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 A decade later, Canada’s free speech debate is back with a vengeance

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A decade later, Canada’s free speech debate is back with a vengeance Vide
PostSubject: A decade later, Canada’s free speech debate is back with a vengeance   A decade later, Canada’s free speech debate is back with a vengeance Icon_minitimeSun Jun 09, 2019 9:56 pm

I’m beginning to doubt myself that an event I attended at the University of Toronto fifteen years ago on the subject of hate speech happened the way I remember it or that it even happened at all.

A decade later, Canada’s free speech debate is back with a vengeance Hebdo

A philosophy professor who was an expert on the matter was giving a talk on whether hate speech is free speech. A few dozen people attended, seemingly from all walks of life. The professor gave his talk, a few questions were asked and everyone went on their way. The conclusion by the professor, as I recall, was that it’s good that there are already laws against death threats and slander but the always ambiguously defined “hate speech” shouldn’t be illegal. Some in the audience agreed and others disagreed.

Here is the remarkable part: No fire alarms were pulled. There was no “doxxing” of the attendees (a term that didn’t exist then). There was no hand-wringing that this event would lead to a rise in alt-right extremism (also a new term). People gathered to discuss an idea then went on their way.

Did this really happen? Does my memory deceive me? Because it’s hard to imagine such an event unfolding like this today.

Likewise the general mood around Canada’s free speech debate that occurred a decade ago when Maclean’s magazine, Mark Steyn, Ezra Levant and others faced human rights complaints for publishing and writing what was deemed offensive conduct.

Because I seem to recall that there were many people across the political spectrum that came to their defence on a matter of principle. Conservative, yes. But liberals, centrists, leftists. Everyone stood up for free speech.

Many of them cited the aphorism, wrongly attributed to Voltaire, that while I may disagree with what you have to say I will fight for your right to say it. They may not all have personally cared for what Steyn, Levant and others were writing, but they appreciated the value of free speech.

It was an incredible and energetic time for public debate in Canada. There were absolutely brilliant columns written (RIP George Jonas), great books and essays. And some truly fantastic public debates and speeches. I’ve still yet to witness a more powerful public address than the one Christopher Hitchens gave in 2007 at the University of Toronto’s Hart House that I had the privilege of watching in person.

A lot has happened since then. We’ve seen the emergence of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and safe spaces. Sure, they’re bonkers ideas deserving of mockery. Yet they’ve caught on, at least for a certain segment of society. And it’s a very passionate, mobilized and determined segment.

Thankfully the good guys won the debate a decade ago, largely due to their eloquent arguments and happy warrior spirit. But not everyone was around for that battle.

Think about today’s social justice warriors on campus calling to shut down the likes of Jordan Peterson. If they’re 19, 20, 21 today, then they were only children back then. They weren’t a part of the previous conversation. They don’t know their side of the argument already lost. They also don’t seem to care for eloquent arguments. They’re like those arrogant young professional athletes who have no respect for the heavyweight champions of yore. So to them it’s like the last debate never happened.

Now old warriors have to muster the energy to fight again. Some of the true lions, like Jonas and Hitchens, aren’t even around anymore.

The other day I was chatting with Barbara Kay – another decorated veteran of the last free speech debate – about this and she was not optimistic, fearing that they’d lose this time around. No wonder. There are now increasing calls not just from activists but politicians in positions of power to heavily policy the internet and to bring back old “hate speech” laws that were really just used to prosecute speech the censors personally disliked.

But what else can you do but give it another shot? Dust off your old copy of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, keep in mind that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and then get ready to rumble.

The stakes are higher. The opponents are more ferocious. The odds are against you. Godspeed.

https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/furey-a-decade-later-canadas-free-speech-debate-is-back-with-a-vengeance
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