I cherish my right to have ideas, especially dangerous or unpopular ones. I constantly fight to keep my right to express those ideas, even if no one is listening or reading. As a writer and former journalist, I find most of my material comes from instances where people have been wronged or victimized, powerless to protect themselves, have few options to do anything about it afterward. In fact, as a journalist feeding the daily beast, most of my stories were about the powerless and voiceless. Here are a few examples.
I found a couple who couldn’t get an apartment because they were black. At one place, they phoned ahead, were encouraged to apply, passed the credit and background checks, went to see the apartment but were told – at the door – that the apartment had just been rented. They stuck around only to hear the sales agent tell another couple that the apartment was still available.
A woman firefighter endured years of sexual advances from co-workers and higher-ups, called a “tease” for ignoring them, a “slut” for publicly dismissing their advances, and suffered increasingly violent attacks as the years went by. She only wanted to do a job she loved. They made her hate work, eventually forced her to leave.
A couple are having a baby. They have been non-drinkers, non-drug abusers, non-smokers for their entire lives. At the hospital, shortly after giving birth, the mother is approached by a social worker who insists that her baby has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). The social worker suggests the mother surrender the baby for adoption to a family that may be able to provide the care the child will need. Both of the parents are Mi’kmaq.
A man in a wheelchair heads downtown to receive an award for his work in promoting diversity as a television producer. It’s raining, Inside, the province’s Lt.-Governor delays the presentations for nearly a half-hour until someone discovers the man outside in the rain, unable to enter the building. There’s no ramp. The building isn’t wheelchair accessible.
A man is drunk. He’s walking home. The police pick him up, drive him to a deserted street, beat the crap out of him, dump him off on dark road on the other side of town. He is found frozen in a snow bank the next morning. Witnesses offer conflicting stories except for one point; the police held him during part of the time before his death. There are similar stories about the police and their treatment of people taken into custody, and recurring names of a couple of officers involved. Every one of the people who say they’ve been beaten by these officers are native peoples.
In a small northern town, there’s a movie theatre. A rope is strung down the middle of that theatre. On one side, white customers sit. Native people must sit on the other side. No mixing is allowed. That’s the way things remained until one of the customers, a white customer, threatened to complain to a human rights commission on the grounds of racial discrimination.
A personal story, only one of many. I am in London to attend a conference on diversity in journalism. On the way home, during a stopover in Toronto, Air Canada informs us the flight has been delayed but it has also been overbooked. People in transit, we are told, will be given priority. The plane is ready for boarding and the lineup proceeds until there are only two people left – a Mohawk (myself) and a Black person. He is also in transit. We are also the only two people of colour booked on the flight to Ottawa.
Before we continue, here’s an excerpt from an editorial in yesterday’s (june 17) Ottawa Citizen:
After years of rancorous debate, there seems at last to be a consensus that human rights commissions, at both the federal and provincial levels, are in serious need of reform.
Even the Canadian Human Rights Commission admitted the need for change in its recent report to Parliament on freedom of expression. Of course, the reforms it suggests are much less sweeping than its critics would like. Still, it’s a start. This is a conversation Canadians must have, because the current system is sowing acrimony and mistrust, and risks treading on the right to free expression.
The most dangerous part of the Canadian Human Rights Act is called Section 13, which governs communication through electronic means, including the Internet. It allows the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to investigate cases such as that of the Maclean’s article written by Mark Steyn in 2006 entitled “The Future Belongs to Islam,” which was of course posted online.
That’s mighty white of you, Ottawa Citizen.
It really pisses me off when the Citizen, and other journalistic organizations or publications, automatically jump on the side of Steyn and Levant in calling for the dismantling of human rights commissions as though the right of these two loud-mouthed jerks to offend is the only right that needs protection in Canada.
BTW, read the comments below the story for a taste of the Citizen’s readership. Enlightening, pretty, it ain’t.