Two Threats to Freedom of Speech: M-103 and C-16

Published on February 12, 2017

Although they were presented by their supporters as measures to protect minorities from discrimination, a motion and a bill being debated in Parliament could seriously threaten free speech in our country. Having received many requests to clarify my position on these two issues, here are my reasons to oppose them. 

M-103

Two weeks ago, I tweeted that I opposed M-103 (http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members/Iqra-Khalid(88849)/Motions?sessionId=152&documentId=8661986 ), a motion tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, whose goal is to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” The motion is set to be debated and come to a vote in the coming days.

M-103 is not a bill: It’s not going to change any of the country’s laws or going to affect freedom of speech by itself. It’s just a motion, which expresses an opinion of Members of Parliament. That doesn’t mean there are no problems with it.

First of all, although it condemns all forms of religious discrimination, the motion only mentions specifically one religion, Islam. I don't believe that is appropriate. More importantly, the term "islamophobia" is not defined in the motion.

If it means hate speech, intolerance and violence targeted at our peaceful and law-abiding fellow citizens who happen to be of Muslim faith, I am sure there is unanimity in favour of denouncing it. We were reminded recently with the killing at a mosque in Quebec City how ugly this form of intolerance can be.

There are already laws against this however. And that definition should not be taken for granted. There is a current in Islam, and not necessarily limited to radical islamists, that says nobody should criticize that religion or make fun of it. Just remember the controversy about the prophet Mohammed cartoons some years ago (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jyllands-Posten_Muhammad_cartoons_controversy ).

In a recent column in the National Post (http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/barbara-kay-how-long-until-my-honest-criticism-of-islamism-constitutes-a-speech-crime-in-canada ), columnist Barbara Kay raises a point that I too find troubling:

What I fear is that MP Iqra Khalid, who tabled M-103, may understand Islamophobia to mean what its original promoters, the 56 Muslim-majority bloc of the United Nations known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), say it means. The OIC wants to see the Cairo Declaration on Human rights become the template for Islamophobia policies everywhere. The Cairo Declaration asserts the superiority of Islam and defines freedom of speech according to Shariah law, which considers any criticism of Muhammad blasphemy.

The OIC is inching ever closer to realizing that goal. Many EU countries are seeking to criminalize Islamophobia by using “racism and xenophobia,” “public order” or “denigration” laws, which are essentially proxies for the Cairo Declaration.

Is this motion a first step towards restricting our right to criticize Islam? Given the international situation, and the fact that jihadi terrorism is today the most important threat to our security, I think this is a serious concern we have to take into account.

Free speech is a fundamental Canadian value. We should reaffirm everyone's right to believe in and criticize whatever belief they want, whether it is Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, atheism, or any other.

For this reason, I will vote against M-103 unless it is amended to remove the word “islamophobia.” And I encourage my Conservative colleagues to do the same.

C-16

Bill C-16 was passed by the House of commons last October and is now being debated in the Senate (https://openparliament.ca/bills/42-1/C-16/ ). This Bill amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. It also amends the Criminal Code to extend the protection against hate propaganda to people who are distinguished by gender identity or expression.

I voted in favour of this Bill in the fall, because I am opposed to anyone being subjected to hate and being discriminated against on the basis of being part of any identifiable group.

However, in addition to the many Canadians who have discussed this issue with me, last week, I had the opportunity to chat with University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson about this legislation and the consequences it will have for free speech.  And frankly, I was appalled.

Professor Peterson has said publicly that he refuses to use various pronouns such as “they” (not to refer to several people, but as a singular pronoun), “zir,” “hir,” or “ze” instead of “he” and “she.” These are pronouns that “non-binary” students, who refuse the usual categories of masculine and feminine, want used to describe them.

Because of his refusal, Prof. Peterson has received warning letters from the university, which says it amounts to discrimination against minorities. ( http://thevarsity.ca/2016/10/24/u-of-t-letter-asks-jordan-peterson-to-respect-pronouns-stop-making-statements/ )

There has been a proliferation of groups that claim various sexual identities in recent years (http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2013/01/a-comprehensive-list-of-lgbtq-term-definitions/#sthash.n0ppMTvO.dpbs ). Some of these groups are not fighting for equality of rights and respect for sexual minorities. They are radical left-wing activists trying to deconstruct traditional social norms and impose their marginal perspective on everyone, including by forcing us to change the way we talk. And they seem to have an undue influence on campuses across North America, including here in Canada.

Free speech is one of the most fundamental rights that we have as Canadians. Prof. Peterson believes that if adopted, C-16 will, in conjunction with the Ontario Human Rights Code, become a clear threat to this right.

Any time a right is violated, our Constitution demands that such a violation can be reasonably justified in a free and democratic society. The Supreme Court has interpreted that in case law and developed what is called the Oakes test, which says that any violation of our rights must be proportional to the harm it seeks to correct.

C-16 does not meet that test. It could force Canadians to restructure the way they talk and say things they do not believe.

This crazy trend seems to be proliferating outside of universities too. Just a few weeks ago, management at Quebec’s Public Automobile Insurance Plan forbid its employees to use “Monsieur” or “Madame” when addressing its millions of clients after one transgender client made a complaint. Although in the process of becoming a woman, she was addressed as “Monsieur” because she still has a masculine name in official documents. (http://www.journaldemontreal.com/2017/01/25/la-saaq-interdit-a-des-employes-de-dire-monsieur-ou-madame )

 

We must protect minority groups against hate and discrimination.  But we also must ensure that we protect our most fundamental freedoms—including our freedom to speak our mind and to use common language without fearing legal consequences. 

I regret my decision to vote for Bill C-16.  If the vote were held again today, I would vote against it. I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to stop it from becoming law. And if it does become law, as the next Conservative Prime Minister of Canada, I will repeal it.