Yesterday, I sketched in broadest strokes the outcome of the "Human Rights Commission" versus Zčndel struggle. Against that backdrop, read what will bring out Canadian support for "free speech".
The following was sent to us from one long-time Revisionist in Canada:
There are times when Canada really richly earns its moniker, Absurdistan. This was one of them. It's worth a guffaw or two, seeing (on) what a molehill Canadian writers chose to fight and die, metaphorically speaking, for our freedom.
Canada's (g)literati descended on Ottawa's National Arts Centre this Sunday afternoon (January 28). They'd come to lend their names and moral support to the cause of a high school senior (unnamed because under Canada's Young Offenders Act a person under 18 charged, as this one was, with uttering at least three death threats, must be guaranteed his anonymity) who had spent 34 days in detention after -- it was said -- a monologue he wrote and spoke in his drama class contained what seemed like veiled threats against fellow students.
Apparently, it was only after other students reported the student in question made at least three death threats that high school authorities discerned that potentially menacing half-hidden message in the speech he delivered during the excerise in his drama class. This of course made his speech in drama look like it could be but one revealing clue to some kind of possibly violent denouement.
Think: Columbine High School.
The (g)literati included such stellar figures as novelists Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, veteran broadcasters Laurier LaPierre and Patrick Watson, and a host of other literary figures. All friends of free speech, needless to say. Reports of the event on both the CTV and the CBC Television Network, in fact, appeared to suggest that some of (the) writers who had at first committed to making a presentation suddenly got cold feet and declined to exercise the free speech they so cherished. Even the young man at the centre of the controversy decided against reciting the monologue that caused school authorities so much anguish.
See: When this story first broke it seemed as though the high school principal and other school authorities had overreacted to the student's speech in drama class (with its allegedly veiled threat); which got our sunshine libertarians in a lather, as you can imagine. My hunch is that after some of the writers who were to jump aboard the freedom bandwagon arrived in Ottawa and discovered the details of the story were a lot murkier that what the media had originally suggested, it put a damper on their initial enthusiasm. Result: A perceptible ambivalence in the mood of the event's organizers.
Yes, you could hear a faint fizzle.
In any case, given the high-profile names the event attracted, it was given a lavish amount of news coverage. We saw, for example, Laurier LaPierre and Patrick Watson warmly greet one another in the Arts Centre lobby. We saw LaPierre bristle at cameramen who captured the moment on video (weird reaction for someone who made a career as no great respecter of intimate privacy in the lives of public figures during the seasons he co-anchored This Hour Has Seven Days with his old chum, Patrick Watson). We saw Magaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje discoursing on how tough it is growing up alone and misunderstood. And we also saw, as the TV camera scanned the great auditorium with its banked-up rows of plush but empty seats, how few people actually attended the event, given the high-profile names it had attracted.
I wondered why. After all, the event was staged on a Sunday afternoon in our nation's capital, a city that boasts a large population of well-educated people, including several colleges and universities. The city is not a metropolis, has an excellent public transit system, and is easy to get around. Certainly, this event had been very well-advertised; and so on, and so forth. How to account for seemed like such a dismally low turn-out? Then it hit me! The event had coincided with the NFL Superbowl. Concerned Canadians who might have come were at home busy watching a gaudy American football extravaganza. Had event organizers even considered a possible conflict of interest, as it were?
Still, one of the organizers was quoted saying how it important it was to come to the defence of free speech in Canada, otherwise we should risk losing it. ... Talk about closing the barn door after the horses have fled! Mentally, I spoke to him (or her) and all the other writers who showed up: "Where have you been for the last 30 years?"
There was some coverage, however edited, given to three young male students who had driven up from the high school in Cornwall, Ontario, where the alleged incidents occurred, to be present as observers at the Sunday afternoon rally. Cleancut and sombre-looking, and obviously concerned about the reputation of their school, they said they shared the hope all the facts of the case would be reported fairly and fully. The issue for them was not free speech so much as it was accurate reporting by media and the event's organizers and participants.
I bet some of the event's organizers and participants afterwards felt they too ought to have shown similar concern for accurate reporting by media.
Thought for the Day:
"He that riseth late must trot all day."
Back to Table of Contents of the Jan. 2001 ZGrams