Freedom of expression

President of Bar Association reprimanded for speaking of WWII and the dangers of Marxism
Lifestyles 55 issues in the news
Dorothy Dobbie
Issues in the news

The first tenet of freedom is the ability to speak, to voice one’s opinion, to present new ideas, to suggest alternative narratives. Without freedom of speech humankind cannot progress. New ideas need to be expressed to take life and develop. Freedom of expression, in whatever form it takes, encourages enterprise and discovery and advancement.

History tells us how true this is as we look back to the various times when freedom of speech was only free as long as one said only what everyone else believed. Think of the Auto de Fe in Spain when people were burned at the stake for questioning religion, or later in America when women who had opinions that others rejected were also burned. Think more recently of the totalitarianism of fascism and communism where voicing one’s opinions was a ticket to the Gulag – or worse.

Yes, there are limits to this freedom, generally based on the principle of harm. In the past, that harm was obvious – incitement to riot, to kill, to hate, to cause physical damage. Today, cancel culture is insisting that we define “harm” as “hurting someone’s feelings”, offering offence. Since there is no way of knowing what word, phrase or comment might cause someone to have their feelings hurt, this definition is a being used as a free ride to suppression of free speech.

This is no slight thing. Senator Beyak was drummed out of Parliament for saying truthfully that not all residents of residential schools were harmed and that some thrived. She had Indigenous champions who agreed, but that did not matter. She was called a racist and worse.

There have been other cases, but one that has hit some of us right in the gut most recently is the story of the young president of the Manitoba Bar Association. In November, in her president’s message in the Association’s monthly newsletter, “Headnotes and Footnotes”, she chose to write about a serious subject, the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. She wrote about her two grandfathers, their trials as immigrants from the British Isles and their service in the war. Now, here is the unbelievable part: what she wrote from this point on was redacted in the next newsletter. She was made to apologize for hurting someone’s feelings and she lost her position as president of Manitoba Bar Association. These are the words that were redacted; I am printing this exactly as it appeared in the Bar Association’s publication:

Having a son of my own now, I think about the life I am able to provide him and how it is I am able to do so. We live very good lives and we owe this directly to those who stood up at a crucial time in world history and the many who paid the ultimate price.

During these reflections, I am concerned my son will not grow up in the same Canada that I have. I am troubled when I hear of arguments raised in our Courts and Human Rights Commissions that are on their face frivolous, diametrically opposed to our rule of law and to the Charter for which we are able to live under because we are a free and democratic society. The (sometimes) well intentioned and (often) naive ‘social justice warriors’ call for change with the desire of a socialist utopia, but it seems to me they do not appreciate the dangers of Marxism. A well respected Manitoban business leader and philanthropist recently responded to a jest about his stance on socialism with, “Capitalism is only the slightly lesser evil to Socialism”.

At a time of unfathomable national debt, a rise in nationalism, widening racial divides, growing mistrust of the police, polarized opinion reporting media, and a plummeting respect for the rule of law from citizen to Parliament, I fear we are on a slippery slope to communism for the next generation of Canadians. In the last few years we have embarrassingly spent more time following and complaining about American politics than we have our own, and the youngest Canadians are far removed from those who fought in WWI and WWII. I believe they do not understand what our ancestors fought for and fought against, and as such, are not on guard for the ingredients that evolve into fascism or an otherwise undemocratic society. As citizens and as lawyers, it is imperative that we do not let Remembrance Day become just another day off of work. If we lose what this day stands for, we lose at its core what it is that makes us Canadian.

Another innocuous paragraph about why she was changing her tone from light to serious, in that “November is a serious month”, was also stricken.

In the December issue, her message was brief. She apologized, saying, “It was not my intent to be hurtful. I am, as is the MBA, strongly supportive of the advancement of social equality rights and other important socially progressive issues.”

How in the name of all that is right, could anything in those paragraphs be “hurtful” to anyone? And if it was, they are the owners of their own feelings and bear responsibility for accepting that people were killed in the war, families destroyed, lives forever altered, that after the war, destructive forces took advantage of the disarray and moved into positions of power that trampled on rights, sent countless people to more death, starvation, exile, prison, torture . . . And that countless veterans were forever damaged by what they had witnessed, and that trauma had an effect on their children.

I am outraged that this young woman’s freedom of expression has been so completely quashed, and by the Law Society, no less. I should think that every self-respecting lawyer in the province would be up in arms, demanding that this be put right!

These types of abuses of our fundamental democratic rights must stop. And they will only stop if fair-minded people of good will stand and be counted.

I stand. I hope you do, too.