A St. Albert weekly newspaper recently informed its readers that Brent Rathgeber, our city’s Member of Parliament, is “an ardent advocate of free speech.”
This is nice to know, as a major story about freedom of expression is looming on the horizon and, given Mr. Rathgeber’s ardent advocacy of this fundamental freedom enjoyed by all Canadians (and apparently their visitors too), we can be confident he and like-minded Conservatives across the land will wish to be in the forefront of the commentary on this issue.
This is mentioned here purely as a public service, lest our local champion of free speech happened to have missed the item, which for some reason seems not to have garnered much attention in the national press.
But first, the backstory: Apparently Mr. Rathgeber was disappointed because Ann Coulter, the odious American advocate of tea-bagging and other unsavoury practices common south of the Medicine Line, had freely chosen to cancel a speech at the University of Ottawa last month because some Canadians had the cheek to exercise their constitutional right to criticize her offensive views.
It seems the noise of the demonstration gave her a headache. Or something. Alert readers will recall how this was portrayed by Ms. Coulter’s supporters and their echo chamber in the mainstream media as an attempt to suppress her right to free expression, a claim that illustrated their astonishing brass if not their reserves of intellectual honesty.
Alas, it seems Mr. Rathgeber’s hopes to pass a bleak evening in Ottawa – the city Marc Lalonde once observed is proof Canada still has capital punishment – had been frustrated by the ruckus surrounding Ms. Coulter’s visit. This, in turn, provided him with a soapbox to mount and offer his commentary on the issue to the local press.
But where was Mr. Rathgeber just a year ago, when the Hon. Jason Kenney, Canada’s esteemed Minister of Immigration, exerted himself in “a short but intense campaign” to ensure that British MP George Galloway did not have the opportunity to exercise his right to free speech in our country.
Astonishingly, Mr. Rathgeber was nowhere to be seen or heard, along with all the other Conservative Members of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s House of Frequent Prorogation!
Mr. Galloway, readers will recall, is a law-abiding socialist Member of the Mother of Parliaments who has the temerity to hold views different from those of our prime minister and his neo-con acolytes on such topics as Israel’s treatment of the people of Palestine and the United States’ lamentable recent war in Iraq. Mr. Galloway was fatuously labeled a threat to Canada’s “national security” and prevented from entering the country from the United States, where despite his views he was allowed to roam and speak as he pleased.
One suspects that it was not so much Mr. Galloway’s views that were the real problem for our Conservative masters as his ability to communicate them effectively. Regardless, Canada’s Conservative guardians of free speech – either by commission like Mr. Kenney or by omission like most of the Conservative caucus – ensured that Mr. Galloway did not have an opportunity to express his dangerous views in Canada.
It took a mild protest against Ms. Coulter’s racist views and open support for political violence – which unlike Mr. Galloway’s opinions could in fact be said to constitute a threat to Canada’s national security – to arouse these tireless advocates of free speech from their deep slumber.
Now that he has awakened, however, Mr. Rathgeber will be pleased to learn that the issue of Mr. Galloway’s right to free expression is about to return to the news, so he will have the opportunity to redeem himself for his previous silence.
Lawyers representing Mr. Galloway and the Canadian government are scheduled to face off in the in the Federal Court of Canada in Toronto next Monday, April 26. There, the organizers of Mr. Galloway’s suppressed tour will attempt to overturn Mr. Kenney’s ban. Soon after that, they hope, Canadians will have an opportunity to hear for themselves what Mr. Galloway has to say.
If Mr. Galloway speaks in Ottawa, one can only assume that Mr. Rathgeber will be there to express his support for the British MP’s right to speak, if not his opinions.
After all, as Mr. Rathgeber told the local press in St. Albert: “When the government defines free speech, when the government tells you what is and what is not acceptable speech, that is antithetical to true free speech.”
Right on, Brother!