Saturday, February 16, 2008

Well, here we go again

Yup. Back blogging.
I simply couldn't justify blogging while my thesis wasn't finished. I missed out on a promotion last fall because it wasn't done and I kicked myself in the ass for weeks for the time I'd wasted typing opinion when I should have been writing history.
But the thesis is, effectively, finished. There are a million nips and tucks, but it will be handed in well before next fall's tenure-track job season. And I'm excited about it.
I found what I believe is important new stuff about:
* the way Mackenzie King handled the press.
* the way the Japanese-Canadian press was treated during the war.
* a blown attempt by the RCMP to hide the fact they'd "turned" a Nazi spy into a double agent.
* interesting material about the way Canadians viewed American servicemen stationed in Canada, especially black soldiers.
* the incredible recklessness and outright fascist sympathies of the mainstream Quebecois press and suppressed anti-Semitic material by Jean Drapeau.

I think this will make a good book.

So I'm back and I'm blogging. There are a lot of things I'd like to talk about.
First, I got the chance to thank my friend Liberal MP Keith Martin the other day for his work on trying to drop Sec. 13 from the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act will do a great job of protecting people from real discrimination in the workplace, housing, dealing with government, etc. without this section. The law should not empower Human Rights Commissions to attempt to censor the press, nor should it allow HRCs to anticipate the future effects of publications.
We have hate-crime laws in Canada and they are enforced. If you publish real hate literature, you are charged by the police and you can go to jail. In the Ezra Levant case, the police would not lay charges because republishing the Muhammed cartoons was not considered hate speech.
It is blasphemy in Muslim law, but blasphemy is not a crime in Canada for very good reasons that were hashed out in Parliament years ago. Quite simply, God will sort that out some day. And if writing or caricature goes farther than that, into real encouragement of discrimination, hatred or violence, the Criminal Code provisions are very clear.
We have the most repressive libel laws in the Western world.
Our governments and government-funded agencies, including schools, universities, police forces, and the public service, have zero-tolerance policies regarding racism and have strong mechanisms of enforcement.
Therefore, much as I think publishing material that offends the religious sensibilities of others is rude, I don't believe its criminal. Nor do I believe that reprinting chunks of controversial books should be considered a crime in this country. Mark Steyn's book may be right. It may be wrong. It is, however, part of the discourse on the future of the West and no one has the right to censor it or Maclean's for excerpting it.
Which brings me back to the beginning. I just spent four years studying wartime censorship. The censors and the Liberal government believed:
* political opinion should not be censored.
* facts of military value to the enemy should be censored.
* people had the right to know the specifics of censorship: what should be censored and what should not.
Those were very simple and reasonable principles which were applied at a time when German submarines prowled the St. Lawrence River and lurked off Halifax, when 500,000 Canadians were in uniform and several thousand were held as prisoners of the Nazis and the Japanese, often in hellish conditions. I have a lot of respect for the King government now. It was brave. It upheld democratic ideals even in the years (1940-1944) when it was not at all obvious we were going to win the war and when the Conscription issue nearly tore the country apart. That's the true test of a democratic government: whether, when the going gets tough, it is still willing to believe in, and depend on, democratic values like a free press.
So, how do today's governments measure up?
In my view, in the wake of terrorism laws that make a joke out of Magna Carta -- and are doing more to undermine social cohesion and Western values than any cartoons or magazine articles -- not so well.

2 comments:

RE said...

Your statement: ...but blasphemy is not a crime in Canada for very good reasons that were hashed out in Parliament years ago. Quite simply, God will sort that out some day.
- bang on!

I have often wondered if folks who believe they have to "protect" their god(s) from being offended weren't being just a tad arrogant.

I'm not an historian, or theologian, but from my readings over the years, it seems that many gods (including the Judeo/Christian, Islamic one) have a range of powers to choose from if they wish to protect themselves, even avenge themselves, should they feel the urge. They don't need much protection of, or from, mere mortals.

Or could it be, like much else in this post-modern era, even gods have become helpless, oppressed and victimized and need god-rights activists to speak for them.

Rachel said...

Tell Keith I said hello.