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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Piercing the darkness! Fighting OFF the moral basis for a backward society

I want to clear the intellectual freedom news out of my Post-Darwinist In Box before I go on to anything else because, well, just because I am that sort of a person. Obsessive? Well, it's been said before ... Here's my earlier post of today.

In further news, Johann Hari has written an important defence of free speech here.

Also, Brad Trost, MP for Saskatoon-Humboldt, blasts the "human rights" stupidity:
For many years in Cornwall, letter carriers would greet each other with the expression: “Merci Seigneur pour la belle journee” (Thank you Lord for the beautiful day) –a friendly greeting reflecting the francophone culture of the region.

Now both Canada Post management and apparently, the postal workers union, have forbidden the greeting. Why was this greeting forbidden? Someone complained to the Human Rights Commission because others were Thanking the Lord before starting their rounds to deliver mail. Canada Post has cracked down on an innocent greeting.

This leads me to wonder what other greetings could be stopped because of fear of the Human Rights Commission and their thought police mentality.
Well, Brad, I am afraid that the short answer is, any greeting at all, basically. All that is required is that someone go witter to some "human rights" commissioner somewhere that they are "offended."

As I mentioned before, Kathy "Five Feet of Fury" Shaidle almost got bumped from a TV show by the frantic lobbying of a "liberal activist." Now there is a site accusing Kathy of being a racist, apparently sponsored by people who take themselves way, way too seriously. When will they get it straight?:

Kathy wants to get charged, so she can call in the big guns and wipe the floor with these narrow, petty people - who have not enough to do and all the time in the world to do it in (?).

Look, we have big problems in Canada right now. Our economy is reeling and our new immigrants are likely to be the hardest hit. We do not need people getting up basically fake cases of supposed discrimination, sowing distrust and misinformation, when there are genuine issues out there.

Who knows, this recession might be a chance to power down useless people in favour of useful ones. And if that happens, it will be well worth it.

In my lifetime (b 1950), the meaning of "liberal" has completely reversed itself. Now it means, in general, an activist who lobbies against civil rights and open communications. Weird, but perhaps predicted by someone, somewhere ... (An award awaits ya, fella/gal!)

In other (good) news, our literary doyenne Margaret Atwood has decided not to attend a literature festival in Dubai because British novelist Geraldine Bedell has been blacklisted in the United Arab Emirates.
I always wondered where Atwood stood on this stuff. There is a tendency for doyennes to try to be "above the fray," but that won't work any more. Now we want to know where people stand. Also, more info here.

UPDATE!: However, this story is changing. Has a public relations consultant been hired?

Hat tip, again, to the excellent Franklin Carter of the Book and Periodical Council of Canada, who reminds me that Freedom to Read Week begins on February 22. Yes, Franklin, I do remember, and I am coming to the party at the Gladstone.

Ezra Levant thinks that the momentum for reform has not flagged, despite our economic woes:

As I've written before, there is now a motion before the Justice Committee for reviewing the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and its censorship powers; there is also an internal Justice Department review; and there are plenty of MPs and senior staff not directly involved in that portfolio who continue to support reform. I was pleased to meet with a number of "freshmen" MPs -- ones who were just elected in October, and are still finding their feet -- and I was pleased with their command of the facts of this issue. We know that support for reform is wide -- 99% of delegates at the Conservative Party's convention in November supported repealing section 13, the censorship provision.

All of those I spoke with also saw the issue as a political winner -- not only with the Conservative party's base (both the libertarian and socially conservative wings) but also with other groups who have not traditionally be sympathetic to the party, but who love freedom of expression: artists and journalists, to name two groups. I have to agree -- other than hacks who collect a paycheque or a fat contract from HRCs, there really aren't a lot of people in Canada willing to stand up for censorship. It's so un-Canadian, people really have to be paid to support it.

What's "un-Canadian" is long-term tolerance of malicious nonsense. So I don't see why our momentum should flag, really, because - quite honestly - civil rights and wealth are incommensurate.

That is, faced with a choice, we are far better off with civil rights than wealth. It's no use having a million dollars in the bank, if we can't talk to a lawyer, or if - due to the extra-legal proceedings of "human rights" tribunals - our civil rights have no force or effect. The money will be grabbed away from us by opportunists, so we will have neither money nor civil rights in the end.

So we are actually better off with nothing in the bank and the right to demand a lawyer - in a system where law really matters - where the tribunal CAN'T just make it up as they go along (= what "human rights" tribunals apparently do).

Now, is that really so hard to understand?

More good news from the Ez (civil rights lawyer Ezra Levant) Alberta provincial cabinet minister Lindsay Blackett has been acting like, well, ... like a minister of the Crown, that is, like what a Cabinet minister is supposed to be. Blackett, pictured above, has denounced the Alberta "human rights" tribunals - after a thorough study of their workings. Blackett told Rick Bell of the Calgary Sun,

He wants the commission to go back to protecting people against discrimination in jobs, housing and access to facilities and not clamping down on those who make statements another person or persons don't like.

The minister, who is a Calgary MLA and a refreshing voice in the provincial Tory inner circle, says the original protections involve about 96% of the complaints currently made, though those whining about free speech hurting them sure suck up a lot of ink.

"People have the right to say what they believe and Albertans strongly believe in that right," says Lindsay.

"We've got to try and find what was the purpose of the human rights commission to start with back in 1972."
Um, yeah. There is a difference between being homeless in midwinter and being annoyed by something someone said in a magazine somewhere, a magazine one doesn't even usually read.
There is - similarly - a difference between being unable to find a job and being annoyed by what a comic said at some late nite comedy show.

One possible reform would be to relieve "human rights" commissions for any responsibility for media or entertainment.

I hope that the Hon. Mr. Blankett will consider that approach, and I will write to him today to suggest it. Basically, I will say:
Mr. Blankett, you are quite right, and I commend you. No one should care much if people can't find a newspaper columnist they agree with (or a comedian who entertains them).

These are not issues that should interest government. Involving government, via "human rights" commissions, only creates a tsunami of unneeded problems. Surely you do right to insist that in these times human rights commissions focus on critical issues for most people's lives, like employment, housing, and health care.

The commissions may do right or wrong in these matters, but at least they will then focus on issues they were intended to focus on, not ones they should not even bother with - like someone' opinion of something someone else said in a magazine article some time.
Lastly, here's Jonah Goldberg on that largely abused expression, "speaking truth to power":

... it's worth remembering that government and corporations aren't the only institutions that can abuse power. Factions, to borrow a word from the Federalist Papers, have a power all their own. When governments cave to that power, they become mere tools of bullies. And when journalists go along for the ride, there's no one left to speak truth to power when that is what's needed most.
Oh, and here's more evidence that legacy media are toast:

Throughout the rich countries of the developed world, the audience for broadcast news, especially on television, is falling. The audience for current affairs programs is declining even more rapidly. Where publicly funded broadcasters can continue to support significant news and current affairs divisions, commercial television is cutting back across the board on once prestigious programs.

The news they do carry is markedly lighter in content, more concerned with crime and celebrity than has previously been the case. Great U.S. networks that had once kept a legion of correspondents in bureaus throughout the world now have only a handful.

This applies even more obviously to the print media. Newspapers which had sprung from and helped to define cities- from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, Glasgow to Toronto--now face 2009 with increasing nervousness.
Too much of the legacy media is part of the problem we have reestablishing intellectual freedom, because they are trying to survive by fronting conventional rot, instead of helping us transition to a new economy and a new way of relating to the global world, while retaining our rights as citizens in relation to government.

This post is brought to you courtesy of Fire. Them. All News Roundup.

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Intellectual freedom in Canada: Opposing the moral basis for a backward society

As I slowly work my way back to regular posting, following a relative's illness, I thank all for patience. I sometimes take a few days to catch up with paying work and errands.

Most blogging is a volunteer activity, aimed at telling you news you often won't hear in legacy media. Please be patient, and thanks to all generous PayPal donors.

Some readers have wondered why I deked into the "free speech" question in Canada, instead of simply maintaining an independent news desk in the intelligent design controversy.

Well, basically, friends were in trouble or worried about getting into trouble with an increasingly illiberal and anti-civil rights establishment in Canada, aimed at shutting down dissent against government policies. So I actually didn't have much of a choice, if you assume that turning your back on your friends is not a choice.

Yes, intellectual freedom matters to everyone. When a public grows unused to hearing anything that challenges convention, it begins to assume that whatever does challenge convention must be "wrong." It needn't be wrong on a factual or logical basis; it is wrong merely because it challenges convention!

That wouldn't matter so much, I suppose, if the challenge to convention is merely a drunk spouting swear words on a street corner. But what if the challenge is new ideas that people should think about? Organized wrong-doing by people from whom we would least expect such behaviour?

The huge growth, in my lifetime, of censorious "human rights" organizations that supposedly protect people from being "offended" forms a moral basis for a backward society.

Fortunately, I am proud to report that many are fighting back here in Canada. Regular readers will recall my post on columnist Mark Steyn's testimony at the Ontario legislature (February 9, 2009). But much has happened since then, and here are a few updates:

The libel dispute between the Ottawa Citizen and former Ontario police officer Danno Cusson - who had gone to Ground Zero to help out - has been appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Why does this matter? Because under Canadian law, it has never been entirely clear whether the public interest is a defense against a libel suit. As Kirk Makin recounts in The Globe and Mail (February 18, 2009),
Mr. Dearden said that the case under appeal - in which former Ontario Provincial Police constable Danno Cusson won a $125,000 jury award - is a classic instance. He said that The Citizen lost despite having substantial evidence that Mr. Cusson and his pet dog hindered search efforts at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks in New York City.

"In my submission, that is not only chilling, but frightening," Mr. Dearden said. "What is an editor supposed to do? The public benefits from a vigorous press that performs its watchdog and bloodhound role."

Mr. Dearden and lawyers for many other newspaper and broadcasting organizations - including The Globe and Mail - urged the court to fashion a new defence against defamation, based on whether the subject matter of a report is in the public interest and whether a journalist took responsible steps to gather information.
The difficulty, as any journalist will realize, is that one may not know what will later turn out to be true.

Suppose I say that there is no current evidence of life of Mars, and some company, investing in life on Mars, loses money thereby. And I turn out to be wrong. Can they sue me?

In my view, it should be sufficient for me to demonstrate that I relied on responsible reports. Any other regime simply becomes a hindrance to disseminating information, by assigning unreasonable standards of evidence. The Canadian Press reports here and Don Butler reports for CanWest here. Here's Tonda MacCharles for the Toronto Star:

It's nice to see the legacy media waking up to some of these issues instead of continuing to sleepwalk over a cliff ...

Hat tip to Franklin Carter of the Book and Periodical Council of Canada, who reminds me that Freedom to Read Week begins on February 22.

Franklin also offers several interesting quotations:
Newspapers are born free, and everywhere they are in chains.

- Francis R. Scott (1973)

[Yes but, in my view, many of those chains are self-forged. It shouldn't have taken the newspapers nearly as long as it did to recognize current threats. But well, there is no time like the present. In fact, come to think of it, there is no time other than the present, so it is nice to see them wakey wakey. Yes, we do have a problem, folks ... Now get with the program!]
Two things must be said about knowledge deniers. Their rationale is always political. And more often than not, they hold in their hand a sacred text for certification.

- E. L. Doctorow (2007)

[Intersting, E.L., but increasingly these days not quite accurate. Many deniers of knowledge do not have a sacred text but a standard victimology line. For example, "I am a victim of ABC and I have a right to demand that you believe XYZ, and anyone who says they don't believe it is denying my rights by offending me." People who can get away with that stuff need not bother writing a sacred text. ]
If we ban whatever offends any group in our diverse society, we will soon have no art, no culture, no humour, no satire. Satire is by its nature offensive. So is much art and political discourse. The value of these expressions far outweighs their risk.

- Erica Jong (1995)

[Fair enough, Erica, but the risk is not usually evenly distributed. For example, as Mark Steyn pointed out at the Ontario legislature, the Knights of Columbus, a Christian group, was fined for backing out of hosting a lesbian wedding, but, he asks, would the lesbians even have tried to hold their wedding at a mosque? One key reason for getting rid of "offendedness" legislation is precisely to make society more fair.

Here's Steyn on that kind of thing, out in the hall after the hearing:

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