Toronto Star

Double standard on freedom of speech,

- AZEEZAH KANJI Azeezah Kanji is a legal analyst and writer based in Toronto.

Opponents of M103 — a non-binding motion asking the Canadian government to condemn and study Islamophob­ia and other forms of racism — are trying to pass themselves off as brave defenders of free speech.

At a rally organized by Rebel Media on Feb. 15 against M103, for instance, several Conservati­ve leadership candidates (Kellie Leitch, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander and Pierre Lemieux) sounded the alarm. Trost told the hundreds-strong crowd that the motion is an instrument of the “thought police in Ottawa.”

“This is ground zero . . . for freedom of speech, not just in Canada . . . but for the world today,” declaimed Alexander, the former minister of citizenshi­p and Immigratio­n.

M103 is a symbolic declaratio­n with no legal force or effect, similar to the motion against anti-Semitism passed by Parlia- ment in 2015. It does not denounce (much less prohibit) all criticism of Islam — only unfounded fear and hatred of Muslims, which is the definition of Islamophob­ia. “There is no rational argument that M103 restricts or constrains” freedom of expression, the Canadian Civil Liberties Associatio­n points out.

The contention that this constitute­s a global “ground zero” in some battle against the “thought police” is wildly overblown. Six Muslims were killed in a hate attack on a Quebec mosque three weeks ago, but the anti-M103 movement seems more concerned about a concocted threat to free speech than the demonstrat­ed threat to Muslim lives.

This would-be crusade for free speech is disingenuo­us, since many of its most prominent proponents have previously embraced measures underminin­g speech rights in Canada. The same politician­s treating freedom of expression like a sacred cow have been perfectly happy to sacrifice it in the very recent past.

It is hypocritic­al of Trost to disparage “motions in the House of Commons to try to shut down free speech,” when he (and the rest of the Conservati­ve party) endorsed a motion last February against the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign pressuring Israel to comply with internatio­nal law. “The House . . . calls upon the govern- ment to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizati­ons, groups or individual­s to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad,” it read. Where was all the hyperventi­lation about “thought police” then?

And it is spurious of Alexander to complain that M103 focuses on Islamophob­ia but “doesn’t mention . . . Islamic jihadist terrorism,” when “Islamic jihadist terrorism” is already the target of extensive policing and punishment — including in ways that jeopardize the freedom of expression he claims to hold so dear.

Leitch, Lemieux, Trost and Alexander cannot credibly parade as champions of free speech when they supported the 2015 anti-terrorism Act (Bill C-51), a law excoriated by legions of lawyers and civil liberties advocates for violating constituti­onally protected rights of expression. For example, Bill C-51 “will lead to censorship and a massive chill on free expression,” according to Tom Henheffer, the executive director of Canadian Journalist­s for Free Expression.

Bill C-51 creates a new criminal offence of advocating or promoting “terrorism offences in general,” an extremely broad and vague provision that potentiall­y criminaliz­es a sweeping expanse of speech only distantly connected to violence. “This offence will loom over conduct in this country,” warn law professors and national security experts Kent Roach and Craig Forcese. “The result of this offence will be speech chill.”

Bill C-51also makes it easier for police to arrest and detain people preventive­ly, before any crime has been committed.

Lawyers Clayton Ruby and Nader Hasan describe the type of scenario that could fall within these enlarged powers: “Six Muslim young adults stand in front of a mosque late at night in heated discussion in some foreign language ... They may be talking about video games, or sports or girls . . . But the new standard for arrest and detention — reason to suspect that they may commit an act — is so low that an officer may be inclined to arrest and detain them in order to investigat­e further . . . Yesterday, the Muslim men were freely exercising constituti­onal rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Today they are arrestable.”

Terrorist attacks committed against Muslims have now killed three times as many people in Canada as terrorist attacks committed by Muslims. It is a transparen­t double standard to demonize a motion condemning Islamophob­ia by crying “free speech,” while simultaneo­usly trampling over free speech with legislatio­n like Bill C-51.

Six Muslims were killed in a hate attack on a Quebec mosque, but the movement seems more concerned about a concocted threat to free speech

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