Is Canada Still Tolerent and Fair?



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Why Jewish Speech and Hate Censorship Do Not Mix

By Stefan Braun

Canada is widely regarded as a model multicultural society; tolerant, peaceful, fair. To be sure, we have our share of bigots, racists and malcontents. But we are a progressive society. Progressive societies resolve their internal differences peacefully, and respectfully. And if some should confuse intolerance for truth or mistake might for right? Well, unlike the US, we also have criminal hate censorship laws, as well as assorted human rights, equity, and hate speech codes to set them right. But before anyone thinks of emulating the "true north strong and free," they better have a close look at what is happening on progressive Canadian campuses.

It wasn't so long ago that higher education for Canadian Jewish youth came with a daunting price-tag: Jewish alienation, marginalization, and exclusion from mainstream campus life. For a while, it appeared that this was all behind us. State, or institutionally sponsored, anti-Semitism was no longer fashionable. Infamous Neo-Nazis like Ernst Zundel and James Keegstra were criminally prosecuted, jailed, or forced to flee to the more speech hospitable shores of our neighbor to the south. Fascists and Neo-Nazis stood warned: Canada does not tolerate hate, especially not against its historically most vulnerable community. And so we believed.

Then Netanyahu came to speak at Concordia University in Montreal. The place erupted into a full-fledged riot. Jewish students attempting to hear the former prime minister of Israel were spat on, assaulted, and humiliated; not for what they did but for who they were and what they believed. Everything seemed to change over-night. We lost our innocence. Things like this were not supposed to happen. This was Canada, not the U.S. Progressive Canadian campuses stood as the beacon of cultural diversity, harmony, and sensitivity. They were society's sanctuary for the peaceful pursuit of knowledge and the fearless search for truth. Truth be told, they were neither, at least not for Jews. It was all a politically correct façade. And Jewish faith in hate censorship laws and campus speech codes, have not helped. On the contrary, it has made matters worse.

To be sure, hate censorship laws and campus speech codes seemed like a good idea, back when they were first enacted. For awhile, it seemed to serve Jews well. What right thinking Canadian official would hesitate to muzzle militant neo-Nazis, sexists, homophobes, and xenophobes; or tolerate their indecent attempts to squelch the voices of their victims? Hadn't extremists done enough damage to societies everywhere? Didn't we learn our lesson in a horrific world war, combating the messages and the methods of their boundless hate? Weren't Jews the proverbial crow in the mineshaft of exploding Nazi intolerance and imploding German democracy? Justice before the age of clash of civilizations may have been hard, but it was unambiguous. Victims and victimizers were clear. This was the golden age for Jewish hate censorship.

So why, once again, do thoughtful Jewish students have to fear to speak when those whose hate knows no bounds do not fear to speak against them? Hate censorship laws and the speech codes haven't changed. But times have. The political climate has changed. Faces of oppression have changed. And so, too, have the discourses of campus hate censorship. There is now a new, more popular, more belligerent, minority in town; a new victim; the victim of occupation. Forget how this occupation came to be, or the complex truths of why it persists to this day. David is now Goliath, and Goliath is David, at least in the minds of those now favored to speak. Zionism, we are told is racism. A Palestinian Holocaust is unfolding. Jewish leaders are genocidal Nazis. Israel is an Apartheid state, not a legitimate repository of the historic Jewish identity. To merely identify with it, much less advocate for it, is to stand accused of the worst kind of criminal racism in the docket of hate. Jewish voices be warned; guilt by association will not be tolerated.

And so, Benjamin Netanyahu and Daniel Pipes cannot equally freely, or fearlessly, speak at any progressive, multicultural, Canadian campus. No pro-Zionist can. But just about every self-serving anti-Zionist demagogue and Israel-demonizing progressive ideologue can. Hate is whatever those with the power to disrupt, destroy, and silence, say it is. And so, only the Jewish voice is a campus security concern. Hate censorship has been hijacked. A shelter against illegitimate promotion of hate has been turned into a sword against legitimate exercise of Jewish voice.

How could it be otherwise? Censorship is force not talk. It is not about demonstration of right, but an exercise in might. Might is a double edged sword. In the end, the sharper edge, as is the nature of might, belongs to the more belligerent, or the more popular, not the more tolerant or the more civil. The popular have sympathy. The belligerent have force. The tolerant, and civil, have only words. By legitimating hate censorship, Jews have robbed themselves of rights to their own words and armed those of their intolerant adversaries. Jewish students on Canadian campuses find themselves neither with equal freedom to speak nor equal freedom from hate. The message is clear: if you are visibly Jewish you do not equally belong, even as every other historically vulnerable community – blacks, gays, Asians, transsexuals, Arabs, and Muslims – does.

There is a lesson in all this. Jewish faith in hate censorship and campus speech codes was a mistake to begin with. Rights to silence weaken, rather than strengthen, the Jewish voice. To be sure, freedom of speech carries risks. But for the tolerant, a political culture built on censorship might, at the cost of talk is, in the end, riskier still. Inclusion by silencing is tolerance built on quicksand. Quiet is not the same as acceptance. Compliance is not comprehension. Jewish hate censorship has been a self-deceiving, and self-debilitating, ruse. In fact, progressive Canadian campuses were rife with undercurrents of singularly anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish sentiment long before the Concordia riot. But it took a Netanyahu to ignite the truth, and bring the failings of campus hate speech and equity codes to light.

Dr. Braun LLB, LLM, MA, Ph.D. (Barrister & Solicitor, of the Bar of Ontario) is the author of numerous scholarly articles on hate censorship, and a landmark book: Democracy off Balance: Freedom of Expression and Hate Propaganda Law in Canada: (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2004).

2005-2006 Harold Adams Innis Prize Finalist for the best English language book in the social sciences in Canada. His most recent publication is: "Second Class Citizens: Jews, Freedom of Speech, and Intolerance on Canadian University Campuses": (2006) 12(2) Washington & Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, 1


from the October 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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