The only way to emancipate oneself from slurs, one thoughtful commentator once opined, is to take legal action against the authors of those same slurs -- "whenever they occur".
There are a great many journalists who would doubtlessly disagree with such a sentiment (although their numbers will shrink dramatically, as we shall see, once the identity of that thoughtful commentator is revealed). Journalists often regard laws restricting what people can say and write as heretical, dangerous, or unconstitutional. In the past decade or so, in fact, a sizeable number of opinion pieces have been published in Canadian newspapers warning of the dangers associated with such laws, and how they inevitably lead to a "chill" in the public expression of ideas.
That, certainly, seems to have been the utilitarian fever that gripped the confused author of the lead editorial in the Jan. 4, 1999, edition of the National Post, titled Can We Talk? In that editorial, the author -- whose identity, mercifully for him or her, remains cloaked -- asserted that laws designed to prevent the promotion of hatred and genocide were, among other things, "political censorship", "potentially sinister", and "authoritarian and illiberal".
The evidence marshalled to validate these ridiculous charges by the Post? The cases of Jim Keegstra, the one-time Alberta school teacher, and that of Malcolm Ross, another former teacher, from New Brunswick. With little success, but no small amount of sophistry, the author of the Post's editorial sought to whitewash the hateful activities of Messrs. Keegstra and Ross -- terming the Supreme Court of Canada's thoughtful decision in the former case "enforced orthodoxy", and its judgment in the latter case "ideological conformity". The facts suggest an entirely different reality.
In his Eckville classroom, Mr. Keegstra for many years taught his students -- a word we often employ, it should be recalled, to describe children in our educational system -- that Jews were "money thugs" and "gutter rats". One boy, Richard Denis, received an approving grade from Mr. Keegstra for writing this in an essay: "We must get rid of every Jew in existence so we may live in peace and freedom". Another of Mr. Keegstra's students, Gwen Matthews, wrote in an essay that, during the Revolution, French Jews would kill "innocent girls", then "cook the girl and [eat] her". The Post's editorial board member, however, informs your readership that it is "offensive" that Mr. Keegstra was brought to legal account for teaching children these sorts of obscenities, which he or she calls "ideas". I may be missing something, but I fail to see where the "idea" is in what Richard Denis was encouraged to write.
The Post's editorial is also offended that Mr. Ross was removed from his proximity to New Brunswick youngsters for his own libels against Jews, non-whites, and many others. In his various self-published books, Mr. Ross likens Jews to "a deadly poison", asserts that the Holocaust was "imaginary", and declares that immigration "dilutes the blood ... of our Race". Mr. Ross, it should be noted, was not even prosecuted for circulating this sort of filth in the communities in which his students lived; he was merely removed from his teaching position, but was permitted to remain on the payroll as a curriculum planner. The Post's editorialist, meanwhile, concludes that such a change in Mr. Ross's employment status was "extraordinary". (On the contrary: what was extraordinary was that Mr. Ross was not simply fired.)
And what are we to make of all of this? Our nameless correspondent sneers that we Canadians live in a society that is "saturated in public conformity", and insinuates that those of us in the colonies need to wake up, and embrace the forward-thinking American approach. In that country, of course, Ku Klux Klansmen are regularly given permits to march through minority neighbourhoods and scream racial epithets at children; in that country, neo-Nazis are permitted access to publicly funded airwaves to praise Adolf Hitler; in that country, as any idiot would know, racial tensions remain proportionately worse than anywhere else on the planet. The Post's editorial writer, however, breathlessly urges us to emulate our American neighbours in respect of hate propaganda, and thereby become more "free".
The thoughtful commentator referred to at the outset of this article had a different view, as do I. Making Canada's laws relating to human expression more similar to those in the United States, he writes, gives a select few "a complete liberty to build and destroy reputations".
The author of the thoughtful commentary? Mr. Conrad Black, proprietor of this newspaper.
-- Warren Kinsella is a Toronto public policy lawyer, and the author of Web of Hate: Inside Canada's Far Right Network.