Canada gets it right on free speech (for a change)

Toronto wel­comes a de­bate be­tween Steve Bannon and David Frum

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Michael Taube

Few ob­servers would ever de­scribe Canada as a shin­ing bea­con of light for free speech. While the Cana­dian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms may de­pict this demo­cratic right as a “fun­da­men­tal free­dom,” my coun­try nev­er­the­less places strict lim­i­ta­tions on speech which makes it far less free here than in the United States.

But strange things can hap­pen in what is af­fec­tion­ately known as the Great White North. For one brief stretch, Canada ac­tu­ally rolled out the prover­bial red car­pet for free speech by em­brac­ing the ad­mir­ers and crush­ing the spir­its of the haters.

This all hap­pened dur­ing the Nov. 2 de­bate be­tween Steve Bannon (for­mer se­nior ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump) and David Frum (colum­nist, ex-speech­writer for for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush) at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. Or­ga­nized by the re­spected Munk De­bates, the two

com­bat­ants would ver­bally joust on the fol­low­ing ques­tion, “Be it re­solved, the fu­ture of western pol­i­tics is pop­ulist not lib­eral.”

Un­sur­pris­ingly, sev­eral hun­dred an­tifree speech ac­tivists mo­bi­lized out­side the venue. A typ­i­cal gag­gle of rad­i­cal left-wing pro­test­ers showed up, in­clud­ing the barely-breath­ing Com­mu­nist Party of Canada. A large pur­ple ban­ner with the phrase “Shut Down Hate” was dis­played, along with smaller plac­ards declar­ing “No Plat­form for Racists,” “Alt-Right Delete,” “Ban Bannon” and iden­ti­fy­ing the “fas­cist scum” among us.

Twelve pro­test­ers were ar­rested that evening, and two po­lice of­fi­cers re­ceived mi­nor in­juries. Pep­per spray was used in sev­eral in­stances to keep the an­gry left­wing mob un­der con­trol.

The good news was that there were far more peo­ple (roughly 2,500) at­tend­ing the de­bate than protest­ing it. Ticket hold­ers had dif­fer­ent rea­sons for want­ing to be a part of his­tory, from in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity to pro­mot­ing in­tel­lec­tual dis­course. And the only thing the pro­test­ers ac­com­plished was de­lay­ing the start time. Free Speech 1, No Plat­form 0.

One pro­tester got into Roy Thomson Hall, how­ever. She at­tempted to dis­rupt Mr. Bannon’s open­ing re­marks from a bal­cony, and rolled down a ban­ner to show her dis­gust for his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the de­bate.

Rud­yard Grif­fiths, chair of the Munk De­bates, used a re­mark­able tech­nique to stop the shout­ing pro­tester dead in her tracks. He ac­tu­ally con­grat­u­lated her on ex­er­cis­ing free speech, along with the peo­ple protest­ing out­side. The en­tire room launched into ap­plause, drown­ing her out and mov­ing the nee­dle back in the di­rec­tion of free ex­pres­sion.

Mr. Grif­fiths then gave the protestor the op­tion of be­ing quiet, or she would be es­corted out by po­lice. She meekly said yes to the for­mer, started to act up again within sec­onds, and was booted out of the room. Cri­sis averted.

Free Speech 2, No Plat­form 0. Who emerged as the de­bate win­ner? Pre-de­bate, the room was 72 per­cent to 28 per­cent in Mr. Frum’s fa­vor, but the post-de­bate re­sult was an­nounced at 57 per­cent to 43 per­cent for Mr. Bannon. Had Toron­to­ni­ans aban­doned Mr. Frum, a na­tive son, and been won over by Mr. Bannon’s en­gag­ing de­fense of pop­ulism? Many didn’t be­lieve it, in­clud­ing TV On­tario host Steve Paikin, who amus­ingly tweeted, “I’m con­vinced the Rus­sians hacked the @munk de­bate com­put­ers.”

The Munk De­bates ul­ti­mately de­clared the de­bate a draw, and that the room some­how re­mained at 72 per­cent to 28 per­cent. The Rus­sians failed again, it seemed. But the real win­ner was Free Speech, which had re­fused to back down to its ad­ver­saries and suc­ceeded to make its case with in­tel­li­gence, con­fi­dence and a dash of cre­ativ­ity.

Hmm. Is this the start of a free speech revo­lu­tion in Canada? Let’s hope so.

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