It is often said that the truth will set you free. With it’s origins in the Bible, John 8:32 this wisdom has since been adopted far outside Christian circles as principled idea. If truth can set you free, then what might happen to your freedom in a world where truth is suppressed? Increasingly we’re finding the answer to that question today in a world of spin media, corporatist collusion with big government, and hypocritical thinking dominating a generation.
The most core freedom we have as Canadian’s, and throughout the western world, is that of freedom of speech. We must never under-estimate exactly how vital this is to supporting all our other freedoms. How even a small degree of loss of freedom in speech, impact’s your ability to think, communicate and engage with the rest of the world. Today we see pressure on freedom of speech from many, many powerful sides. And we must ask ourselves what is the actual objective of people and groups who want to suppress freedom of speech? I would suggest that the answer is found in that principle of truth setting you free. Those who feel that truth will not benefit them, must aim to create a world where truth is not respected or spoken. Where facts, or even simply opinions and views, or statements open to interpretation, are reviled for being outside of a commonly determined narrative and structured messaging.
Recently in Canada, groups who identify (or are commonly labelled as) white nationalists, or far-right, or conservative, held a number of rallies. These protests were formally organized under the law and permits were issued. Counter-protests were then organized by people who described themselves as anti-fascists, or anti-racists. In Vancouver, the counter-protests were for the most part entirely peaceful. In Quebec City, counter-protestors used violence, attacking both the original protestors but also media and the police.
I will extend an olive branch to those who say we don’t want to see racism, hatefulness or people perceived as hateful and racist organizing on the street, even under the context of a peaceful protest. I will say to them that counter-protesting, when done legally, non-violently, is an effective way to express your views, to compete in the world of ideas and in the battle for hearts and minds. The difference is in effect the sword versus the pen. If your protest is largely about the signs and slogans and speech and visual display, then it’s an extension of using the pen, communicating speech. And this is fundamentally why we have freedom of assembly and the right to protest, is because it is based on the principles of free speech.
What is more concerning to me than the Quebec City counter-protests, violence committed by people who claim to be the “good guys”, against people labelled the “bad guys”, is the media response and political response. Overwhelmingly the political and media establishment condemned the legally organized protests, and showed absolute support for counter-protests, with the notable exception of the violence that occurred. The message to me was that our government is now actively involved in determining what speech should be spoken, what ideas should be accepted, who should be able to exercise freedom of speech, including who should be able to assemble and protest.
What should the government have said both to be less biased and to calm the nation? The TRUTH! That protesters on both sides had a right under law to protest. That while the media reported one side as being filled with racists, that is only a matter of opinion and does not affect the legality of their speech unless specific hate speech crimes were being committed during the protests. That any counter-protests that turned violent, are concerning and warrant the arrests made and investigations into any groups involved that may have organized those crimes. That freedom of speech is a fundamental right shared by all Canadian’s, and that anyone who makes it their aim to violate those rights should understand the government and the people will never accept that.