Monday, March 22, 2010

With All Due Respect

While I certainly respect Canadian insistence that they have freedom of speech in Canada, this letter to Ann Coulter seems to indicate that Canada does not, in fact, respect freedom of speech notwithstanding very impressive Charter citations. The figurative asterisk about that "right" gives the game away that freedom of speech is not so fundamental at all.

Wrote the university official to Ms. Coulter:

We have a great respect for freedom of expression in Canada, as well as on our campus, and view it as a fundamental freedom, as recognized by our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would, however, like to inform you, or perhaps remind you, that our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or “free speech”) in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States. I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here. You will realize that Canadian law puts reasonable limits on the freedom of expression. For example, promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges.

What is fundamentally clear is that the right of the most offensive and thin-skinned not to be offended is the fundamental "freedom" in Canada. Otherwise, the letter would have gone out to the Easily Offended communities of Canada that states that while Canada certainly has great respect for the feelings of their more--ah, "excitable" residents--as is evidenced by a number of fine statutes that urge politeness and respect, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom provides that freedom of expression is a fundamental freedom. So the easily offended who hear Ms. Coulter's words should get a pair, suck it up when their feelings are bruised, and fire up the word processor for some more of that freedom of expression so cherished in Canada--even if Ms. Coulter cries when she reads or hears their blistering rebuttal.

But that letter did not go out. As Mark Steyn writes, the letter that did get sent is "sad and embarrassing ". Canadians, in fact, have a fundamental right to freely express whatever the Hell the government says is reasonable. And the loudest and angriest (and bombiest) voices in Canada increasingly get to tell the government what that limit is. Sure, Ann Coulter can fight whatever the easily offended choose to dish out, but unlike the vast majority of Canadians who must knuckle under to the "reasonable limits" on their speech, she has the resources of time and money to make any prosecution or kangaroo court embarass the holders of the limits on free expression.

With all due respect to the Canadian government, the castrated freedom of expression their university lords celebrate  is no freedom at all. And yes, I use the expression in the sarcastic mode.

UPDATE: I'll not defend or endorse everything Ann Coulter states (or perhaps even most, but I really don't follow her to judge how much is agreeable versus disagreeable), but it is distressing that there is even a debate over whether she should be allowed to speak.

UPDATE: Hate mobs triumph over so-called hate speech--preemptively, of course, as Steyn writes:

Between them, the media, the law and the education system are actively shriveling Canada's liberties. It doesn't lead anywhere good.

So freedom in Canada dies a little bit more, at the hands of smug defenders of all that Canada now values. No point in taking chances that Coulter--or anyone else not approved by the mob and their enablers--wouldn't say something to hurt anybody's feelings. Best to keep impressionable Canadians easily swayed by hate speech into violence from hearing the speech in the first place.

Funny enough, the mob that  prevented Coulter from speaking demonstrated just that tendency, now didn't it?

UPDATE: Ms. Coulter responds. I'm sure the threats of violence and the actual mob that shut down her speech are the responsibility of Canadian tea partiers. I await the anguish of the media response.

UPDATE: A late update of hope. But first why I can't bring myself to be a fan of Ann Coulter even as I think she has a right to be heard:

Coulter is so relentlessly and deliberately abrasive that she almost chases support away. In her London, Ont., appearance this week, her harsh "take a camel" answer to a Muslim student was fingernails on a blackboard to our sensibilities. But then, I recall the Michael Moore images of kids kite-flying in Saddam's Iraq, which was a real shudder-inducing moment. Disneyfying the torture state that was Saddam's Iraq was the grander affront by far. Moore, playing to the easy line of George W. Bush as an idiot-Hitler, got feted at Cannes and won an Academy Award.

"Take a camel"? Is she serious? WTF? How does that help make her valid points? Why attack people who we've fought and died with side-by-side to fight jihadis? That type of talk pisses me off. And she doesn't need to do that. She says much that the Easily Offended Community doesn't like to hear, and pretty much anything will anger them. Why put off people--like me--with unneeded language? I have no idea if she even believes that stuff.

I wouldn't go see her. But I wouldn't riot to prevent her from speaking. Nor would I riot to stop the far more vile--because he adds dictator love to mere hateful speech--Michael Moore from speaking.

Anyway, here's the hope part:

Coulter's visit, finally, did have one permanent utility. It was another vivid illustration of how elastic and feeble, at least in certain quarters, the Canadian understanding of free speech has become. The idea, evidently held by certain of the protesters, that merely to call something "hate speech" licenses an attempt to halt that speech is depressing because it has become so common.

The talk of the university as a "safe space," meaning a place when people will neither hear nor confront speech or ideas with which they are not "comfortable," is politically correct cant of the highest order. It is close to a contradiction of the idea of a university. If Coulter's tempestuous visit teased a few of these considerations into the minds of those otherwise innocent of them, it was worth all the flurry and the fury.

Protecting the fragile little egos of the Lefties on Canadian campuses hasn't inculcated a sense of respect for others. Their "safe space" that has become a shield from thinking they don't like that leaves them free to devote 90% of their time on attack to shut down all speech that they don't agree with.