I think today is going to be “Free Speech Day” on this site, as readers have sent me a number of articles about people—mostly liberals and Leftists—favoring the suppression of free speech. Here’s one from Canada, which is rapidly becoming the PC capital of North America.
As most readers know, I’m not a fan of the BDS (“Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions“) movement against Israel. It unfairly targets one country against another with at least as many failings, penalizes academic discourse (which is almost sacred to me), and its ultimate aim, as expressed by its founder, is not to promote a two-state solution, which I favor, but to eliminate the state of Israel completely.
Regardless, though, I think its proponents should have every right to make their case, and without censorship. Sadly, the Canadian government is threatening to use its “hate crime” laws to go after BDS. As the CBC News reports;
The Harper government is signalling its intention to use hate crime laws against Canadian advocacy groups that encourage boycotts of Israel.
Such a move could target a range of civil society organizations, from the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Quakers to campus protest groups and labour unions.
If carried out, it would be a remarkably aggressive tactic, and another measure of the Conservative government’s lockstep support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
While the federal government certainly has the authority to assign priorities, such as pursuing certain types of hate speech, to the RCMP, any resulting prosecution would require an assent from a provincial attorney general.
Canada has, in recent years, been notably more pro-Israel than other Western countries, which is fine with me, but to suppress criticism of Israel, or urge financial action to damage it, is out of line.
The BDS tactic has been far more successful for the Palestinians than armed struggle. And it has caught on internationally, angering Israel, which reckons boycotts could cost its economy hundreds of millions of dollars.
Just last month, 16 European foreign ministers denounced the “expansion of Israeli illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories,” demanding that any imported goods originating in the settlements be distinctly labeled.But Canada, a country where the federal Liberal and NDP leaders also oppose BDS, appears to have lined up more strongly behind Israel than any other nation.
In January, Canada’s then foreign affairs minister, John Baird, signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Israeli authorities in Jerusalem, pledging to combat BDS.
It described the movement as “the new face of anti-Semitism.”
A few days later, at the UN, Canadian Public Security Minister Steven Blaney went much further.
He conflated boycotts of Israel with anti-Semitic hate speech and violence, including the deadly attacks that had just taken place in Paris on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket. [JAC: That’s a completely bogus comparison.]
Blaney then said the government is taking a “zero tolerance” approach to BDS.
Trying to suppress such movements is no different from a government trying to suppress the movement, in which I participated, to boycott South Africa to end apartheid. (That’s the one time in my life I was arrested—for trespassing on South African Embassy grounds to pin a note to its door.)
In my view, the the anti-apartheid boycott was far wiser than the current BDS movement, but the principle of allowing them to proceed is the same. If it’s “hate speech” to suppress one, it’s “hate speech” to suppress the other. Who decides what criticism is “hatred” and what is not? If Canada is suppressing the BDS movement because it’s seen “hate speech” against Israel, or even Jews, one could also argue that Israel is promulgating “hate speech” against Palestine. It’s a sticky wicket, and I hesitate to put my trust in the government of Canada to decide who should be censored, much as I like our friends to the North.
I asked reader Diana MacPherson what she thought about all this, and I reproduce her answer below with permission (indented):
Hmmmm, where do I begin? I guess first of all Hate Crime is somewhat nebulous in Canada as outlined quite nicely by this Canadian Department of Justice document. Interestingly, this document also addresses the UK’s and US’s interpretations of “Hate Crime”. You can see that the definitions vary from province to province and city to city. Looking for a federal definition, the closest I can find is the RCMP definition (since they are the federal police) and you can see it isn’t very satisfactory – from the same document:
“The RCMP does not use the category ‘hate crime’ in any formal way. However, some hate crimes are clearly addressed by the National Security Investigation Sections of the RCMP. Criminal, political or religious extremism, for example, can take a form that most people would recognize as a hate crime. Most of the hate crimes described in this report fall within the ambit of the provincial or municipal police services, rather than within the jurisdiction of the RCMP in its federal role. Although the RCMP does gather information relating to ideologically-motivated serious crime, statistics are not routinely compiled on criminal incidents that were motivated by hatred.”
As for the Israel part, this government has been a staunch supporter of Israel. For the most part, I’ve been okay with that except there are times when I think some of that support is blind support. You will not hear PM Harper criticize Israel ever (a bit about that in this bigger piece about Canadian foreign policy & US relations). Harper went to Israel last year and addressed the Knesset and he was praised, applauded and awarded by the Israeli’s. From a Globe & Mail article:
“In Israel, the Prime Minister came for a celebration after eight years of staunch support. And he got one. Israelis, along with some of the 200 invitees he brought with him, cheered him as he spoke to the Knesset and visited the Western Wall. At a celebratory ceremony at Tel Aviv University where he received an honorary doctorate, speaker after speaker heaped praise on Mr. Harper.
At the centre of the celebration, though, was Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who pitched a tent outside his office for a welcome ceremony, and dined elbow-to-elbow with Mr. Harper three nights in a row.
Their comments bounced off each other’s comfortably.
There were, in Mr. Harper’s agenda, few places for dissenting voices.”
So, while I tend to agree with a lot of Harper’s support of Israel, he’s almost sycophantic, and that makes me uncomfortable.As for this latest hate crime talk, I don’t know what to make of Harper’s motivations in saying such a stupid thing. . . it would never hold up under constitutional scrutiny (as the article points out) and I’m sure most Canadians, even if they support Israel like I do, find trying to charge someone with a hate crime for expressing their opinion like these groups do, to be odious and frankly dangerous (the state seems rather tyrannical at this point).
Thanks to Diana for her informed opinion, and I’m glad to see we’re in agreement. There should be NO laws against “hate speech” except in two circumstances: when that speech urges imminent violence against a nearby target, or when it is directed against a particular individual, class of individual, ethnicity, or gender in the workplace in such a way as to create a climate of hostility. This is more or less the position of the U.S. government, which in many ways is far more permissive than U.S. universities.