(updated below)

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, January 8, 2015, on Charlie Hebdo shootings:

“When a trio of hooded men struck at some of our most cherished democratic principles, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, they assaulted democracy everywhere . . . They have declared war on anybody who does not think and act exactly as they wish they would think and act . . . . they have declared war on any country, like ourselves, that values freedom, openness and tolerance.”

CBC, today:

“Ottawa threatening hate charges against those who boycott Israel”

The Harper government is signaling its intention to use hate crime laws against Canadian advocacy groups that encourage boycotts of Israel.

Such a move could target a range of civil society organizations, from the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Quakers to campus protest groups and labour unions.

If carried out, it would be a remarkably aggressive tactic, and another measure of the Conservative government’s lockstep support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. . . .

The government’s intention was made clear in a response to inquiries from CBC News about statements by federal ministers of a “zero tolerance” approach to groups participating in a loose coalition called Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS), which was begun in 2006 at the request of Palestinian non-governmental organizations.

Asked to explain what zero tolerance means, and what is being done to enforce it, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney replied, four days later, with a detailed list of Canada’s updated hate laws, noting that Canada has one of the most comprehensive sets of such laws “anywhere in the world.”

Has a #JeSuisBDS hashtag started trending yet on Twitter? Under the new Charlie Hebdo standard — it’s not enough to defend free speech; one must praise and even express the speech targeted with suppression — have all of the newfound free speech crusaders begun organizing pro-Israel-boycott rallies in order to defy these suppression efforts? In a zillion years, could anyone imagine the popularity-craving officials who run PEN America bestowing one of their glamorous awards on advocates of the Israel-targeted Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement? The answer to all of those questions is and will remain “no,” because (as I discussed last week here with Bob Wright) the Charlie Hebdo ritual (for most, not all) was about many agendas having nothing to do with the free expression banner under which it paraded.

In that regard, Stephen Harper is the perfect Poster Boy for how free expression is tribalistically manipulated and exploited in the West. When the views being suppressed are ones amenable to those in power (e.g., cartoons mocking Islam), free speech is venerated; attempts to suppress those kinds of ideas show that “they have declared war on any country, like ourselves, that values freedom, openness and tolerance.” We get to celebrate ourselves as superior and progressive and victimized, and how good that feels. But when ideas are advocated that upset those in power (e.g. speech by Muslims critical of Western nations and their allies), the very same people acquiesce to, or expressly endorse, full-scale suppression. Thus can the Canadian Prime Minister pompously parade around as some sort of Guardian of Enlightenment Ideals only, three months later, to act like the classic tyrant.

As I’ve argued many times — most comprehensively here — all applications of hate speech laws are inherently tyrannical, dangerous and wrong, and it’s truly mystifying (and scary) that people convince themselves that their judgment is so unerring and their beliefs so sacrosanct that it should be illegal to question or dissent from them. But independent of that, what we see here again is the utter foolishness of endorsing such laws on pragmatic grounds: they will inevitably be used against not just the ideas you hate but the ones you like, and when that happens, if you cheered when such laws were used to suppress the ideas you hate, then you will have no valid ground to object.


UPDATE: Various Israel devotees such as David Frum spent the morning insisting the CBC story is false, and now the Canadian government has followed suit, issuing a statement denouncing it. Unfortunately for them, the full email exchange between the CBC reporter, Neil Macdonald, and a spokesman for the Public Safety Department can be read here, and it proves that the CBC story is 100% accurate.

Photo: Ben Stansall – WPA Pool /Getty Images