27 April 2010
Debate of the Senate (Hansard)
April 22, 2010
Honourable senators, I want to address the erosion of the freedom of
speech inquiry that was presented by a number of our colleagues on the
other side. I will begin by saying that it was eloquently presented;
there were excellent speeches and great research. At one point, Voltaire
was quoted. That is heady stuff. It gives an important issue a
significant philosophical, high-minded ring.
However, I am not buying that this freedom of speech inquiry comes
from where it seems to come from. There are a number of reasons for that
doubt. First, I am not even certain that anyone's freedom of speech has
been offended. If one listens to the debate and reads what is happening
in the media, it all seems to comes down to the "fact" that somehow the
right to freedom of speech of Ann Coulter was offended because of a
letter written by the provost of the University of Ottawa.
In reading that letter, there is little in it that in any way, shape
or form can be construed as limiting someone's right to freedom of
speech. The provost is not a police officer. He did not threaten to
throw her in jail. The provost is not some powerful official of the
Conservative government who can threaten to throw her out or stop her
from coming in. The provost did not cancel the booking of the room.
The university and the city supplied people to protect her.
Ultimately, it was not the provost, the university or the police who
made the call to cancel the speech; Ann Coulter and her organizers did.
It was perfect politics for her. She is famous for being famous. How
much more famous can you become than to be shut down on a speech, if you
can somehow construe it that way?
I look at that letter and ask how, in any way, shape or form, did the
provost curtail her freedom of speech? She could have spoken if she had
wanted to. Then the argument was that students were yelling at her, and
they were doing so, said someone, because the provost's speech inflamed
them. Did honourable senators read the letter? The provost uses calming
language, unlike Ann Coulter's language, which is not calming at all.
Might they have been yelling about her language in anticipation of
hearing more of it? Of course, they were.
I am not buying that there is any threat to freedom of speech. I
think we have a straw person happening over here and I wanted to know
exactly what that is so I began to analyze it, and there is more to this
If this government was worried about freedom of speech, let us look
at all the ways in which freedom of speech has been offended by this
government relatively recently, as has been pointed out by senators on
For example, let us talk about Linda Keen. She was right about the
nuclear safety issues at Chalk River. She was right, and what happened
to her? She was fired. The man who was wrong — the minister — kept his
job. The woman who was right was fired because she would have told us
the truth about something that was critical for our safety. It turns out
she has been vindicated. It was shown that she was right. That example
is the first one.
Why did this government shut down Linda Keen? I guess the difference
is that the government did not agree with what she wanted to say.
However, freedom of speech means she is able to say what she wants to,
even if others do not agree with it.
The second example is those organizations that have taken positions
the government does not like. I am thinking of KAIROS. KAIROS is a
classic example of a perfectly legitimate non-governmental organization
talking about perfectly legitimate issues, working with perfectly
legitimate groups. The government does not like them, so the government
shut them down. That act is a curtailment of speech. That act was not a
letter from the provost; the government shut down an organization in
critical ways. The acts are fundamentally different, and fundamentally
Third, we have Richard Colvin.
Richard Colvin did what he was supposed to do. He was a
whistle-blower, which Conservatives wanted to support in their
legislation. The man has great courage. The government attacked him when
he came out with what is becoming more and more obvious as the truth
and which they government knows is the truth, because the government can
read the documents and no one else can — which brings me to my next
point. Richard Colvin is also having trouble having his legal fees paid.
I can go on. That example is the third.
Then we have Environment Canada public servants. Climate change is
one of the most important issues facing this country, if not the most
important. Suddenly, the amount of times that Environment Canada
personnel, scientists, are able to speak has dropped 80 per cent since
the Conservatives have been in government. The government has shut down
the scientists in Environment Canada, scientists who were always allowed
to speak before to help explain research to Canadians, Canadians who
pay their salaries.
The next example is the redacted information on the detainees, one of
the most important pieces of information that we have seen, and one of
the most important issues facing us in terms of human rights. This issue
affects our status in the world as a country that does things as they
should be done and treats people as Canadians do. The government shut
down the information. Under the concept of freedom of speech, Parliament
should get that information, but not according to the concept of
freedom of speech under this particular government because it has a
limited view of what freedom of speech is.
Again, it is okay to have freedom of speech if the speaker agrees
with the government but not if the speaker does not.
Then we have the rights of Parliament. We have had Parliament shut
down in an unprecedented way, both historically at a national and
international level. There have been two prorogations. These houses are
the symbols of free speech. The symbols of free speech were shut down
and jammed because information was about to be revealed that the
government did not want to hear because it was embarrassing.
Then there is George Galloway. Mr. Galloway wanted to talk about his
anti-war views. They were not consistent with the government's agenda,
perhaps, but he had a right to speak them. Not so: he was not allowed to
speak and prevented from entering the country.
These issues are not about a letter from a university provost, who
has no authority to do anything by way of throwing someone out, shutting
them down or telling them to stop. These are examples where freedom of
speech has been curtailed by a powerful government that has husbanded
power and exercised it in a way that many Canadians have never seen
before — ruthlessly, in many cases. That is what happened in these
On one side, we have a government that is not fussy about freedom of
speech when it comes to talking about nuclear safety in Canada; when it
comes to talking about Middle East issues with groups that work on them;
when it comes to artistic expression because they did not want to fund
films because they had not seem them; when it comes to public servants
saying something the government might not like them so say, although
what they are saying happens to be based on science; or when it comes to
hearing what Parliament has to say if it can possibly be avoided. The
government does not want to hear all those discussions, so they shut
On the other hand, Ann Coulter's freedom of speech is promoted. She
has a right to speak, but let us see where this government lines up. It
jumped on her bandwagon to help make her famous for being famous. What
did Ann Coulter have to say? This statement bothers me because I am from
Alberta. In Calgary, she said Alberta should be the fifty-first state.
The government supports her, but does not support KAIROS, Linda Keen or
Richard Colvin. Ms. Coulter also told a Muslim person in the crowd not
to fly; that if this person cannot get on a camel, then she should use a
magic carpet. That is appalling.
If Ms. Coulter had said something like that about Israel, the Jewish
people, Chinese people or any other group, do honourable senators think
the government would have promoted her freedom of expression? No, it
would not have. I know that for a fact.
This government has the worst record on access to information. It is
An Hon. Senator: And on the Court Challenges Program
or the Status of Women.
Senator Mitchell: Honourable senators, I have to
take a deep breath; the list is too long.
I do not think Ann Coulter's rights to free speech were offended in
any way, shape or form. It became loud and a little difficult for her,
but she brings that on herself and it makes money for her. I am sure she
was happy for the attention.
I do not think this government has defended freedom of speech in the
way they say they have. That fact is evident.
Why is the government defending Ann Coulter? I do not impugn the
government's motives, but I think the reason is pure political tactics.
This government wants to create spin. The government has a terrible
record on freedom of speech and now drapes itself in the
freedom-of-speech flag on something totally extraneous. It then leaps
from that issue to pursuing our human rights commissions.
Honourable senators, I want an inquiry. However, that inquiry must
call Linda Keen, Richard Colvin, Professor Ned Franks and George
Galloway. Let us work on freedom of speech in a way that will make this
government feel uncomfortable because that work shows we actually care
about freedom of speech.
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