Pre­mier’s free speech con­vic­tions su­per­fi­cial

North Bay Nugget - - OPINION - Robin baranyai

prin­ci­pled lead­ers in­spire the best in us. but there is no in­spi­ra­tion quite so flac­cid as a prin­ci­pled stand aban­doned at the first ex­pe­di­ency.

on aug. 30, pre­mier doug Ford took a stand to pro­tect free ex­pres­sion on cam­pus. the prov­ince put on­tario colleges and universities on no­tice, warn­ing they have un­til Jan. 1 to de­velop and im­ple­ment freespeech poli­cies, or risk los­ing gov­ern­ment fund­ing.

“too many” stu­dent groups have be­ing de­nied sta­tus on cam­pus be­cause of un­pop­u­lar views, ac­cord­ing to min­is­ter of train­ing, Colleges and universities mer­rilee Fuller­ton. to pro­mote crit­i­cal think­ing, she said, in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing need to stop shield­ing stu­dents from ideas they may find of­fen­sive.

the an­nounce­ment pro­voked prin­ci­pled de­bate. ex­po­sure to op­pos­ing viewpoints is es­sen­tial to learn­ing. So is a safe learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Cam­pus ad­min­is­tra­tors bal­ance these con­sid­er­a­tions when ap­proached by speak­ers and groups whose philoso­phies skirt the edge of out­right hate speech.

“our gov­ern­ment made a com­mit­ment to the peo­ple of on­tario to pro­tect free speech on cam­puses,” Ford said in a state­ment. “prom­ise made, prom­ise kept.”

Not two weeks later, Ford tossed aside his free-speech prin­ci­ples like a balled-up tis­sue.

on Sept. 10, an on­tario court quashed the pre­mier’s heavy-handed move to cut toronto city coun­cil to 25 wards from 47, in the mid­dle of an elec­tion. In his rul­ing, on­tario Su­pe­rior Court Jus­tice ed­ward belob­aba noted bound­ary changes “sub­stan­tially in­ter­fered with the mu­nic­i­pal can­di­dates’ free­dom of ex­pres­sion” as well as vot­ers’ rights to ef­fec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Ford did not cam­paign on toronto ward bound­aries, but he wasted no time pledg­ing to get around the rul­ing — and the pesky Char­ter of rights and Free­doms — by in­vok­ing the notwith­stand­ing clause.

he could have waited for an ap­peal, which most folks seem to think his gov­ern­ment could have won. but the pre­mier was not con­tent to let the is­sue play out in the courts. on the con­trary, he ad­mon­ished the courts for hav­ing the au­dac­ity to im­pose any limit on his leg­isla­tive au­thor­ity.

“I was elected. the judge was ap­pointed,” Ford said, demon­strat­ing a stun­ning dis­re­spect for a mer­it­based ju­di­cial ap­point­ment sys­tem, and the rule of law. “I also want to make it clear that we’re pre­pared to use Sec­tion 33 again in the fu­ture.”

Sec­tion 33 of the Char­ter al­lows leg­is­la­tion to re­main in force up to five years, and is typ­i­cally con­tem­plated as a last re­sort. as former pre­mier bill davis told TVO: “that it might now be used reg­u­larly to as­sert the dom­i­nance of any gov­ern­ment or elected politi­cian over the rule of law, or the le­git­i­mate ju­ris­dic­tion of our courts of law, was never an­tic­i­pated or agreed to.”

the overkill was ev­i­dent not just in Ford’s blus­ter, but in the scope of rights he pre-emp­tively added to the re­named ef­fi­cient Local gov­ern­ment act, which passed first read­ing Wed­nes­day with full PC sup­port.

Jus­tice ed­ward belob­aba’s stated ob­jec­tions could have been ad­dressed with Sec­tion 2( b) of the Char­ter, which en­shrines “free­dom of thought, be­lief, opin­ion and ex­pres­sion, in­clud­ing free­dom of the press and other me­dia of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.” but Ford didn’t stop there, nor even with the whole of Sec­tion 2, which con­cerns fun­da­men­tal free­doms of association, con­science and peace­ful assem­bly. he went ahead and tossed in sec­tions 7 through 15, con­cern­ing the rights to life, lib­erty and se­cu­rity — in short, ev­ery Char­ter ex­emp­tion per­mit­ted — to re­duce the size of a sin­gle city coun­cil.

great lead­ers in­spire with their con­vic­tions. the only prin­ci­ple our pre­mier seems to hold with con­vic­tion is his own power to gov­ern, not just as he cam­paigned, but ex­actly as he pleases.

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