Saturday, May 23, 2009

We are not amused

For the second time, a prominent US educator, William Ayers, has been barred from speaking to academics in Canada. by the Canada Border Services Agency. The CBSA answers, of course, to Once again, we can thank Jason Kenney*, the current King Abdullah of what appears to be Canada's very own Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Thanks to Kenney and his Conservative predecessors,
we have been protected against dangerous women peace activists in pink, rescued from the gaseous presence of George Galloway, and immunized against dangerous radicals promoting democracy and education. Domestically, the King has cut off grants (but no heads, at least as yet) to an organization that he felt was disrespectful of His person.

And those voices that have been crying loud and long for the unfettered freedom of Nazis and homophobes to spout their hate at top volume across this country are curiously silent. Well, not entirely: that other gasbag, Ezra Levant, applauded the barring of Galloway, saying it wasn't a free speech issue but a sovereignty issue.

Of course (unless you are deliberately exiled by the King's brother, Lawrence Cannon), we Canadians do get to say what furriners come into our own yard. But somehow I had the impression that Speech Warriors™ were all about the traffic in ideas, however distasteful, and how the mighty organs of the state should do nothing to impede that flow.

There's even the wisp of an argument there, if only it were consistently applied: to SLAPP suits, for instance, and nuisance defamation actions that at least one of their number likes to indulge in, or to the suppression of left-wing campus clubs, or to posters advertising a week of events on the subject of Israel. Somehow, though, as I've noted before, the Warriors' enthusiasm seems to wane when the contested speech involved is liberal or further to the left.

Like those of us who favour freedom of speech as a strong principle, yet find we must draw the line at hate speech, the Warriors run aground on shoals of their own making, in their case patently ideological ones. Indeed, even their avowed anti-statism seems rather suspect:
the CBSA and Minister Kenney have been far more successful in maintaining barriers against free expression than human rights commissions, but they've been getting a pass, or even a defence.

Do ideas, then, have nationality? And do those who hold them necessarily pose a threat to national security? Is Ayers such a threat? "Of course not," CBSA border officials told him the first time he was banned--and they laughed. But they had their orders.

Kenney's mutaween: keeping our minds safe from troubling foreign notions of peace, democracy and learning, and our country secure against those who express them. Long live the King.

UPDATE: Ottawa Citizen columnist Leonard Stern, not known for his progressive views, takes a strong stance against the ban.

*Commenter Sian correctly notes that the CBSA is the responsibility of the Minister of Public Safety, Stockwell Day. But there is in fact a shared responsibility between the two Ministers when it comes to admitting people to Canada, with the issuance of entry visas, for example, under the authority of Minister Kenney. Kenney also has the power to overrule CBSA on immigration matters more generally.

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