Free Speech? Hate Speech? Harassment?
Where is the line?The session at McMaster last week (What's Happening in Caledonia?) was an excellent session where the Haudenosaunee negotiators spoke directly to a welcoming audience of well informed Canadians who clearly support efficient and good faith settlement of Indigenous land claims. It was a resounding success, followed by an equally energized and successful first meeting of a group of supporters. This highlights the tradition our universities have of academic freedom and upholding free speech in a respectful environment. This tradition is again apparent in the session that occurred two days later in the same location: Palestine and Israel: Roots of conflict. Prospects for peace. Norman G. FinkelsteinStart: Feb 15 2007 - 7:00pm Health Science Center (HSC) 1A1, McMaster University I raise this issue because the only discouraging part of the Haudenosaunee event at McMaster was the harassment of the university president and the organizer by the small but persistently aggressive group from Caledonia and area, and their outside instigators. The harassment continues even after the event. This same group has disrupted and taken control of all meetings about the reclamation that have occurred in Caledonia, to the point where the head negotiator for the federal government said "We were not treated very well in Caledonia ... not well at all." Sadly, this small group constantly demands information but when it is presented, they dismiss it and refuse to listen, drowning it out with their aggressive voices instead: "Bring in the army!" "Two-tier justice!" "Get them off the land!" One of this nay-group recently wrote a letter to the editor chastising the majority of Caledonians who do not come out for their meetings and their rallies. It is quite apparent to many why that is the case: Most Caledonians are peaceful people who want to maintain good relations with Six Nations. They want absolutely nothing to do with the racial slurs and insults and the harassment, threats, intimidation and assaults committed by this small group. Indeed, it is the actions of this small group and the outsiders they have recruited to help them that has created and sustained the aggressive media images now associated with Caledonia. I suspect that the majority of Caledonians would be happy to attend a peaceful, informative session to hear Six Nations negotiators, but it is not clear whether such a session could be held peacefully in Caledonia. That is unfortunate because it cuts local people off from the information, while those outside the area get to hear it uninterrupted. The key is to insist on an atmosphere of respect, and to be prepared to ask people to leave if they speak aggressively or interfere with other people's rights to hear and the presenters' rights to be heard. The key, in Caledonia and elsewhere is for this group to recognize that they are a small group, not everyone is interested in their views, and that freedom of speech carries with it the responsibility to allow all points of view to be heard. It is unfortunate that there has been no leadership in Haldimand to remind people of these civic responsibilities and common courtesies. This leads to a situation where this unrestrained group believe they can and should silence voices outside the area as well. This is not the way it works in Canada. It may be that the tradition and law of free speech is not functioning in Caledonia, but I can assure you that threats to drown it out elsewhere in Canada, especially in educational institutions, are doomed to failure because they are simply not acceptable to Canadians in general. In addition, since the Caledonia rallies now draw the 'premiere' white supremacists of Canada, ordinary people will NEVER agree to participate in that kind of rally or meeting. Indeed, it can be very damaging to one's reputation and prospects to be seen as part of that 'movement' which has as its goal the eradication of non-white people from 'their' white society. Very few 'white' people agree with these aggressive and hateful beliefs. It is my hope that this post will help some of those people let go of their frustration because, indeed, the successful session at McMaster indicates that free speech is alive and well in Canada. All views WILL be heard. This is as it should be, except where those views cross the line of hate speech: There is no forum for that in Canada, because that is a violation of the law. When directed at an individual such as a university president or professor in this case, it is also threat and intimidation, again a violation of the law. These laws uphold the peaceful environment that Canadians prefer above all, to a fault perhaps, but nonetheless, these are the collective wishes and rules of Canada. The only victory worth winning is won fairly. Denying others the right to speak uninterrupted is not fair, nor is it likely to lead to 'victory' in this case, which depends instead on accurate evaluation of a variety of specific details of transactions with the Crown. Some people have, unfortunately, been 'sweet-talked' into believing that what they are doing is free speech. It is not. Those who try to convince you to break the 'hate' laws are doing so for their own purposes: To incite hatred against Six Nations, and to challenge Canada's hate laws, uphold their right to their white supremacist notions of free 'hate' speech. They are exposing you to the possibility of litigation or arrest by using you to make their 'point', without letting you know that this is their intention. They are not your friends. Perhaps there will come a time when the Haudenosaunee negotiators will be able to speak to their neighbours in Caledonia without harassment. I certainly hope so, because there are major issues being addressed and the people have a right to know.
68% of Canadians believe our governments should honour aboriginal treaties