A free hit for free speech

Ottawa Citizen – –

By David Warren
January 25, 2011

We really must occasionally praise public officials, when they do the right thing. So let me begin today’s sermon by praising two ministers of the Crown, James Moore (at Heritage) and Jason Kenney (at Citizenship) for not only doing the right thing, but tweeting it clearly and promptly. They told the functionaries at Library and Archives Canada what’s what when the latter cancelled a scheduled showing of the film Iranium — after receiving complaints from the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran and some related mild threats.

Of course, they were also showing sharp political instincts. Iran has few friends in Canada, most recent immigrants from that country having fled the regime; and Sunni Muslims of Arab origin having little regard for an heretical Persian Shia dictatorship. Despite fairly wide acquaintance, I don’t actually know a single Canadian resident who is well-disposed to the ayatollahs. This means, in turn, that there is no reward for any opposition party which might wish to rush to the ayatollahs’ defence. Thus, the ministers’ gesture came close to what I will call a “free hit”; and now we can all look forward to seeing that film in its intended venue, with police protection.

My praise isn’t being withdrawn, however: only slightly qualified. A kind of neurotic fear that, even when there are no vote-costing enemies in sight, something may emerge from the woodwork, usually governs government action. I could count on the fingers of many hands the number of times I have thought Harper officials could have made some nominally “conservative” point, in defence of traditional Canadian liberties, with little or no political repercussion. And as something of a conservative myself, I have chafed.

For in the dark art of politics, as I understand it, one never wants to miss a free hit. It helps build up one’s batting average, for the day one must face a serious opponent. Let them know, from some modest track record, that you just might make a stand; and they just might adjust their demands, accordingly.

The issue here is, “freedom of speech.” Do we have it in Canada, or do we not? This would once have been a rhetorical question, but isn’t today. The existence of numerous so-called human rights commissions, and other legal and administrative machinery for the prosecution of the “politically incorrect,” has brought the whole question back to life — after centuries of freedom from formal state censorship, and star chambers.

It would be wrong to say that censorship has been re-imposed. But instead, perhaps something worse is happening. With formal censorship, a journalist or anyone with something to say, could know where he stood. I have witnessed at first hand journalism operating under censorship requirements, in Third World countries, and it struck me that both writer and reader knew what the rules were. It thus remained possible to put things “between the lines.”

Even in Soviet Russia, readers knew how to understand, for instance, an item in Pravda that declared, “There have been no riots in Gorki, and all rumours to that effect are cialis free sample false.” Translation: there have been riots in Gorki, and all the rumours are true.

This article was originally published here.