When I was a kid, about 10, I spent a few months living in and going to school in California. One of the things I remember most about those American kids was how they would say something I thought was outrageous and end any argument with "Hey, it's a free country! I can say what I like." And they could. They still do.
Canada is, across the board, a lot less sure of itself. Some say that's a good thing. I am not so sure. Going to school there, I experienced first-hand how American kids learn all about their anthem and flag, memorize their Pledge of Allegiance and generally get history lessons affirming they had a revolution once so they could say whatever they want.
In my Canadian schools we had little of that stuff. In Canada, there is still some reticence about free speech. Happily, last week saw two small but important triumphs for free speech in Canada.
At York University in Toronto, an outspoken American, Daniel Pipes, got to speak. Many left-wing and anti-Israel students there didn't want him on campus: the man acknowledges Israel's right to exist. Refreshingly, York University president Lorna Marsden insisted on his right to accept the invitation to speak on campus.
What a production! One hundred cops were on hand, including 10 on horseback, for a Harvard PhD's speech. Students and professors attending had to have advance tickets and were subjected to metal detector searches and frisked when they arrived.
Before Pipes was allowed to speak, a detective with Toronto's hate crimes squad formally warned him that if he said anything encouraging hatred toward any group, he could be charged and jailed for two years. He was also warned that comments promoting genocide could lead to five years in jail.
Imagine. This author of 11 books, a man whom the Wall Street Journal hails as one of the world's most authoritative experts on the Middle East. He warned us about terrorism before Sept. 11 and he now actually works with the Pentagon's anti-terrorism team! And he gets warned by a Toronto cop not to preach genocide. It's insulting and embarrassing to any thinking Canadian. Oh well, at least Pipes got to speak. In today's North American universities, which U.S. civil rights commissioner Abigail Thernstrom has described so accurately as "islands of repression in a sea of freedom," that is an accomplishment.
And last week saw another triumph for free speech thanks to B.C. Provincial Court Judge Kerry Smith.
The Canada Elections Act prohibits anyone from communicating election results to anyone else in Canada where polls have not closed. Paul Bryan dared post results from the Maritimes four hours before polls closed in B.C. Hauled into court, he argued this act infringed his charter rights to freedom of association and speech. Damn right. This law makes my mom a criminal if she phones me on election night and tells me what the results are in Ottawa.
Judge Smith agreed the act violated our Charter of Rights. But now just watch - the monkeys at Elections Canada who work for Jean Chretien will appeal this sensible victory to the Supreme Court, which may yet overturn Smith's ruling.
The Supremes are appointed entirely by the prime minister, for reasons known only to the prime minister. (Are the judges all good Liberals? Who knows.) There is no review of the prime minister's Supreme Court appointments any more than there is any review of his Senate appointments.
Unlike our very vocal neighbours, we humble Canucks have no checks on our prime minister's appointment of half our Parliament and all Supreme Court justices. And that, folks, is why Canada's government can throw Alberta farmers in jail for selling wheat to Americans. It's why First Nations goons can bankrupt Fort McMurray contractors who don't pay extortion money. (Hey, they called the Mounties but the cops refused to act.) It's why every Albertan is really still a sucker and a slave.
Hey, it's a free country. I can say that, can't I?