It would be nice to think that free speech in Canada is in surpassingly good health, that it can resist attacks from authoritarians and ideologues, that censorship is unthinkable in all but the rarest of circumstances. It would be still nicer to believe that Canadian universities consistently provide the necessary conditions for free expression and free expression, artistic expression included.
Unfortunately none of these beliefs is entirely true to fact.
Debate around free expression today is fraught with confusion about true intentions and genuine meanings. Persistent and aggressive challenging of who has the right to define free expression, and an often intentional blurring of that definition can arrest discussion or send argument flying off into hyper-critical and combative corners of social media where it is often scattered and dispersed by bias and filters.
Lawyers have an integral role in the maintenance of the reputation of the administration of justice. However, in situations where the administration of justice is already in disrepute, the role that lawyers can play is not entirely clear. Clients may ask lawyers to provide advice regarding actions that violate the letter of the law in furtherance of making a change to law or policy. In these cases, lawyers’ professional ethics are challenged.
Late this fall, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) will decide if graduates of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school can use their TWU law degree to proceed to the bar. The SCC’s decision will have broad and serious implications, well beyond whether TWU’s graduates can practice law.
In the final days of 2016, the small island nation of Cuba mourned the passing of a political giant. Meanwhile, next door, superpower America nervously welcomed as the latest occupant of its highest office a gigantic bigot. To be sure, Fidel Castro’s passing was not mourned but celebrated in Little Havana in Miami, while Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was lamented by most of the Americans who voted in their federal election.
By Len Findlay / Posted Friday September 8, 2017
In the wake of attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia there were a number of rallies in Canadian cities. The anti-racist counter-demonstrators hugely outnumbered their rally opponents, constituting phenomenal public solidarity against racism. There was much to be cheered in these events.
One thing dampened this amazing response. It was how, for some, denouncing hate slid into denouncing speech rights and into dangerous calls for governments to prevent rallies.
If we understand Donald Trump’s statement that there are two sides in the confrontation/demonstration in Charlottesville as a claim that there are two legitimate, morally serious, positions being presented in a debate about multiculturalism, then it is ignorant, disturbing, and harmful.
But if instead we understand his statement as a claim that under the First Amendment Nazis and anti-Nazis have an equal right to present their positions to the public - and an equal obligation not to use force to silence the other side - then he is not wrong.
Ryerson University made a mistake two days ago. It lost sight of its mission in cancelling an upcoming panel discussion featuring controversial speakers that included University of Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson and Rebel Media journalist Faith Goldy.
In early March of 2017, the Opinion editor at Maclean’s contacted me by email, inviting me to write a piece regarding the resignation of Dr. Andrew Potter as Director of the McGill Centre for the Study of Canada.