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.
As a Brown woman, I have experienced some harassment over the years. On the mild side, acquaintances have inquired whether I am a Muslim fundamentalist, it has been suggested that I landed a faculty position because I am racialized, and the epithet “Paki” has been hurled at me on occasion. On the extreme side, a Molotov cocktail was placed under my mother’s car after we had an altercation with former White neighbors (they objected to our use of the front lawn, where extended family would sometimes gather for BBQ parties, Bhangra music and card-playing). The bomb never went off.
Should we expect our public institutions to protect our freedom of expression? The Toronto Public Library made a controversial decision in July 2017 to permit a memorial to the late Barbara Kulaszka to be held in a rental space in one of the library’s branches. Ms Kulaszka, a former librarian, was a lawyer best known for her legal defence of Holocaust deniers and white supremacists. Many people registered their objection to the event, both before and after it took place. These people include the President of the Toronto Public Library Workers Union and the Mayor of Toronto, John Tory.
On March 8th and June 6th, 2017, the Minister of Justice introduced bills to amend the Criminal Code. The purpose of Bills C-39 and C-51 is to repeal a number of criminal offences. Blasphemous libel is on the list, but seditious libel and defamatory libel are not.
Pornography has once again been thrust onto the public stage. This time, however, it’s been (re)framed as a “public health” issue (as opposed to a women’s equality issue or a source of criminal harm). I’ve been researching sexual speech for almost as long as I’ve been consuming it, which is to say a long time. It therefore comes as no surprise that we’re in the midst of yet another attempt to censor it and to surveille its consumers.
Events of early 2017 in Canada and the US raised once again the question: why are Islamic people so often subjected to discrimination, repression and violence in our societies and abroad? Among the reasons is denigration of Islamic religion and culture by intellectuals whose writing has long been given prominence by Western mainstream media. Their disinformation helped to generate a political environment in which some people in the West uncritically accept severe actions against Muslims by governments, groups or individuals, and curtailments of rights for all.
Freedom of expression creates a metaphorical “marketplace of ideas” where truth and falsehood can do battle, the eventual victor given time, always being truth. This concept is a foundational principle of liberal democracy found in the philosophies of John Milton and John Stuart Mill. The concept even exists in Islamic theology where the Quran states “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error” (2:256).
By Abbas Kassam / Posted Monday June 12, 2017
We should applaud the public outcry that recently helped to restore Saskatchewan library funding. This situation served as an important signal work needs to be done to protect libraries and the people who work in them, who are often in difficult political situations, including over the freedom of expression.
[Co-written with Andrea Gonsalves and Carlo Di Carlo] In late 2015, the Ontario Legislature identified a problem: it saw an increasing number of defamation cases in which the plaintiff’s goal was not to obtain compensation, but instead to drag a defendant into interminable and costly litigation as a form of retribution against the defendant for speaking out against the plaintiff.
As local newspapers across Canada are being downsized or shut down and the discussion increasingly turns to addressing the growing problem of fake news (indeed, the U.S. President calls any information he doesn’t like “fake”), there are still local newspapers valiantly determined to inform their communities and to speak truth to power.