by Paul Fromm, Canadian Association for Free Expression
Just ten days after a rowdy mob of protesters, egged on by a university administration that admonished the controversial U.S. writer Ann Coulter against “inappropriate” or hateful speech, won the University of Ottawa (unaffectionately known as the U of Zero) a reputation for censorship when Ottawa Police advised that the appearance be canceled rather than that they preserve law and order and free speech, Canada’s foremost free speech lawyer, Doug Christie, made a successful appearance before a packed standing room only meeting of 150. The meeting was organized by a number of free speech supporters and partially funded by the Canadian Association for Free Expression. Afterward, the audience listened with rapt attention and engaged the Battling Barrister in a lively discussion.
Notes for Doug Christie’s Speech
University of Ottawa, April 8, 2010
I’m here to talk about free speech. I’m not here to practice it.
Unlike Ann Coulter, I don’t need a warning from the provost. I am a Canadian, trained by law in the way of silence, sullen silence, and code language. I have been trained by the Supreme Court not to engage in hate speech, even though no one can define it in advance, so I can avoid it.
There are general taboo topics which I must avoid or tread lightly around, like race, religion, ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability or mental status. Then there are peripheral taboo topics like multiculturalism, immigration, affirmative action programs and a host of other ill-defined topics.
I have been trained to remain very sensitive to the broad political implications of these topics lest I face a very expensive lesson from the Human Rights Tribunal.
What the Supreme Court taught me when I appeared in Taylor and Zundel and Keegstra was that free speech has its limits in “hate” which means “extreme dislike.” So presumably I must like all races, religions, ethnic origins, etc. equally or at least dislike them only moderately. Or at least pretend to, which is more Canadian. I cannot denounce any one as evil.
The Law Society, through its decision of Harvey Strosberg taught me that if I speak in public, “law students” may tape some but not all of my words, and the Chairman of the Discipline Committee can issue a statement to the media condemning me as “identifying with a lunatic fringe,” even in the very act where he decides not to give me the benefit of a hearing where I could answer the allegation with evidence where both sides could be heard.
I learned in McAleer and Malcolm Ross, both of which went to the Supreme Court of Canada, that expressing your religious beliefs on your own time, is no defence and placing the messages in the United States where it is legal, is no defence if you mention where you can get the message to someone in Canada.
I learned that our parliamentarians of all parties love free speech so much that they banned someone from the precincts of Parliament who wanted to rent the parliamentary press gallery, a place anyone can rent for a press conference.
What was the press conference about? That the Human Rights Tribunal had ruled in Zundel’s case that “Truth was no defence,” and the truth of the statement could not be proven by any evidence. I know because that someone was me, the only lawyer in Canadian history to be banned by all party agreement from the precincts of parliament. Because in Canada truth is no defence. Orwell was right about double speak. Randy White a so-called Reform MP said he did not want me in his work place. Orwell was right about a lot of things.
I have learned and been carefully taught to avoid the taboo topics, to measure every word lest a tape recorder in the audience be taken to the Human Rights Commission, the police, the Law Society, or someone likes to complain to the Human Rights Commission.
I have learned to talk about free speech but never practice it. Never say anything like Ann Coulter would say, coming from a free society. And being in a university setting is all the more reason to be very careful about how you choose your words. The left-wing political giants who run most universities are able to let loose the mob with a wink and the students know their success with many professors depends on how successfully they can entrap a political foe.
Universities are the most dangerous place to practice free speech. Even topics like abortion which you would not normally think involve a taboo topic can quickly be spun into forbidden territory and sexism can result in expulsion or criminal charges. The civility of universities is accorded to those who can mobilize the largest screaming mob. No one listens.
I have to even be careful how I speak about Freedom of Speech.
So let me just speak about freedom of speech. I have come here to praise freedom of speech, not to bury it. I do not want to be cynical or bitter. But since 1984 when I took up the cause of freedom, I have become aware of the price to be paid for this precious legacy of freedom.
My office has been vandalized, repeatedly; my name has been defamed in the press; I have been the target of spurious complaints to law societies, I have been banned from the precincts of parliament. The very press who today became the target of complaints themselves because they post on the internet, who have come late to the battle, because of their money and power, are turning the tide. They were not long ago in the forefront of the mob, vilifying my clients and myself, since it was not their ox that was gored. Irony, thy name is Canada.
1984, the year Orwell entitled his most famous work was actually the year I got involved in the defence of James Keegstra. From that moment on, the lawyer who had defended successfully all manner of criminal cases from drugs to rape to murder and with no ill effects to his reputation other than professional jealousy became in the eyes of many, through the window of the media, a hated nazi-lawyer. This title, I have worn to this day, at first reluctantly and gradually resigned myself to it, knowing as “Human Rights” law tells us, “Truth is no defence.”
I would never be elected anywhere to anything. Any party would expel me, the right of left for fear of the media. I was warned this would happen. “Better alone than in the company of hypocrites,” I reasoned. There is one hope and that is that truth cannot be buried forever, and people will tell it come what may, even about race, religion, or ethnicity. There are some truths to be told on that score. They are the building blocks of culture and even the government of Quebec is recognizing this, even though they wrap it in convoluted language. Oops! I almost practiced free speech!
The best indication of what is the true value of free speech is provided by what happens when it is taken away. The thinking people become “bush league.” The first reaction to a controversial idea is not to hear the person about whom you heard, but to adopt the mob-mind view.
Left-wing, multicultural, tolerant, good. Right wing, xenophobic, intolerant, bad. A few code words and the mob takes the argument to the streets. The psychological guillotine cuts off debate and civility like the real guillotine cut off heads in Paris in the revolution till there were no heads to cut off. Everybody was at the same low level of passive, intellectual obedience to the omnipotent state. Then a forceful tyrant like Napoleon can impose his will with very little difficulty. Do we really have to go through these cycles of oppression, revolution, depression? Have we no intellect to listen for ourselves, evaluate for ourselves, accept or reject an idea with a civil attitude of tolerance? Do we need to have a hysterical violent reaction to every idea of a different perspective?
The Roman maxim: “Audi Alteram Partem” was over the door of the law library at McGill University where I once spoke. I entered through that doorway to face a hostile screaming mob, much like Ann Coulter faced. They had never met me. They could never hear me. Why did they reject me before hearing me? Why not hear both sides? Sometimes all sides need to be heard. Until they are, how can you really form an intelligent and informed opinion?
I believe the truth is that the idea of tolerance has been used as an Orwellian doublespeak smoke screen for intolerance and is really about narrowing the scope of debate before the debate begins. This is consistent with Marxism, but it is not consistent with liberalism or of constitutional principles of free speech. Certain topics cannot be discussed.
We don’t absolutely make it illegal to talk about certain subjects, we just make it so dangerous, with so many obscure and complex rules that no one dares to go there. Somewhat like gun laws. We don’t overtly ban all fire arms. No, we would find too much resistance and rational criticism. The hypocritical Canadian way is simply to regulate them out of existence, gradually, just like controversial speech. Hate laws mean whatever we say they mean. We will only tell you after you say something if you have offended. This is the process of gradual Marxism. The state gradually disarms the citizen of their weapons and their free speech by slow degrees so that absolute control both physical and mental will be with the state.
The other side of this equation is the enforcers, state agents, professional complainers, the enablers of state power. The people who go from politicians to judge or from politician to president of a University. They create a network of willing and compliant officials who can be counted on to cleverly manipulate and manage the progress from freedom, which they call “anarchy,” to the tyranny they call a “benevolent oligarchy.”
Thus they acquire through a system of servants and paid enforcers, through Human Rights Commissions and police forces the only persons authorized by law to break into your house, seize your computer, examine your files, your books, your speeches, your appearances and even your surreptitiously recorded comments as in the case of David Ahenakew.
They can ruin you. They can prosecute you. They can and will vilify you in the press. As was done to David Ahenakew and then even if you win, you still lose. You go through court for four years of stress and when you are finally acquitted, no one says “sorry” or pays your costs. On the contrary, they repeat in the media around the world the words of the judge condemning you in the very act of acquitting you.
And the state has all the guns, police, sheriffs, jails, probation officers, all paid by the state which you support with your taxes. If you want to be a paid bully, there’s a job for you. If you want to shoot people, just don’t say so, join the RCMP. If you want to taser people like Dziekanski, if you want to shoot teenagers like Ian Bush, or misfits like Jess Hughes, and never be charges, join the RCMP.
Just be sure you don’t admit what you did and the establishment will protect you. You are after all, protecting them. We are paying for our own enslavement. Only a few really know where we are going. The rest are following along for the ride, and the free lunch.
(Oops! Too much free speech!)
So if you want to carry on down the road to tyranny, just shout me down. If you want to go quietly into the night of tyranny, just ignore what I have said. Put it out of your mind and never think of it again. The legitimate function of the state is to preserve and maximize the freedom of the conscience, belief and opinion of the individual. It is not to enforce a social model of artificial cultural stew, enforced by law. We have inherent rights to survive as a free people only to the extent we articulate, manifest with rigorous debate and listen to all criticism with an enlightened and critical mind. Let us not presume we are possessed of all knowledge before the discussion starts, and set a limited agenda for social and acceptable speech.
Where once sex was a taboo topic, it has now become an obsession. Speech about race, if suppressed, becomes an obsession and if further suppressed, leads to violence. Let’s get debate out of the closet on all matters. Let’s use it, or we’ll lose it.
I have not said anything. More than anything, I have been allowed to speak here without interruption on the belief I would be ineffectual and secondly I would make the administration look better than the last speaker who was cancelled. I realized this at the beginning, but it is an opportunity to make the point that the redemption of an individual like me, or a society like your university, or of a country like Canada, is only possible if we listen to each other and talk openly about all of our serious and sensitive issues. Unless this really happens, Canada isn’t worth saving and neither is this university.
I will leave here knowing more than anyone in this room about the battles for free speech that have gone on in this country in the last thirty years. I see only minor changes occurring. This is your chance to ask what you need to know to make a difference.