Canada is Free and Freedom is Its Nationality

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Monday, December 7, 2009

Event Blogging the Free Speech and Liberty Symposium: Conformity in the Name of Diversity

Please Note: This is a summary of the events and speeches in my own words for educational, information, and entertainment purposes only. It is not the speakers' exact words and should not be taken as such. It also may contain errors due to the nature of the medium. I am not responsible for any of them, use at your own risk and consult the official audio record if you want to verify or quote anything.

Panal with John Robson and Peter Stockland

Dr. Robson is a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen, a broadcaster with News Talk Radio 580 CFRA in Ottawa, an Invited Professor at the University of Ottawa and a policy analyst with Breakout Educational Network.

Mr. Stockland is Executive Director, Centre for Cultural Renewal. Formerly, Stockland was a Vice President of Readers’ Digest Magazines Canada Ltd., editor-in-chief of The Gazette in Montreal, editorial page editor of the Calgary Herald and has worked as a journalist throughout Canada during his 30-year career in the media.

Conformity in the name of Diversity:

Dr Robson starts:

There is a concern that our rights are being eroded at the same time that we are obsessed with human rights. While we have the Canadian Charter, we are reading Shakedown.

Ezra Levant says that the HRC were a beautiful idea that failed. My job is to take issue with this statement.

It was impossible for them to succeed because they were founded on a faulty idea of how you secure rights.

In the West we have had, throughout our history, a good idea of what rights are.

The Charter did three things it should not have done. These issues need to be looked at separately because often we tangle them up.

One: It tried to establish popular sovereignty as opposed to Parliamentary sovereignty. They were dealing with the question, can you have rights in the long terms without a constitution starting We the People? However the end result was that neither ended up being sovereign.

Two: We got rights from above in a glowing and abstract way. It sounds better than lots of fiddly little details but ultimately is not a good idea.

Three: It promised more than there was and things that could not be given. It promised human satisfaction, self esteem, and things that may not even be possible this side of the grave, and are certainly not given by the government.

When he was young he didn't like the notwithstanding clause but as he got older he understood. Albert Venn Dicey in Law of the Constitution wrote about that with us freedom of the person is not a special privilege but the outcome of the ordinarily law of the land enforced by the Courts. This sounds weaker than the American style of we the people. However, the English have a long history of being very free.

What Venn Dicey says about rights is that they do not float down in a sweet smelling cloud but rise from specific laws that have specific remedies to prevent people from doing specific wrongs.

The proclamation in a constitution or charter of the right to personal freedom or indeed of any other right gives of itself but slight security that the right has more than a nominal existence. Students who wish to know how far the right to freedom of the person is in reality part of the law of the constitution must consider both what is the meaning of the right and, a matter of even more consequence, what are the legal means by which it's exercise is secured. (Rough quote from Dicey)

We can gather here not because of the constitution but because we have specific laws and remedies if someone tries to prevent us.

When we have procedural protections freedom wells up from below.

What the law needs to do in order to secure personal liberty is the same in popular and parliamentary sovereignty.

English law does not grant freedom for political meetings, or even concerts, but it provides individual rights for the people that might attend such meetings.

There is an infamous American ruling that at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence. Some would say that we cannot, existence has been defined by the Almighty and we can either bow to it or break ourselves upon it. Others would agree with this ruling and still believe in freedom of speech.

We cannot enforce this in law. We cannot enforce in law everyone's idea of their own reality.

The American first amendment is a bunch of don'ts and nots. Congress shall not do so and so, or make this kind of law.

The Magna Carta says there are specific acts the state cannot do and specific remedies if they violate that.

The Charter says we have the right to freedom from unreasonable search or seizure but unlike the American has no specific don'ts or remedies.

The Charter says government is committed to promoting equal opportunities for the well-being of Canadians. How can you sue with this? Who can you charge if the government fails? You could word it in such a way such that it would be enforceable. Such as Government shall respect contracts. Etc. but not like this.

People say that the Soviet Constitution gave rights and yet look what happened. However the Soviet Constitution said that the safety of the revolution is of the highest importance. Therefore they could do whatever they wanted.

The Charter gave us metaphysical madness, botched popular sovereignty, and makes promises it can't deliver on.

People make the argument of necessity, but necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. Is the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves as William Pitt said.

We have been deprived of our procedural rights.

Peter Stockland speaks next:

He wants to give a practical case study.

In Montreal a pro-life conference was disrupted by a bunch of pro-choice activists who tried to prevent it from proceeding. He chose this example because the whole thing is available on youtube in 19 parts.

At the beginning of the conference someone gets up to introduce the speaker. Before she even finishes four people start banging on the table and shouting slogans. Over time the number of protesters grows to twenty.

After a time the police arrived but order was not restored. Eventually in a Kafkaesque moment, the pro-life club had their membership suspended because someone complained about it. The victims were further victimized.

At the time the protesters got up and started singing nursery rhymes. They tried to trivialize the conference.

It was chilling to think that these were all post-charter kids. They grew up in a Canada where government enforces the primacy of the subjective, HR Commissions, the Charter, etc.

This shows how attitudes have shifted from the classical attitude of rights.

We should do an analysis of different event disruptions. If you did such an analysis of disruptions across the country I think you would find reoccurring words that would give you the key to the mindset behind such actions.

This shift in attitudes takes the form of a series of mantras. The primary one is that code must triumph civilized behaviour. The codes, the law, themselves are the remedy. The codes permit them to disrupt these meetings. The mantra is that “This is Not a Debate”. Organizers of the pro-life conference offered to to host a debate but pro-choicers didn't bring someone forward. When protesters were reminded of this they said that it was not a debate. They were not there to debate. It was like they owned the conference.

This is not a continuation of the political correctness debates of the 90s. That was mostly about prissiness, what you can say. This is about I don't want to hear what you have to say and I don't have to go away from where you are saying it.

At one point we see a girl handing out the McGill equity code. She is standing in front of a person trying to speak. She is saying I have a right to be here and disrupt you because I have the code in my hand.

Equity is no longer each to his own in a fair way, it is existential and cannot be violated.

Someone said that the conference was in violation of the Charter, McGill equity policy, and “Me”. The Me is the most important. The codes don't exist to police the interaction between views. They are there to protect ME from harassment even when she had to seek out the harassment.

A fellow says we have a right to a hate speech free campus. It is about me. I am protected from hate speech, which is speech I hate. If I hate it it must spread hate and thus must be hate speech.

These are not babies, they are in their 20s.

What is importnat in that definition of hate speech is that they assume they own the space. Hate speech has no place on OUR campus. It is not YOUR campus too. I am denying you the right to exist here, not just to speak. It establishes a proprietary relationship.

Click on part 8 of the Youtube if you cannot watch all 19. This is when a policeman shows up.

It illustrates the relationship that this Post-Charter generation has to authority. Authority is to be argued with, cajoled. One protestors asks a policeman do you want the media to see you dragging students out of the classroom? Police says yes, if I have to.

They ignore the policeman because code trumps law.

These codes exist to enforce the social orthodoxies of the post-charter world. The young people are not rebels, they are safeguarding their orthodoxy.

Freedom of speech is about the ability to call the orthodoxy into the public square, challenge it and make it defend itself.

This freedom of speech is seen as just something to be silenced.

Q1 Protestors from Greenpeace have taken over Parliament costing perhaps thousands, at another event the immigration minister was invited by a church group and experienced the same thing. Isn't this the same thing as happened when we were young in the 60s? Perhaps it is our chickens coming home to roost.

A1 No, this is the opposite. There was at that time at least an attempt at intellectual engagement, but not now. There is also the issue that what was dangerous in opposition is more so in power.

Q2 The authorities in McGill were at a loss how to deal with this. What can they do?

A2 Those protesters were very lucky that pro-lifers are very civil. They can't do that everywhere. In his hometown if people did that at a union meeting they wouldn't walk home. 
We must take back intellectual space that has been taken from us. Most people don't like disorder. We need to bring back civil discourse.

Q3 Once there was a concept of a “big law” that came from beyond the statutes. We have abandoned that. The British system is based on common law, unwritten, the court is discovering the rules of truly just behaviour, God's law. Also, disruptions of private meetings are one thing but public government meetings are different. When government people impose agendas they are in breach of the public trust and disruptions are completely in order.

A3 Acting in that way to start civil disobedience (government meeting) is quite different from actions to impose obedience. If we are engaged in civil disobedience then we accept the punishment. These young people don't see it that way.
(Somewhat dissenting view) Unless we see the system as completely illegitimate, disrupting the process of law is very serious and should be discouraged.

Q4 What seems to be growing up is social Darwinism.

A4 No question about it.

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