What about Michael Ignatieff?
The Conservative Party is nearly unanimous: section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the so-called “hate speech” provision that has become a weapon of censorship used against political dissidents, must be scrapped.
I was hopeful that the Conservatives would do the right thing at their convention; I didn’t expect it to be so unanimous; and I never would have imagined that the Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, would have publicly committed himself to repealing the law.
But the Conservatives only have 143 seats in the House of Commons – 12 short of a majority. So where do the other parties stand?
We already know that a number of Liberals stand for the repeal of section 13. Keith Martin, the Liberal MP from Vancouver Island, moved a private members motion early in the year that got the repeal ball rolling in Parliament. Martin has gone further in his comments, noting that it’s not just the substance of the law that needs reform, but the grotesque conduct of the Canadian Human Rights Commission itself.
Other Liberal MPs have joined in, too. Paul Szabo has called the CHRC a “threat to our democracy” and says many other Liberal MPs share his view.
Liberal Dan McTeague supports the repeal of section 13, too. Liberal Andrew Telegdi said section 13 was “alarming”, though he did not win re-election (by a mere 17 votes!), but his successor, Peter Braid, is a Conservative and thus likely to support repeal.
I suspect that a great many other Liberals – true Liberals, who remember that the root of the word liberal is the latin word for freedom – support repeal of section 13. I think the reason why we don’t have more names (though we’ve got a good start) is because many of the blogger activists on this issue have been conservative, and have thus pestered their Conservative MPs. There is no reason whatsoever to doubt McTeague, Martin and Szabo when they say their colleagues agree with them. We just have to ask them now.
But how about Michael Ignatieff? Conventional wisdom has it that he’s the front-runner for the Liberal leadership. What’s his view on section 13?
By coincidence, Kathy Shaidle of Five Feet of Fury happens to live in Ignatieff’s riding, and happened to be home when Ignatieff knocked on her door during the recent election. Here’s her report about that encounter:
So Ignatieff comes over and shakes our hands and I explain that we are mostly concerned about Section 13 and Human Rights Commissions over reach, and that we feel a Harper majority would go a long way into getting the war against free speech reigned in.
Ignatieff became very thoughtful and interested. He clearly knew what we were talking about, and said he believed that "hate speech" complaints should be heard in criminal court and not the HRCs.
He assured us that many Liberal MPs were very concerned about this issue, too.
… He thanked us for our time and assured us that the issue really was on the minds of many Liberals.
… Ignatieff seemed very well informed and "on side" with the issue. Make of that what you will.
I did a quick news search for Ignatieff and the phrase “freedom of speech”, and I came up with two interesting quotes. The first was from his 2006 leadership campaign. You can see it here. The subject wasn’t “hate speech”, but it was an attack website aimed at Ignatieff himself. His response?
I want to make it very clear my campaign would never attempt to suppress freedom of speech and freedom of opinion. So we're not trying to shut this thing down.
I like the sounds of that.
Back in 2001, Ignatieff also joined in a civil liberties protest against security provisions at the Quebec City “Summit of the Americas”. Ignatieff joined with other free speechniks – including Rick Mercer – to say:
government is constitutionally obliged to protect both freedom of speech and assembly.
You can see that here.
Ignatieff’s conversation with Kathy must be discounted a bit – a politician speaking privately at a doorstep is tempted to tailor his message to the voter at hand, though it sounded from Kathy’s report that Ignatieff didn’t quite do that.
Ignatieff’s comment from 2006 is more heartening – it shows a respect for freedom of speech, even offensive speech, even offensive speech targeting him. That’s encouraging.
Lending his name to a petition for “civil liberties” in 2001 is the least persuasive evidence point, but it’s still heartening.
Based on the above, and my sense of his politics in general, I’m confident that if Ignatieff became leader, he would be at least open to his fellow Liberals voting freely to repeal section 13. And I bet he’d actually vote for it himself, too – as a lifelong academic (and, often, a politically incorrect one at that), he understands the value of allowing dissident political views to be heard.
But, actually, there is one more piece of compelling proof that Ignatieff is against section 13: he’s gagged Warren Kinsella on the subject.
Until Kinsella joined Ignatieff’s team a week ago, Kinsella was Canada’s most virulent opponent of repealing section 13, spitting venom at anyone who proposed it, calling them Nazis, threatening to sue them (and in my case, actually suing me!) and generally making a public ass of himself.
Since joining Ignatieff’s team, Kinsella hasn’t gone totally mute on the subject, but his volume knob has been turned down 90%. I’m sure Kinsella would have been in full dudgeon about the Conservative Party’s convention vote on the subject had he not on Ignatieff’s campaign.
It’s obvious that’s the only reason why Kinsella has cut back the vitriol – nothing else has changed, except that Kinsella is answering to some grown-ups now, and he can't embarrass his boss.
I’m hopeful that Michael Ignatieff would make the repeal of section 13 a truly bi-partisan affair – as it should be. Freedom of speech ought not to be the preserve of one side or another of the political spectrum. It belongs to anyone who believes in the very idea of a spectrum.
His career as an academic; his public statements about civil liberties and free speech; his private comments to Kathy – all of these are encouraging.
But they’re just words. The fact that he managed to shut up Warren Kinsella on the subject is an act of astonishing strength and good judgment.
Folks, let’s be grown up about this, too. Let’s put aside our partisanship for a moment, and realize that we’re fighting for freedom for all Canadians, regardless of political stripe.
And let’s send a note of encouragement to Michael Ignatieff, telling him that section 13 is an affront to all Canadians, Liberal or Conservative. (Don’t antagonize the man by mentioning Kinsella – no doubt it's punishment enough on its own.)
I’m a free man, a Canadian and a Conservative – in that order. I think Michael Ignatieff is a free man, a Canadian and a Liberal in that order, too. I’m counting on it, in fact.
So let’s send him a note of encouragement to join Keith Martin’s lead and make it a bi-partisan business: let’s repeal section 13.
E-mail him here.