Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Doctor Dawg, a Canadian blogger I should probably pay more attention to, has written a much, much better piece on freedom of speech issues than I've seen out of Whatzisname. He discusses the real issue of incitement to violence through racist hate speech, but also looks at the other side:

In this connection, what I find troubling is the inconsistency of the more ideologically hidebound Levant supporters. The state crushing dissent is how the matter is being portrayed. An innocent citizen having to shell out for a lawyer and give up his time to defend himself. An outrage! Yet, when it comes to the formal court system, all of those repressive mechanisms are firmly in place. If you are sued, you will need to shell out even more for a lawyer, pay a small fortune in legal fees, and be prepared to lose a lot of time in court proceedings. If the plaintiff happens to be wealthy, and/or a lawyer, and you are not, you're basically screwed. Most ordinary folks at the wrong end of a lawsuit swallow their pride and look for a quick way out of the mess.

In North America, activists have been shut down again and again by so-called SLAPP suits, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Individuals who say things that the powerful and rich disapprove of can find themselves literally sued into silence. Conrad Black was infamous for using the courts in this fashion. Warren Kinsella, whose lawyerly expertise and well-known aggressiveness makes him a pretty scary antagonist to just plain folks, has thrown a lot of legal paper around as well, or threatened to. And then we have--goodness me--none other than Ezra Levant himself.

The patron saint of free speech is busy suing a tiny community paper and a former employee of his for $100,000 at present because he didn't like what they had to say about his reign at the Western Standard. The column can be read by following the link here, and the letter may easily be found by Googling "Dust My Broom" and "Merle Terlesky." (I hate having to dick around like this, but I don't want to be sued myself.)
Leave aside the stuff about Ezra Levant and the other tiresome little toads who are desperate to be Republicans but are too frightened of leaving their little sinecures in Alberta to GTFO already. It's not important.

Things like SLAPP suits and Libel chill are. This is why I think (the ironically self-described "punk") Kinsella is not only being idiotic about this issue, but disingenuously so. Freedom of speech doesn't exist solely to protect idiot conservatives saying things that Warren would rather not hear, it exists to protect activists and whistleblowers, people who would be sued into bankruptcy by well-funded corps because what they're saying is inconvenient to people with more money than they have.

Kinsella (like a lot of other SLAPP-happy throwbacks) is a lawyer; he doesn't need to pay for the services of one for something like a lawsuit, and is successful enough that he can afford to pay for one regardless. That's probably why he advocates it so thoroughly; he's self-centered enough to think that something that works for him can be applied to everybody else, and has boring enough opinions (and a big enough bully pulpit) that he doesn't need to be concerned about this sort of thing.

Some penniless student who is highlighting the kind of crap that Nike or Adidas or Wal-Mart is pulling in the third world, though? Who's passing out leaflets she printed from her own computer, because she doesn't have the connections to have the National Post print out his opinions, like Kinsella does? Who is right, but finds out that it doesn't matter, because more often than not truth isn't a defense and she can't afford to mount the defense in the first place, because she isn't media-sexy enough to get someone to do it for her pro bono?

Er, yeah, she's screwed now, isn't she?

Dawg called Kinsella "scary". And, yes, perhaps Whatzisname is, a bit. He's not scary because of anything he's written, though. A book that meanders between attacking Paul Martin for being connected to the Tobacco industry and claiming that the real problem with Adscam was that someone had the temerity to call an investigation isn't "scary". Nor are rantings in the National Post about how your hip hoppin' music and your iphones and your violent nasty vidier games is corruptin' the kids of today.

No, he's scary because he thinks this is a good thing. Because he apparently supports SLAPP suits, and suppression of activism, and stopping GBLT materials at the border, and tossing lawsuits hither and yon at people who dare to say unfriendly things about other people who (just maybe!) deserve it. Because he wants to take away the freedom of speech for people who haven't passed the Bar Exam and have lots of connections and bully pulpits. Because he's so terrified of the hoi palloi actually talking back to him when he won't even enable comments on his website.

And because people actually think that this fearful little man who starts in terror at the sight of a pseudonym is actually an example to liberals and progressives.

For any Canadian progressive/slash/liberal that actually reads this site, all I'll say is that for all their faults, at least Duncan and Kos have given people the opportunity to respond to them. If you want to build a progressive online community, that's the example to follow. Following "whatzisname" only empowers the very forces that you're trying to check.

And props to Dawg, whom I know Whatzisname links to, for pointing out why freedom of speech really matters.

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