One of the worst things about our current era* is the way the words “free speech” have been appropriated by racists, bigots, halfwits, and profiteers in the anger-industrial complex.
The most recent “defender of free speech” is former Tory senator Lynn Beyak, who has been pushing bigoted beliefs about Canada’s First Nations people for some time. She most famously suggested that residential schools – in which forcibly taken indigenous children were beaten for speaking their own languages and physically and sexually abused in the thousands – were good things.
She remains a senator, but was finally bounced from the Conservative caucus after she apparently refused to take down racist letters** she has been posting on her personal website.
Beyak has come out now with a two-pronged defense.
1) Attacking the media for not covering Justin Trudeau’s ethics violations, Omar Khadr’s financial compensation, and other stories that have been, y’know, pretty thoroughly covered and;
2) Insisting that she will continue to defend “free speech.”
Is racist speech allowed? Of course it is. And no one is preventing Beyak from posting the stupid, racist rants of others, nor of saying incredibly stupid and insensitive things on her own. She’s been doing it for months, and she has not been arrested, jailed, fined, questioned by police, or even kicked out of the senate.***
“Defending free speech” used to mean that we understood there was a solid right for people to say things without government harassment.
Increasingly, it is used as a screen by people who have said deeply offensive things. They seem to think that not only should they not be prosecuted for saying awful things, but that they have the right to suffer no consequences whatsoever.
Beyak is finding out that the corollary of the right to free speech is the right to free association.
You can’t lose your Canadian citizenship for being a bigot, or even an avowed Nazi. But you can be kicked out of pretty much any other group that chooses to freely associate. You can be criticized, called names, told off, shunned, given the cold shoulder, and generally held up as an example of a twit.
You have a right to say what you want. And the rest of us have the right to decide what kind of a person that makes you, and whether we want to have anything to do with you. And to freely say so.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer made the right choice on Beyak. If he made a mistake, it was not making that decision sooner.
*Our current era is the Age of the Turdgoblins. I have this on good authority from a time traveling future historian who visited me last week.
**There’s some dispute over whether she was told to remove the letters or not. There’s no mistaking the letters for anything but racism.
***She should really be kicked out of the senate.