Saturday, September 19, 2009

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

The Quebec Liberal governments did well to allow a few thousand rabid separatists to mark the 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham with a public reading of the hateful manifesto issued by the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ) during the October Crisis of 1970.

This is not to suggest that the CBC was right to have broadcast the entire manifesto in English and French on October 8, 1970, at the demand of the FLQ kidnappers of British Trade Commissioner James Cross. As usual, appeasement failed: The criminal gang went on to kidnap and murder Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte.

Evidently, this tragedy is of small account to the Quebec separatists who gathered last weekend for a 24-hour marathon of readings in Quebec City’s Battlefields Park. They cheered two recitations of the FLQ manifesto.

Consider some extracts: “We will always be the diligent servants and bootlickers of the big shots, as long as there is a Westmount, a Town of Mount Royal, a Hampstead, an Outremont … We will be slaves until Quebeckers, all of us, have used every means, including dynamite and guns, to drive out these big bosses of the economy and of politics, who will stoop to any action however low it may be, the better to screw us.”

Quebec Justice Minister Kathleen Weil might have threatened to charge the narrator of this document under Section 319(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada, which prohibits the wilful promotion of hatred “against any identifiable group” upon pain of imprisonment for up to two years.

Instead, Weil prudently chose to allow recital of the FLQ manifesto to the gathering in Battlefields Park. In so doing, she alerted Quebecers to the persistence of a small number of separatist extremists. And she exposed the cynicism of Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois and former PQ premier Bernard Landry, who participated in the readings despite the FLQ recitations.

Even some federalists took part, including a Montreal playwright who read from an essay by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. That was a mistake. All decent Quebecers should have boycotted the event. They should also applaud the Quebec government for having denounced the spectacle and withdrawn $20,000 in funding upon learning of the planned readings of the FLQ manifesto.

In dealing with the FLQ in October, 1970, Trudeau was faced with an entirely different situation; namely, an apprehended insurrection that could have resulted in the loss of many lives. While there was no provision on hate-propaganda in the Criminal Code at that time, there was also no need for such a law: Trudeau used the War Measures Act to suppress all FLQ propaganda.

Under the circumstances, use of the emergency powers in the law and Constitution of Canada was justifiable. Today, there is no national emergency. There is no risk that anyone will act on the incitements to violence in the FLQ manifesto. There is no reason to ban declamations of this or any other similar, hate-filled political diatribe.

In a landmark opinion for the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1936 Alberta Press Bills case, Chief Justice Sir Lymon Duff noted that parliamentary institutions derive their efficacy from “the freest and fullest analysis and examination from every point of view of political proposals.” He also acknowledged that freedom of political speech can be, and often is, “gravely abused.”

Nonetheless, Duff insisted that within legal limits regarding such matters as defamation, sedition and incitement to violence, abusive political speech should be tolerated. He explained: “It is axiomatic that the practice of this right of free public discussion of public affairs, notwithstanding its incidental mischiefs, is the breath of life for parliamentary institutions.”

In recent years, Parliament has enacted the hate-propaganda restrictions in the Criminal Code as well as parallel provisions in the Canadian Human Rights Act. As Lyman foresaw, these freedom-stifling laws have served to curb both legitimate and abusive speech. They repress the breath of life for our parliamentary institutions. They should all be abolished.

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