A while back, I made the decision to take a longish vacation from all things social media. The weeks (months… years…) leading up to the last American election saw my various social feeds fill with bile, anger and surprisingly little fact-based discussion. It exhausted me to shovel all that stuff out of the way each day in order to get at the nuggets of book news and friend updates I was actually looking for.
What is left to be said about the election of Donald Trump and the state of political discourse in the US and Canada? Not much, I suspect, and so what follows may already seem familiar to many readers.
My eight-year-old granddaughter told me last week that she was scared. When I asked her why, she told me that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States, and that everyone in her class was scared too. And yes, she understood that we live in Canada and that Trump does not lead our country. It seemed to her and other children that the bogeyman had escaped from their nightmares and had been elected to high office.
By Danielle S. McLaughlin / Posted Friday November 18, 2016
What are the outer limits to free speech? Oft cited is the example of yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson invoked just this image in a contribution to the Washington, D.C.-based paper, The Hill.
Many countries are stressing the importance of measures to counter radicalization to violence. Unfortunately, we really don’t know, at this point, what measures are effective. So far, the limited research and the experience of other countries have mostly served to show us what is not effective.
Opera houses, universities, public schools, civic libraries, and civic museums, all express and explain the societies and cultures from which they come. You might think their antiquity would protect such places from the ups and downs of the economy and the changeable opinions of politicians.
And you would be wrong.
If you look past the placid exteriors of the Royal Ontario Museum or the British Museum, Columbia University, l’Opéra de Paris, the University of Toronto, and the rest, there is a tale of continuous change and occasional disruption.
Debates about the regulation of different forms of speech – including hate speech, commercial advertising, election spending, and defamation, raise broader questions about the protection of free speech in contemporary public discourse.
When I lived in London as a young man, I spent a great deal of time at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, listening to all of the many and varied voices with their many and varied opinions. I agreed with little of what I heard, but I was awfully glad for the public space to go and hear all that disagreeable, often hilarious stuff. I also thought it quite amusing that so many of the speakers brought their own little ladders, stepstools or podiums on which to stand – an extra bit of height lending their opinions a bit more authority, or so they thought.
Prime Minister Trudeau received plaudits when, on a recent state visit to China, he boasted of Canada’s commitment to free expression, which he presented as a “true Canadian value”. The prime minister exalted “a diversity of ideas, and the free ability to express them” because freedom, he said, is what drives positive change. Perhaps he and others had forgotten that as leader of the Opposition he prohibited anyone opposed to abortion from running for federal office for the Liberal Party. If that was 2014 and this is 2016, there is more.
The decades following the Second World War saw gradually increasing democratization of governments and other organizational structures, including greater protections for freedom of expression in general and academic freedom in particular. The pace of change varied from country to country, with Canada often benefiting from progress in the US and UK in developing its own approaches.