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Parliament’s penultimate meeting of its ‘online hate’ study offered an ominous window into a future Canada, where lawmakers grant the state additional powers to censor – powers taken away from bureaucrats only a few years ago through the repeal of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
At Justice committee Tuesday morning, the first order of business was a motion from Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault to “expunge” ex-committee vice-chair Michael Cooper’s mention of the Christchurch mosque shooter.
“This is about doing the right thing here at Justice committee and cleaning up the record,” Boissonneault said.
On Saturday via Twitter, Opposition Conservative leader Andrew Scheer yanked his deputy Justice critic Cooper from the committee for insulting a muslim witness by uttering Brenton Tarrant’s name and his manifesto for killing 51 worshippers in New Zealand.
The dispute between Faisal Khan Suri, Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council president and Cooper erupted a week earlier over the former’s suggestion that “conservative commentators” provided inspiration for such horrific crimes.
Cooper responded by reciting Tarrant’s love of China’s dictatorship and a hatred for capitalism from the killer’s 74-page declaration called The Great Replacement.
Sitting in Cooper’s place, Conservative MP John Brassard told the committee that Scheer “dealt with (Cooper)” and called Boissonnault’s motion “nothing more than a stunt”.
Not according to New Democrat MP Randall Garrison, who described Cooper’s comments as “an attack” on Suri.
You can read the full May 28 Committee transcript here.
And because we live in “incendiary times” with the power of social media, said Garrison, the committee must eliminate all trace from the public record of a meeting of elected lawmakers at the highest level of government.
“I am not opposed to people having ideas. I am not opposed to people thinking ideas. What I am opposed to is giving a public platform for the spread of those violent ideas and the spreading of hatred,” he said.
Garrison was sitting in for the NDP’s regular member Tracey Ramsey, who three weeks earlier called behavioural scientist Jordan Peterson’s invitation to the committee “morally reprehensible” because she objected to his views. (Peterson was unable to testify due to a family emergency).
Back to the business at hand, next up for Garrison was cutting the Justice committee’s video feed.
“It seems peculiar to me why the last segment would be televised by the committee,” he said. “I’ll move at this time that meeting not be televised any further.”
With that all MPs voted 10-0 to drop the video feed and barely nine minutes into the meeting, cameras were unplugged leaving only those in the room with an eye to the action. For people left watching at home, a green parliamentary test pattern appeared and sad violins played in the background.
When technicians had restored audio for the outside world, a veritable trio of “conservative commentators” began their submissions for the Justice committee: three intellectual horseman against the looming apocalypse on free-speech.
In their opening statements, Laurier University’s accidental free-speech maven Lindsay Shepherd, Post Media columnist and professor John Robson, and author and Fox News contributor Mark Steyn, collectively delivered a rebuttal to any censorship in the digital public square, or elsewhere.
Steyn began his remarks with “the defenestration of Mr. Cooper from this committee…I am concerned.”
“That is the age we live in where people can have one infraction and their life implodes, their career implodes. They’re vaporized for it.”
“And that is one of the most disturbing trends of the free speech issue,” Steyn continued noting “surviving vice-chair” Ramsey’s calls to dump Dr. Peterson from the witness roll and Canadian Jewish Congress’ executive director’s recent comments about Shepherd.
“Bernie Farber said just last night that Lindsay Shepherd should be booted from appearing…(This) is in fact more serious than some of the other matters before this committee.”
Robson followed by urging MPs against censoring the public square because it would drive extremists who share similar views to Tarrant, underground.
“What you don’t do is silence by force, the expression of odious opinions,” said Robson. “The manifesto, which is apparently unfit for consumption by parliamentarians, although as with Mein Kampf or Stalin’s Foundation of Leninism, you need to know about this stuff because it’s dangerous.”
Robson said parliamentarians were “deluded as to (their) powers” to believe they could “keep the name of that shooter or his ideas out of the dark web.”
“Do not arrogate to yourselves the power to silence speech, because you don’t have the wisdom to know what needs to be silenced. None of us have that power,” he said. “It simply gives hate a hiding place.”
While Shepherd spoke of her recent and dubious Twitter ban and recapped her public shaming for transmitting “hate speech” by showing a brief clip of Peterson in her communications class, Liberal MPs were more concerned about her interview on a Youtube program purportedly hosted by a “white nationalist”.
“It’s not just the end of Ramadan this week, but also this Thursday it’s the 75th anniversary of D-Day. And Ms. Shepherd, when you go on Youtube and you and embrace the views of population replacement with a white nationalist, just remember who the Nazis are,” said an indignant Liberal MP Nathan Erskine-Smith, before walking out of proceedings.
Shepherd declined to reply to Erskine-Smith’s ad-hominem attack and earlier refused to comment on her actions taken as a private citizen.
Garrison then accused all the three witnesses of “minimiz(ing) the impact of hate speech on people’s daily lives.”
“You miss the point of these hearings. It’s not about criminalizing free speech it’s about where to draw the line,” said Garrison who recounted death threats he received as an openly gay member of Parliament. “I guess I reject almost everything that you said today, because the context you place it in is academic, is historical and has no real relation at all to what happens in the real world.”
Picking up on Garrison’s remarks, Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi turned his sights on Steyn for his Maclean’s article, “The Future Belongs to Islam, where you stated ‘it’s the end of the world as we know it’– would you agree that’s alarmist or obnoxious?”
Steyn admitted that even his own editors would agree he’s “obnoxious, unpleasant and hurtful”. But Ehsassi was not contented and dredged up a CNN appearance where Steyn “took issue” with host Chris Cuomo’s statement that “white supremacism is the biggest threat to America.”
“Why did you take issue with that?” Asked Ehsassi.
“I am not here sir to justify to you words I’ve used on TV in the United States or radio in Australia and I do not intend to do it. The words I chose are the words I chose and you are free to interpret them as you so wish,” Steyn said.
“You’re doing what is the most repulsive aspect of this committee, which is you’re trying to force people to deny certain things they said five, 10, 15 years ago as if there is only one correct position on Islam, on immigration, on climate change, on transgender bathrooms on same-sex marriage. We cannot keep going on, saying this is the correct line.”
Steyn also noted that he and his associates have also received death threats for their opinions, but rejected censorship as a solution.
“With respect to Mr. Garrison who’s thinking this is all academic and mumbo-jumbo…I’m not going to bandy death threats with (him). I believe he’s had them,” said Steyn. “I am telling you there are all kinds of people who get death threats. If the alternative is surrendering our free speech because of death threats, then to hell with that.”
*correction: an earlier version of this story indicated that only Liberal and NDP MPs voted to cut the video feed – in fact all members, Conservatives included, supported Garrison’s motion. TPM regrets any confusion this may have caused