In the early 1980’s I was a just graduated wet behind the ears Mountie, stationed in J Division, to be more specific, Newcastle Detachment in New Brunswick. Like all small towns, there was a local dive bar where beer came predominantly by the glass. It was the Black Horse Tavern and any given day you would find a few alcoholic strays hanging about, gingerly balancing on the bar stools, cradling their medicinal alcohol. I often noticed as I meandered through the bar as part of my duties, that off in a corner was a young man, who fit the surroundings in his level of dishevelment, but still seemed aloof from the others. He was usually writing, books and other papers strewn about his single wooden table by the window. I spoke to him on a number of occasions, exchanging general local chat. He was trying to make a living by writing, an unusual and daring career choice in that impoverished region in those particular years. This geographic area is known as the Miramichi, and through the decades those that work and survive in this part of the world usually made a living as fishers, miners or loggers. The work pattern also meant that you went through long periods of unemployment. It was a hardened part of the world, but it was a part of the world where the people had a lasting impression on me.
This aspiring and clearly doggedly determined writer was David Adams Richards, and despite the odds, this young fellow did in fact make it. Some forty years later he is regarded as a writer of extraordinary talent, who besides now having written and published many books, has collected many awards, and even won the Governors General award for both fiction and then again for non-fiction. His stories and novels, especially in the early days were about the Walsh family and growing up on the Miramichi and the people who frequented the Black Horse Tavern. The first book I personally read was “Nights Below Station Street”, It was the first of a trilogy, a poignant tribute to the families who I too had come to appreciate.
The bar where he began is still in existence and Yelp describes it as still having a “nice dive bar ambiance”. He on the other hand is no longer sitting in the bar, he is now sitting as a Senator in Ottawa. A liberal appointed, but now “independent” Senator, who is now rising up and speaking against some of the laws the very people who appointed him are proposing. He has been speaking about the dangers of Bill C-11 and its move to censorship and control of the media and its content. It is a speech worth reading, if for no other reason than that he wrote it.
From the government who gave us the Emergencies Act, we now have two more bills coming down the Parliamentary legislative pipeline hatched from the political ideologies of the Liberal left. These mandarins of social justice are now championing the need to control what is being said,and what is being shown to you. One bill is C-11, labelled the Online Streaming Act, which is already into its 2nd reading, and it this bill which prompted the speech by Senator Richards. The second piece of legislation that parallels these government intentions is still at the proposal stage, and it is currently called the Online Harms Bill.
With regard to Bill C-11, Richards speaks against the idea of someone being appointed to determine “Canadian content” or “what someone can write to fit a possible agenda”. He doesn’t feel that any “hierarchical politico” could or should make this determination, and that Bill C-11 was a “balkanization of freedom of expression” and that it would lead to the “scapegoating all those who do not fit into what we bureaucrats think Canada should be”. Strong words from the normally progressive left side of the fence.
In the Online Harms bill someone will determine what is “information” versus what is “disinformation”; and someone or a body of like minded politicians will tell us what is “hateful” and what is not. This political majority currently forming government in Canada and voiced and interpreted by thousands of Federal employees believe that they know what is good for us. They have a religious ferocity in trying to keep us “safe”– or at least expressing the fact that they are doing all this to keep us “safe”. They wholly believe that another layer of government surveillance to hang over the top of what we read, see or hear would go a long way to protect us and keep our questioning thought processes in check. We clearly, are in their view, frail and weak-minded; we believe everything we see and hear and read, and are not capable of appraising the value of the contents. Mr. Trudeau and his Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez are thus willing to help us, to oversee our protection.
Bill C-11 is a rewriting or revision of the old Broadcast Act. It was this Act which introduced rules that certain portions of media had to insert a percentage of Canadian content. Bill C-11 is to carry this further and delve into the new age of the internet, or as bureaucrats like to call it, the need for “online undertakings”. Netflix or Youtube will now be government mandated to carry certain amounts of Canadian content. The Liberals claim that this will only be applicable for “commercial” content, but many legal experts in examining the bill agree that it is possible under this law the way it is written that the government could have control over “user-generated material”.
They are not hiding from this form of censorship. On a Government of Canada website, they state that the government “is committed to putting in place a transparent and regulatory framework for online safety in Canada”. (we won’t comment on whether this government has ever been considered “transparent”). They are working on developing policies, “when Canadians can express themselves and be protected from a range of harms” and they want a society that “upholds the same principles which they believe made Canada successful–a respect for difference, a belief in human rights, a recognition that there must be reasonable limits to expression in a free society”. The sentence starts off benignly enough, but when they get to “reasonable limits” one better be paying attention.
There are two groups trying to fashion the Online harms piece of legislation; one is the Citizens Assembly on Democratic Expression and the other is the Digital Democracy Project. Both names would be good chapter titles in Mr. Orwell’s world. These groups are calling for “immediate and far reaching regulations to curb…pernicious…unconstrained” commentary; to mitigate the “particular risk for those who are vulnerable…experience the impacts of systemic racism, colonialism, as well as other prejudices and barriers”. This group of overseers are proposing an “ongoing review and revision”.and are suggesting that there be created a “Digital Services Regulator” and a “Digital Ombudsmans office”.
Of course the very vocal social interest groups want to get in on the action. For example, Danielle Paradis a spokesperson for the Indigenous feels this will go a long way to “decolonizing digital spaces” and should be constructed to allow the “incorporating indigenous worldviews and digital regulations”.
All of this of course has an other worldly feel, it makes you shudder to think that these groups in power feel that they can control the media narrative.
If you would like to know what these enlightened persons in Parliament might consider a hate crime. Consider this. Four months ago, NDP MP Leah Gazans presented a motion in the House that “what happened in Canada’s Indian residential schools was genocide” The motion was passed unanimously. She is now proposing that it should be made “a crime to deny genocide occurred” and Marc Miller the Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister says “he’s interested”in such a concept.
Or consider the current Calgary mayor trying to ticket certain types of protests which she says are hate-fuelled, where she she doesn’t like the message, or the Abbotsford school teacher Jim McMurtry who was fired because he said that the residential school deaths were largely attributed to tuberculosis. True of course, but it can longer be said. His wife, Laurie in a letter to the media said “truth, open discourse, and fairness in education has been replaced with myth (propaganda) censorship, and division”.
Censorship of course, has been a topic for hundreds and thousands of years. In recent history censorship by the government in the United States led to the McCarthy “blacklists” against Hollywood producers and writers. In ancient history, in 399 BC Socrates defied attempts by the Athenian state to censor his philosophical teachings and he was accused of “corruption of the Athenian youth”. He was sentenced to death by drinking Hemlock.
There is all forms of censorship; military, corporate, religious and moral. We also have to readily admit that information coming through various social and media outlets is already being privately censored, but there the society mores are dictating what levels of censorship are acceptable– such as the display of violence or child pornography. Even this censorship has led to a great debate in recent weeks, i..e twitter and Elon Musk.
However, it all becomes cynically different when it is a political and government authority that decides that it has the right to control.
Stalin had “sanitization policies” which was a deliberate and systematic alteration of all of history even to the point of ordering the removal of people from pictures, in an attempt to re-write that history. The tearing down of statutes in Canada is not far from this same twisted logic of denying history. Control of the message is the very fundamental building block in the ideology of Stalinism and totalitarianism.
Canadian censorship has seemed to rise up when the governing party develops an acute sensitivity to criticism; or has a particular following to which they wish to appeal. It is coming to be in Canada that to question any wisdom, to question an ideology, or an interest group claim, will be seen in the light of what is being said, but also by who in fact is saying it. The George Orwell famous quote comes to mind: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.
In 1766 Sweden was the first country to abolish censorship by law. Should we be following those long ago Swedes or do you side with this current government which could in the future be given the authority and ability to declare that which can be said. Is this over-stating the intention of this legislation? Maybe, but keep in mind that this is our most fundamental right, and right now we are going in the direction of Stalin– not of Socrates.
Photo courtesy of Allan Henderson via Flickr Commons – Some rights reserved