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Canada’s Elite Limit Freedom of Expression on Indigenous Issues


Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Canadians freedom of thought, belief, and expression, which are essential in a democratic society. According to an official government commentary on the charter, “In a democracy, people must be free to discuss matters of public policy, criticize governments, and offer their own solutions to social problems.”

Despite this assertion, it remains puzzling why free speech is safeguarded when individuals criticize Israel’s policies towards Palestinians as “racist,” but not when they criticize Canada’s policies towards indigenous peoples in the same manner.

On issues related to indigenous peoples, there is a blind spot in the Charter of Rights concerning free speech among our academic, media, and political elites. Dissenting views that challenge prevailing beliefs are often suppressed, with only a few individuals daring to step beyond the established boundaries.

One such instance involved a writer who organized a book signing event for “There Is No Difference,” a book advocating for the greater integration of indigenous people into Canadian society. The bookstore cancelled the event, prioritizing silence over free speech. Only one mainstream journalist, Barbara Kay, defended the author’s right to free speech.

These examples underscore the reluctance of government officials, mainstream academics, and journalists to support individuals expressing contrary views on indigenous issues. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ protection of free speech often seems to be disregarded in such cases.

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A few years back, Sen. Lynn Beyak sparked controversy by suggesting that some positive outcomes emerged from residential schools, a viewpoint echoed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report and shared by eminent indigenous author Basil Johnston. However, for airing such views, she faced severe criticism and eventually resigned.

Similarly, Associate Professor Frances Widdowson was dismissed from Mount Royal University for challenging prevailing discussions on indigenous issues, highlighting the university’s prioritization of protecting sentiments over engaging in open debate.

Another instance involved high school teacher Jim McMurtry, who was fired for stating that most indigenous children in residential schools died due to diseases like influenza and tuberculosis, a fact documented in the TRC report.

This pattern of silencing dissenting voices extends to public figures like Mayor Ron Paull, who faced censure and boycott for his wife distributing a book challenging media narratives on unmarked graves at residential schools.

Such incidents demonstrate a reluctance among government officials, mainstream academics, and journalists to defend individuals expressing contrary views, highlighting a departure from the principles of free speech enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Many Canadians believe that fostering reconciliation with indigenous communities involves moving away from the dependency fostered by the Indian Act and promoting equality among all citizens. However, expressing such views publicly is often met with resistance.

It is imperative for our elites to embrace diverse perspectives and engage in constructive dialogue, as opposed to stifling dissenting voices. By fostering an environment that values open discussion, we can work towards a more inclusive and respectful society.

Peter Best is a retired lawyer in Sudbury and the author of “There is no Difference,” which advocates for equality under the law for all Canadians, regardless of race. This article was commissioned by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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