With free expression under assault in Alberta, where’s ‘free speech advocate’ Ezra Levant?

Posted on January 21, 2014, 12:45 am
10 mins

So-called free-speech advocate and celebrity commentator Ezra Levant. Below: Free-speech opponent Alison Redford, Canada’s answer to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, shown below her; that Voltaire guy; nearly forgotten Tory political strategist Stephen Carter.

Where’s Ezra Levant now that we need him?

Mr. Levant, after all, is frequently billed as Canada’s foremost “free speech advocate,” although mostly by himself and his friends in the headline writing department at the National Pest.

Still, establishing his free-speech-defending cred is an effort the celebrity Sun News Network entertainer seems to take seriously, going so far as to have a whiny website called StandWithEzra.ca at which he catalogues his various efforts on behalf of freedom of expression and solicits donations to assist with the legal contretemps that can sometimes afflict those who speak freely.

Meanwhile, out here in Alberta, Mr. Levant’s home province as it happens, we are facing some pretty serious free-speech challenges of our own.

Astonishingly, though, Mr. Levant seems to have nothing to say about them!

Alert readers will recall that the provincial government of Premier Alison Redford, who apparently aspires to be known as Canada’s answer to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, has made the helpless MLAs in her timorous caucus pass legislation that takes a swipe at Alberta’s public sector unions and in the process restricts the free-speech rights of all Albertans.

This is weird, because unlike the Midwestern Republican governor south of the Medicine Line, a pretty good case can be made that Ms. Redford scraped back into office in 2012 thanks for those very same public employees she and her ministers are now trying to kick to the curb.

Well, maybe it wasn’t Ms. Redford who made all those promises to the public sector and its supporters! Maybe it was just something her 2012 campaign supremo, Stephen Carter, cooked up on his own and didn’t tell her about. Regardless, I’m sure it’s OK with Ms. Redford if Mr. Carter gets to wear the rotten tomatoes now that she’s decided to flop-flop on public services and flip off Alberta’s pubic servants!

The important thing to remember is that the Redford Government’s big entry into the field of drafting labour legislation includes a provision that makes it illegal for any Albertan to express certain opinions about labour issues of which Ms. Redford disapproves.

Under Bill 45, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act, which has precious little to do with continuing public services, it is now illegal for anyone, no matter what motivates them, to suggest that a public employee might be justified to strike illegally – which, since strikes by public service employees were already illegal in Alberta, presumably means it’s illegal to say it makes sense for a public employee to strike, period.

Maybe you’re wondering about those physicians who sometimes tell the health care employees they work beside, “Man, you ought to go on strike!” Well, technically, they’re now subject to a $500 fine just for saying it, and another $500 every day they say the same thing. This goes on every day after that until the $500 fines start to cut into that zero-per-cent increase the docs supposedly got, but didn’t really, from Ms. Redford and her finance minister.

Actually, I misspoke. They’re not subject to the new law yet – which is why I’m writing about it here today. Ms. Redford’s crack legal team made sure that while the Public Sector Thoughtcrime Act was passed and given Royal Assent, it was not proclaimed into law – presumably as a gambit to make this obviously unconstitutional law more difficult to challenge in court.

Still, since everyone figures it’s going to take five or six years of stalling by the government’s lawyers before the Supreme Court punts it, umpires in the civil service softball league are going to have to start yelling “Ball” and “No-Ball” instead of shouting “Strike!” at slow-pitch games next summer.

The problem with this is that every time the ump calls “No balls!,” a worried looking member of the Tory caucus is likely to show up expecting to be told to cast a vote against his constituents!

Where was I? Oh yeah. Ezra.

So what does Mr. Levant, Canada’s greatest friend of free speech, have to say now that the most direct attack on free expression since the imposition of the War Measures Act is taking place in his home province?

Not a peep! Nada.

I know, I know. Mr. Levant is no friend of unions. Indeed, he calls anyone who works for one a “union boss,” which is a bit of a stretch in certain cases.

Still, it’s that thing Voltaire didn’t say, but guys like Mr. Levant won’t stop saying, right? “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it…” Yadda-yadda.

So now that it’s illegal in Alberta to express certain opinions Ms. Redford doesn’t want to hear on pain of a fine of $500 a day – $10,000 a day if you happen to be a union boss – isn’t it mildly surprising that Mr. Levant’s got nothing at all to say about it? What’s with that?

Instead, the celebrity commentator is beating up an old rocker like Neil Young for saying things Mr. Levant disagrees with about his other favourite topic – the wonderfulness of Alberta’s Bitumen Sands. Talk about finding the easy way out!

So where does all this get us, you wonder?

Well, it gets us here: If Mr. Levant doesn’t say something soon about the most serious attack on free expression in Canada in the last half century, presumably because he doesn’t particularly like the people who are being victimized by this offensive law, I think we’re within our rights to reach the conclusion he’s full of … you know, stuff.

And if he’s full of stuff about free speech, maybe he’s full of stuff about everything else he goes on about too.


Free speech still matters in Ukraine, so why not in Canada?

Apparently concern about a lack of free speech in Ukraine continues to grow in Canadian Conservative circles that are completely untroubled by the same thing in Canada.

The latest example is federal Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, who according to the unblushing stenographers at the Toronto Sun, told a demonstration of Ukrainian Canadians in Toronto Sunday that Canada is considering economic sanctions against Ukraine for that country’s legislative crackdown on protesters, which includes a ban on wearing masks during demonstrations.

Uh, isn’t this the same Canadian government that last summer enacted legislation cracking down on protesters that … bans wearing of masks during an unlawful assembly, on pain of a 10-year jail sentence?

If this is evidence that Ukraine is “moving away from Western-style democracy,” as the Sun reporter put it, does that mean Canada is also moving away from Western-style democracy? Actually, there is plenty of evidence for just that proposition.

As noted, Mr. Alexander’s example of official Canadian doublethink on the topic of public protest in Ukraine is not unique. Last month, Alberta’s then deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk expressed his distress at the attacks on free expression in Ukraine.

Mr. Lukaszuk is one of the principal architects of Bill 45, unconstitutional Alberta legislation that attacks the free-speech rights of all Albertans. Like Mr. Alexander, he was also speaking at a demonstration by Ukrainian Canadians worried about what’s happening back on the steppes of Eurasia.

The difference? Kiev is 7,000 kilometres from Ottawa and 8,000 kilometres from Edmonton, I guess. Plus, Canadian Conservatives apparently don’t think Ukrainians are stupid.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca

7 Comments to: With free expression under assault in Alberta, where’s ‘free speech advocate’ Ezra Levant?

  1. sassy

    January 21st, 2014

    Great article.
    Is it possible to have some fun with Redford and friends until this obscene law is thrown out of court? What if everyone begins using another word for strike, maybe someone like “swim”? ‘I suggest the teachers go on strike’ becomes an innocent ‘I suggest the teachers go for a swim’. The French are using a hand gesture to drive their authorities nuts, perhaps we can do something similar.

    • Filostrato

      January 21st, 2014

      I can think of a few hand gestures I’d like to use right now. Unfortunately, their meaning would be all too clear.

  2. rangerkim

    January 21st, 2014

    Defending free speech, or in your case David, railing against the injustice of curtailing or criminalizing free speech is, as you quite properly point out, not something one can do only when one’s particular hobby horse is in the race and still hope for a semblance of credibility.
    Yes, the 5 letter word that occasionally umpires shout will be illegal to utter, maybe. But it has been a “career limiting move” for a goodly long time now to utter any discouraging word against the petroleum industry or against Alberta’s world-class environmental monitoring and enforcement system. Free speech is free speech, regardless of the subject. It’s an action not a subject.
    Ask Wiebo what happens when you speak your mind in this jurisdiction. Look around to count his supporters. Most recently the doctors in the Peace are saying they are afraid to make some diagnosis because they are afraid of what will happen to their practice if a petro-corp or a GOA minister disagrees with them about the environmental cause. Ask Dr John O’Conner what effect free speech had on his medical practice in this jurisdiction.
    No David, free speech is like the air we breathe; either we have it or we don’t. I know you know this David. But the AUPE membership may need reminding of this; they are a wee bit late to the table, say by maybe 15 years. The Alberta government service have been, for a long, long time enthusiastic supporters of hiding the truth about the petroleum industry and have rarely, if ever, felt at all hesitant about using a very heavy hand to stop any other from speaking.

  3. anonymous

    January 21st, 2014

    Ezra has simply exposed himself publicly as a propagandist for the rabid right-wing ideology that infects Alberta and Ottawa. He wants free speech for his own twisted view of reality and no free speech for everybody else. This has been obvious for years, now, to anyone who has been following the script (I hope his Dad is enjoying the taxpayer funded, all expenses paid, Harperite pilgrimage to the Middle East.).

  4. Filostrato

    January 21st, 2014

    Ah…dear EzRant. So fulla stuff, there ain’t room for anything else.

    I wonder if Chris Alexander allowed himself to be enlightened when he got back to the office after his speech. Silly me. I guess he would have to depend on the boys in short pants who haven’t yet demonstrated that they know much about anything.

    But, of course, when they do something undemocratic or illegal, it’s because their course of action has been divinely ordained and approved. Being Right, according to them, isn’t a direction or a leaning. It means that they are correct, forever and ever, and nothing or no one will even change thier “beliefs”.

    Forget about the UN Declaration of Human Rights, forged by war-weary people of vast experience to try to ensure that everyone on earth has a say in what happens to them. Let’s just hand it all over to the untravelled, the poorly educated, the narrow-minded or those whose thought flow has solidified like a blocked drain. Maybe their thought processes were just too full of stuff…

  5. Morley Bolero

    January 21st, 2014

    Ezra doesn’t seem to be too keen on Neil Young’s right to free speech either.


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