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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Kafka's bureaucrats search between the lines

David Warren writes in "Free Hit for Free Speech" (Ottawa Citizen, January 23, 2011),
The issue here is, “freedom of speech.” Do we have it in Canada, or do we not? This would once have been a rhetorical question, but isn't today. The existence of numerous so-called “human rights” commissions, and other legal and administrative machinery for the prosecution of the “politically incorrect,” has brought the whole question back to life -- after centuries of freedom from formal state censorship, and star chambers.
It would be wrong to say that censorship has been re-imposed. But instead, perhaps something worse is happening. With formal censorship, a journalist or anyone with something to say, could know where he stood. I have witnessed at first hand journalism operating under censorship requirements, in Third World countries, and it struck me that both writer and reader knew what the rules were. It thus remained possible to put things “between the lines.”
Even in Soviet Russia, readers knew how to understand, for instance, an item in Pravda that declared, “There have been no riots in Gorki, and all rumours to that effect are false.” Translation: there have been riots in Gorki, and all the rumours are true.
The problem deepens when, as in Canada today, we have deeply committed ideological activists, embedded in our “human rights” bureaucracies, who are looking specifically for messages that have been planted “between the lines”; and who are armed with the power to mount show trials, in which the truth of an assertion is no defence (as it always was in legitimate courts, when charges were brought for libel or slander).

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