Saturday, February 16, 2008

No Political Will on Free Speech



Week in Review - Feb 16, '08





We broke a major story on the Free Speech front here at NoApologies this week.  We got our hands on a "talking points" memo out of Ottawa - a memo that has set off a firestorm of protest in the blogosphere.  The document, which was circulated to all Conservative MP's offices on Friday, February 9th, is entitled "Talking points re:  CHRA & CHRC", and it basically instructs MP's to keep a very low profile on any discussion surrounding Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.  Liberal MP Keith Martin served notice earlier this month of a motion he wants to bring before Parliament to scrap Section 13(1) of the Act.  This is the section that has been widely criticised for suppressing free speech rights.  Critics say the section is being used by Muslim and gay rights activists to silence anyone who disagrees with them.  The document tells MP's repeatedly to stress the point that the Harper government "is committed to the protection and promotion of human rights", and that the Canadian Human Rights Commission is an "independent agency" that administers the Human Rights Act "without interference from the government."

As for the specifics of Martin's motion, the MP's are instructed to say that the motion was "just recently tabled and will not be up for debate in the near future," and that they should assure their constituents that if and when the issue "comes before the house for debate, (they) will follow it closely and.. arrive at a position at that time."

The document also instructs MP's to essentially shift the focus away from the Section 13 discussion by talking about the government's ongoing efforts to repeal Section 67 of the Act.  That section essentially exempts First Nations from any and all provisions or enforcement of the Act in cases where discrimination happens on native land.  Nicholson's document says that Section of the Act essentially prevents First Nations people "from receiving the same legal protection against discrimination that is afforded to all other Canadians," and that MP's should use the line "My Canada includes First Nations" when discussing the Section 67 issue.

The release of the document prompted a strong outpouring of anger in the blogospere.   Connie Fournier, who runs Canada's biggest conservative web discussion group,, says the story has a lot of conservatives pretty upset.  "A lot of people who have been really staunch supporters of the Conservative Party are really starting to vent over this.  They feel like the talking points were really condescending." 

Kathy Shaidle picked up the story for the National Post - with credit to us - and wrote that it's "too bad the PMO's response to citizens' concerns about the erosion of their free speech rights is to issue a (secret) document, telling our elected representatives to keep quiet or change the subject.  Sounds more like a '(Stop) Talking Points' memo." 

Some Conservative MP's and candidates were privately skeptical that the document even existed.  They said they see all the talking points that come out through the system in Ottawa, and they had not seen this one.  That got us digging around a little further, to discover that this document had now gone through the usual channels in Ottawa.   Normally, all "Talking Points" memos originate within government departments, but are vetted through the Prime Minister's office before they're distributed.  Apparently, that didn't happen with this one.  It originated in the office of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, where a staffer sent it to an aide in another MP's office.  That MP had been getting some questions about the Ezra Levant controversy, and the aide was wondering if the Department of Justice had issued any talking points on this particular issue.  When the aide in that office got the email, he, (or she - we're not going to go any further with identities), apparently thought that in case other MP's had been getting questions about the Levant case, it might be nice to forward the document on.  So it was sent to all of the assistants in Conservative MP's offices.  That means MP's themselves didn't get the actual email unless their staffers thought to pass it on to them.

The unconventional path of this document does leave open just how closely the document actually reflects the position of Cabinet, because there's no clear indication that the "talking points" were ever actually vetted through the Prime Minister's office.

Apr. 12th Free Speech Rally

An announcement this week of a big rally coming up on Ottawa  on the free speech issue.  A group of prominent bloggers, including Mark and Connie Fournier of FreeDominion, John Pacheco at, and the folks at the FreeMarkSteyn website have set Saturday, April 12th at the date for the rally.   They've got a website set up, although they're still lining up speakers for the event.