Times of Israel

Silencing the wolf

Consider the following: a British parliamentarian or American congressman says something incredibly inflammatory during a legislative debate. No criminal charges are laid, but the MP is barred from legislative debates for six months on the basis of the controversial nature of these comments. There would be enormous outrage for the censorship of unpopular opinion, and rightfully so.

Precisely the following has occurred in Israel, after the controversial Member of Knesset Hanin Zoabi has been slapped with a six month ban on participation in the plenary debates and committees. This came after a number of provocative statements. In response to the kidnapping of the three young Israeli teenagers last month, she said (before it was known that the boys had been murdered) that the kidnapping was not an act of terrorism:

I can’t call this act terrorism, even if I don’t agree with it – and I don’t […] this incident is a result of [Israeli] war crimes.

Additionally, Zoabi had published an article where she encouraged Palestinians to take part in popular resistance and “to put Israel under siege instead of negotiating.” The six month ban is the maximum possible punishment that can be meted out by the Knesset’s Ethics Committee.

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Huffington Post Canada

U of C abortion display verdict not a victory for free speech

The University of Calgary recently reversed the guilty verdict of seven pro-life students who were found guilty of non-academic misconduct for setting up a display with graphic photos comparing abortion to the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. The University of Calgary initially demanded that the students set up their display facing inwards so passersby would not see the images. After the students refused, the University charged and found the students guilty of misconduct for failing to follow the demands issued by Campus Security. The students appealed to the University’s Board of Governors, which found their appeal groundless and dismissed the case. The students appealed to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, which ordered the University to rehear the appeal, after which the students were found not guilty.

The court decision has been heralded by some as being a victory for free speech on campus. The court ruling focused on the procedural aspect of the law rather than the substantive claim that the students’ right to free expression had been violated. The Court shied away from making any finding on the students’ right to erect the display: it directly stated that “it would be premature at this juncture” to rule on the right of students to erect the display on University property, or to force a change in University policy. Rather, the decision focused solely on the decision of the Board of Governors’ Committee denying the students their appeal hearing on the basis that it was groundless.

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Huffington Post Canada

Broadcasters should not censor political ads

Political speech is seemingly under attack from the last place we might expect: Canadian media broadcasters. CBC, Radio Canada, CTV, Rogers, and Shaw (which owns Global TV) announced last month that they would no longer air political advertisements that include material taken from their airwaves without express authorization.

“As news organizations, the use of our content in political advertisements without our express consent may compromise our journalistic independence and call into question our journalistic ethics, standards and objectivity,” they wrote.

According to the CRTC, “during an election campaign, broadcasters play an important role in informing Canadians about the issues, political parties and candidates involved.” Under section 335(1) of the Canada Elections Act, every broadcaster is required to provide prime-time advertising to all registered political parties. The Act also appoints a Broadcasting Arbitrator, who issues specific guidelines on the content of messages, as well as to deal with disputes between political parties and broadcasters.

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Guelph Mercury

Bus ad protesters are taking wrong path as opponents

There is an issue irking online petitioners regarding the presence of anti-abortion advertisements on Guelph Transit buses.

A petition on change.org with more than 2,000 signatures is calling on Guelph Transit to remove them.

A quick search of the issue reveals that citizens have posed complaints to their councillors on this issue before.

The response on the blogs of Ward 2 and Ward 4 notes that: “The City of Guelph does not endorse any businesses or associations who advertise on transit buses, shelters or benches … All advertisements that could be in violation of Guelph Transit’s advertising policy are reviewed … and are approved or denied based on the policy. The current Guelph and Area Right to Life advertisement does not contravene our advertising policy and although the advertisement may be considered controversial in nature, refusing to post the advertisement could be seen as limiting freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

This response is correct, but it should read “refusing to post the advertisement would be seen as limiting freedom of expression under the charter.”

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Huffington Post Canada

Tom Flanagan and the decline of academic freedom in Canada

After Tom Flanagan, a professor at the University of Calgary, remarked at a University of Lethbridge lecture that he had grave doubts for jailing those who view child pornography “because of their taste in pictures,” someone caught the footage on camera and posted it online. He was instantly cut from the CBC’s Power and Politics show, the Manning Centre’s Networking Conference, and the Wildrose Party of Alberta.

Additionally, the President of the University of Calgary issued a press release after Flanagan’s incendiary remarks came to light:

Tom Flanagan has been on a research and scholarship leave from the University of Calgary since January of 2013. Tom Flanagan will remain on leave and will retire from the university on June 30, 2013.

Shortly after, the University issued a clarification that Flanagan had submitted his intent to retire before the incident occurred. The press release indicates that the University wanted to distance itself from Flanagan, and the initial wording created the impression that he had been fired.

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Huffington Post Canada

Waterloo should not stifle free speech

At the University of Waterloo last week, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth was scheduled to speak to a group of students at an event organized by the Students for Life campus club. Stephen Woodworth, a staunchly pro-life MP, had previously brought forth a motion in Parliament to strike a committee to review the Criminal Code definition of when a child becomes a human being. The motion was voted down, with the Prime Minister and most of his Cabinet voting in opposition.

While many of us may not share Mr. Woodworth’s sentiments regarding abortion, no one has the right to impose a viewpoint on another. We may challenge views we find unattractive, but we do not have the right to silence or suppress unpopular ideas.

Unfortunately, a group of students shut down Mr. Woodworth’s speech by shouting him down, until he was left with no choice but to cancel the event. In what can only be described as an act of idiocy, a Mr. Ethan Jackson, dressed as a giant vagina, shouted, “Who do you think you are trying to impose your bigotry, your views on society through your Christian monotheism?”

The President of the University of Waterloo issued a press release that supported the values of free speech and condemned the actions of the protesters as “an attack on our presence as s a place where issues are explored, discussed and debated.” A review of the incident is currently underway.

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The Prince Arthur Herald

RCMP plane grounding infringes free speech

The RCMP last week forced a plane flying over Ottawa to land, as the plane was apparently flying in restricted airspace near Parliament Hill. The plane flew a banner promoting a website, “Stephen Harper nous déteste.ca” (Stephen Harper hates us). The plane was hired by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) to carry the message. Earlier this summer, I wrote a piece arguing that it was inappropriate for civil servants to wear buttons carrying this message in their workplace; political servants must remain politically neutral in the course of their work. Likewise, I was critical of Brigette DePape when she openly protested Harper’s policies during the Throne Speech.

It is not the content of these sorts of political messages that should be criticized, but rather the manner in which they are presented. PSAC had legitimate grounds to carry out the protest in this manner. They were flying a message which certainly conformed to the law and flew within legal boundaries. The message criticized the Prime Minister. At www.stephenharperhatesus.ca, PSAC argues that public service cuts will affect all Canadians.

The purpose of this column is not to argue which side is correct. Rather, we should all be worried at the RCMP’s curtailing of free speech. At the onset, the RCMP requested the pilot to land because they were flying in restricted air space. Yet the private company which provides air traffic services in Canada confirmed the plane never breached a restricted fly zone in Ottawa.

The pilot states that the RCMP told him that the message on the banner could be construed as hate speech. The RCMP denies that there was a political basis for grounding the plane, arguing only that it appeared to be flying at a low level and posed a security risk. If the pilot’s claim is true, and the RCMP did tell the pilot that his message could be interpreted as hate, it poses a great threat to public faith in in the RCMP. The police must have a high degree of independence from the government and should not intervene in political affairs. The Criminal Code section relating to hate dictates that public statements inciting hatred must be made against a group and that they be “likely to lead to a breach of the peace.” It is clear that PSAC’s banner does not fit this criterion.

Professor of law Kent Roach summarizes the concern nicely: “[…] the idea that the police are directed by the government of the day raises concerns about improper partisan concerns influencing or appearing to influence the machinery of justice.” It is crucial that decisions undertaken by the RCMP are not done to achieve a partisan advantage for the government.

This is not the first time the RCMP has been seemingly giving partisan advantages to political parties. In the 2006 election, the RCMP launched a probe of the Liberal announcement regarding income trusts. Slightly prior to the announcement, income trusts spiked, prompting an investigation into leaks. In response to a letter by an NDP critic, the RCMP released Ralph Goodale’s name to the public. The force later admitted that this was not keeping with past practices, which raised a question of bias. At the 1997 APEC summit, the RCMP were criticized for using pepper spray and strip searches against protesters. An inquiry found the government tried twice to interfere with police operations. At one point, the RCMP commissioned research which found numerous positive impacts for Insite, the safe-injection clinic in Vancouver. A media release was planned, but the RCMP backed out with only a few days’ notice. John Geddes argued in Maclean’s (2010)that coming forward with this information would have been politically awkward because of the Conservatives’ commitment to shut down Insite. At Stephen Harper’s campaign rallies during the 2011 federal election, the RCMP assisted the Conservatives in evicting people from campaign rallies based on partisan affiliation. The force agreed that it had overstepped its mandate in doing so; they did promise to restrict their involvement to matters involving security.

In instances of unfair police activity which gives a partisan advantage to a political actor, society must ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  Who will watch the watchmen?