Free speech in Canada under threat

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Free speech in Canada under threat

 A month ago, MPP Sarah Jama named Israel as an Apartheid state, and was unceremoniously turfed from the Ontario NDP caucus. Then CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn was pushed to apologize for supporting Palestine. York University swiftly followed by threatening student groups for doing the same while Global News journalist Zahraa Al-Akhrass was fired for posting #FreePalestine on social media.

In the meantime, Israel proceeded in destroying Gaza – no water, no electricity, no medicine, no food. While they were at it, 36 journalists were murdered. Israel has so far killed 10,000 Gazans.

Even as some union and political leaders have spoken out against Israeli violence, albeit gently, there is general silence from those who claim to defend free speech.

Toronto Star’s Martin Regg Cohn blamed Jama for “depriving herself and her constituents a voice.” Fellow Star columnist Andrew Phillips wasn’t much better, as was Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee, who was appalled that York students described Israel as a settler-colonialist state. But, refreshingly, not so for Toronto Star’s Shree Paradkar, who wrote about Jama’s stance thus, “Brave, principled leadership is such a rarity that not only is it difficult to recognize, in some quarters it is attacked with contempt and reviled.”

Outside of these “brave” efforts like Parakar’s, organizations like the Canadian Association of Journalists, usually staunch defenders of free speech, have remained silent even as over 36 journalists have been killed by Israel. There was a tepid, mealy mouthed statement from PEN Canada, while the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression have said nothing.

For most of us who believe the feel good stories official Canada tells us, the behaviour of our cultural and media institutions must be dumbfounding. But they never truly believed in free speech. What they do is confuse us into believing that they oppose oppression and tilt towards justice and peace. Remember that it’s the same media and cultural institutions that supported South African apartheid, for instance, until their corporate owners signaled to them that the gains and profits that accrued to those who lived by the racist institution would be protected. So, it was time to welcome Nelson Mandela into the fold.    

Given the blatant attempt at limiting free speech as they try to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that is Israel’s sickening abuse of Palestinians, Voltaire, the 17th century French writer and outspoken advocate of civil liberties and free speech, must be turning in his grave.

Free speech in Canada has been heavily compromised because of the concentration of corporate ownership of media, coupled with the lack of public funding for writers and free thinkers. So, whenever a typical corporate hack comes up with another bit of boring, meaningless drivel to cover up another atrocity, it brings to mind Mark Twain who once quoted a rather articulate enslaved African in Missouri. The man stood on a woodpile and declared: ““You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.” Corporate paycheques buy a lot of corn pone.

The brazen, selective morality of the corporate media is on full display as they show images of the Gaza carnage while speaking of Israeli suffering. 

When did Canada become like this? Or was this settler nation always this way?