How to turn a neo-Nazi into a free-speech mar­tyr

National Post (Latest Edition) - - Editorials - JONATHAN KAY

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.

BRIAN GAVRILOFF / CANWEST NEWS SER­VICE

Neo-Nazis at the Al­berta leg­is­la­ture in 1997.

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