Nevertheless, the organizers of the protest seemed convinced that this was actually binding legislation, and that it would prevent informed criticism of the Islamic faith or of Islamist-linked terrorism — a pernicious chimera.
But the more important point is how this is one more attempt by voices on the right to distort the nature of free speech in a democratic culture. The new rallying cry of the right is based on the notion that various forces (the media, in particular) are conspiring to limit their ability to utter uncomfortable truths. It’s a false and self-deceiving idea.
The radical left does sometimes act badly, even violently, as we saw recently in Berkeley, California with the protests against a planned speech by Breitbart editor and alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. But Yiannopoulos — a legend in his own lunchtime — seeks only to provoke; for him, outrage is an end in itself.
He and his people confuse the right to speak with the obligation to insult. Even so, they should have that right. But it’s their hypocrisy, their callow understanding of liberty and power, that is so infuriating.
Ugly and angry mobs are obviously wrong, but the greater and more significant threat to free thought and speech is far more subtle and effective — and is very much a creature of the political right. It took decades of struggle and sacrifice, for example, for LGBTQ people and women to be heard in media or to achieve equality. Conservative values guaranteed that free speech was confined to those with power. The concept of free speech is seldom as simple as it seems.
Then we have a more modern inconsistency. The founder of The Rebel, the media enterprise that organized the Toronto rally, dropped me from his then-new organization after just five days. When he’d approached me I told him I was not “on brand” but he insisted that he wanted a variety of opinions. After I wrote an article in the National Post supporting the Ontario sex education curriculum and criticizing the homophobia and hysteria of some of its critics, however, he said I was “confusing his audience.” It was his project and he had a perfect right to drop me — but it did raise questions in my mind.
The rally was moved from its original hotel location — after people telephoned to express their displeasure — to Canada Christian College. The president of that college, Charles McVety, once debated with me on CBC television, again on sex education. On air, he said that I was no longer “a family man” and suggested I was defending the former Ontario government advisor and convicted child pornographer Benjamin Levin.
This is the very type of “free speech” to which many on the new right refer: the right to insult, offend and, often, simply lie.
On the same issue, on the Facebook page of a high-profile academic who teaches at one of Canada’s leading evangelical universities, a woman wrote a post suggesting I was a pedophile. The academic in question is one of the more prominent supporters of the so-called ‘free speech’ movement — someone who repeatedly warns of liberals and Muslims working together to silence people.
Three years ago, a Christian TV network fired me — and not because of anything I had said on air. They told me by e-mail that they were delighted with my work, but people had complained because they knew I supported equal marriage rights. The same thing happened to a column I published in an Alberta newspaper. An arch-conservative, anti-abortion group with international influence organized a letter-writing campaign to have me dismissed as a columnist in western Canada. Another such attack from other conservatives led to the cancellation of many of my speeches.
This is just me, so imagine how many other people have experienced something similar — or worse. Many voices on the right can be devious, clinical and cruel in their determination to silence all views that clash with their own. Remember that the next time you see another conservative tearfully claiming victim status.
Author: Michael Coren