the films.

Marcus McCann grills a Canada Customs spokesman over the agency's explanation for the seizure of the films.

Aerlyn Weissman comments on the detention of the films. Weissman is the filmmaker who documented the censorship dispute between Little Sister's bookstore and Canada Customs in the 1990s.

Craig Takeuchi reports in Vancouver's Georgia Straight.

As a traditional Catholic Christian, I warn everyone away from the gay lifestyle, on principle. But just as I want the freedom to make that case, I grant to the gay lifestyle advocates the freedom to make theirs. And I do not need someone growing a fat rear end behind a civil service desk either promoting or opposing my views. Unless real laws are broken (= minors or illegal immigrants are raped or held in bondage, or something similar), I think government should just stay out of it.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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