Posted on March 8, 2007

Speech Is Free, And Everywhere In Chains

Jim Meek, Chronicle Herald (Halifax), March 8, 2007

I ONCE spotted Peter March at twilight in the back country at Kejimkujik National Park. March was paddling a canoe across a desolate and darkening lake. His headwind was fierce, whitecaps were breaking over his bow, and he had a frozen kid or two with him.

Now I don’t know why March—a philosophy professor at Saint Mary’s University—was waging a Bunyanesque struggle against the Keji wilderness at the time.

I’m pretty sure, though, that he was not trying to grab the media spotlight.

But March was accused of just that this week, as he struggled to find a venue for debating U.S. “race realist” Jared Taylor.

The two finally talked at CJCH Radio on Tuesday, after Saint Mary’s University had cancelled the great event in the face of one lousy, anonymous threat.

Taylor’s views hardly matter—he’s just another guy with a shtick he takes on the road.

Let’s sum up his deep thoughts quickly then, by saying he believes that the best way to bring harmony to all the races of humankind is to pry them apart with a crowbar.


But the substance of their little chat doesn’t count nearly as much as the debate surrounding it.

Taylor tried to spread the devil’s gospel in town in January, but got shouted down and shoved aside at an event at the Lord Nelson Hotel.

This occurred after Dalhousie University had cancelled his scheduled appearance on its campus—a strategy that Saint Mary’s decided to imitate this week.

Our city’s two most fabled universities, then, demonstrated that they support free speech as long as the speakers neither challenge the mind, nor spray spittle on the polite professors occupying seats in the front row.

Informed speech is OK, as long as you don’t use too many examples or offend the dean’s wife.

But neither passionate speech nor controversial speech is permitted.

So Taylor and March were relegated to Rick Howe’s show on CJCH, whose small but rabid audience includes a surplus of regular callers who are much given to conspiracy theories, and are as likely to agree with Mr. Taylor as they would have been to march with Mr. Goebbels.

Oh, yes, Taylor!

I bring the discussion back to him only to note that he raises issues that Canada can’t quite bring itself to face.

Are the prisons filling up with minorities? Yes.

Is gun violence in Toronto centred in the immigrant Jamaican community? Yes.

Are Asian gangs becoming the dominant drug kingpins in Canada? Yes.

Are our native communities besieged by poverty and drugs? Yes.

Are we addressing these issues through successful public policy? For the most part, no!

So I say let Taylor speak, not because he’s right or wrong, but because his views—however offensive—reveal our failure to address some pretty important issues.

I’m all for multiculturalism, in short, but not for drowning in the warm soup of sentimentality that surrounds it in this country.

So I say bully for March for insisting on this debate.

I even regret that Halifax’s league of pundits jointly attacked the philosopher last year, after he dared to post those infamous anti-Muslim cartoons on his office door. (And then on his front lawn.)

I now suspect we were “that mad at him” because he invaded our turf—journalists, after all, are supposed to have a monopoly on saying ridiculous things in public.

More to the point, March stood for free speech at a time when it seemed downright dangerous to do so—and likely that any thug with jihad in his heart might deploy a knife or a bomb in the backyard.

Too many pundits, by way of contrast, endorse free speech only as long as it doesn’t disturb the evening meal, or threaten peace of mind.

What Canada needs, then, are more bold talkers—people brave or dumb enough to paddle their own canoes their own way, even if it’s into a fierce wind in fading light.