How to turn a neo-Nazi into a free-speech martyr
Marc Lemire is a former leader of Canada’s neo-Nazi Heritage Front. He helped distribute flyers informing Canadians that “Immigration can kill you.” On the internet he acts as webmaster for a variety of anti-Semitic organizations.
In short, he is a bigot — a posterboy for all those who claim that racism is still alive and well in modern Canada.
But when Lemire faces off against representatives of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (HRC) later today, I will be rooting for him — and so will thousands of other Canadians who are otherwise contemptuous of Lemire’s way of thinking. It may seem impossible that decent, ordinary people could be convinced to take the side of an alleged neo-Nazi. Yet, somehow, Canada’s “human rights” establishment has managed the task.
There is only one way to get people to support a despised outcast such as Lemire — and that is to turn him into a martyr for a larger principle — in this case, the principle that Canadians should be able to express themselves without subjecting their opinions to the judgment of heresysniffing bureaucrats. At today’s hearing, Lemire will be interrogating two HRC employees who are investigating whether he violated Section 13.1 of the Human Rights Act, which prohibits Canadians from electronically communicating “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of [their group identity].” As Canadian Civil Liberties Association generalcounsel Alan Borovoy told National Post reporter Joseph Brean, Section 13.1 could theoretically be used to censor a book detailing widespread German complicity in the Holocaust, since such a book would be “likely to expose” Germans to hatred.
Some modest limitations on free speech can be tolerated in a free society — libel laws, for instance, or prohibitions on speech that would actually incite imminent, lawless action. But ideological litmus tests such as Section 13.1 are never acceptable. Whether directed at “traitors,” blasphemers, pacifists, communists, racists or otherwise, history shows, these tests always mushroom into full-scale censorship campaigns against enemies of the government or of its orthodoxies. The cases against Maclean’s and The Western Standard were entirely predictable manifestations of this fundamental rule.
You’d think that human rights types would understand the power of empathy. A short while back, I attended a Toronto awards dinner for something called the Canadian Centre for Diversity. Out in the lobby, the organizers unfurled some of their latest public service announcements. In one, a black man intones: “I am a woman when I am confronting inequality.” In another, a Chinese man says “I am a Jew when I am learning about the Holocaust.” An able-bodied woman says “I am a person with special needs when I am realizing how inaccessible our world is.” As Lemire goes up against the HRC, a similar set of aphorisms suggest themselves: “When the law bans obscenity, I am a pornographer. When a fatwa bans blasphemy, I am an infidel. And when a human rights commission prosecutes internet hatemongers for hate speech, I am a neo-Nazi scumbag.” If Lemire and his ilk have a secret scheme to render neo-Nazis into sympathetic figures, they could conceive no better weapon than Section 13.1.
“There art two cardinal sins from which all others spring: Impatience and Laziness,” Kafka pointed out. So it is with the campaign to eradicate hatred. The activists, NGO types, censorious government mandarins and law school profs who champion Section 13.1 declared their fealty to hyper-tolerance as a state creed many years ago ,
and are im- patient for the rest of us to recite the same pledge of allegiance. It sickens the censors that anyone, anywhere, no matter how marginalized, entertains private thoughts at variance with their enlightened attitudes. So they create Star Chambers that make examples out of fringe kooks. They are too lazy to go out and argue these people down in the marketplace of ideas — so they use the powers of the state to shut them up.
Not everyone is so lazy. Last week, a group of neo-Nazis called “the Aryan Guard” staged a march in Calgary. On the blogs, the hysterical carnivalbarkers in the pro-censorship camp cited the march as evidence that Section 13.1 serves a desperately needed purpose. But turnout at the event tells us just the opposite: Just two dozen “Aryans” showed up. In fact, the march was dwarfed by a counterdemonstration put on by about 200 anti-racism activists. “Our message is that there’s strength in numbers,” said Anti-Racist Action organizer Jason Devine. “[The message is] that the community is united, that racism will not be tolerated, that it shouldn’t be tolerated and that we shouldn’t just turn from it.”
That’s exactly the right attitude. If you want to fight racism, don’t hide behind the skirts of government censors. As the Lemire case shows, that is not only lazy, but counterproductive. Instead, do something about it. Despite all Marc Lemire’s nauseating views, the least that can be said for him is that he is willing to fight for his ideas. It would be nice if his enemies had the same courage.
Neo-Nazis at the Alberta legislature in 1997.