Posts Tagged ‘free speech

A call for caucus openness

- November 1st, 2011

It is not often you’ll see me singing the praises of Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor.

I am not convinced the fledgling political party has gained significant momentum to raise its seat total beyond the current whopping one. And with MLA Dave Taylor’s pending retirement from politics, taking away the party’s best-known member, I’d be surprised if they kept that lone seat.

That being said, during a recent visit with the Calgary Sun‘s editorial board, he raised one issue that I was thinking about when I wrote this week’s column.

When the government shied away from human rights law reform that would have emboldened free speech, and actually added new provisions with Bill 44, there was no indication who was pushing these changes in caucus.

One week, then-culture minister Lindsay Blackett was talking about axing the censorship provision of the law. The next time he talked to our paper, that was no longer the focus, and he was talking about enshrining parental choice.

So who pushed for the changes to the changes? If it came from caucus, no one dared say. Blackett himself told our Ezra Levant that former premier Ed Stelmach kept the provision. But it was the minister that had to wear it publicly.

Back to Glenn Taylor.

One of the ideas he floated when speaking with senior editors here at the Sun was the notion that we should know if our MLAs are lobbying as hard for their constituents in private as they appear to in public.

He pitched opening up caucus meetings, or at least letting the public know how caucus decisions were reached.

And if more people in the Tory caucus are in favour of shackling free speech. I, for one, would like to know.

Of course, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue if we had truly free, non-whipped votes in the legislature.

Maybe someday.

What the f?

- April 9th, 2011

In life, there is a fine line between being a free-speech crusader, and being a whiner.

Now, I’m not saying Jean Wharf falls in the latter category, but I’m not sure if we need to be bringing Vancouver transit officials up on a Charter challenge just yet.

For those of you too lazy to click the above link, Wharf is a 21-year-old who was punted from the Sky Train in Vancouver because she failed to purchase a ticket.

Upon offering to buy a ticket to stay on the train, the transit officer told her to shove off because she was wearing a button emblazoned with the clever words “F— Yoga”.

The horror.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has now taken up her cause, natch. Her Charter rights have been violated, they claim.

I’m not sure if her inherent rights have been violated over the button, even though I agree with the assertion from BCCLA president Robert Holmes:

“In a day and age where judges in our own courts have referred to the word in question as a meaningless vulgarity commonly used by many, it is difficult to see how TransLink could seek to police its use – whether in written or oral form – throughout its system.”

Even if this isn’t a Charter challenge, there is no doubt TransLink officials were heavy handed. The last thing they should be worrying about, and this goes for anywhere, is a 21-year-old rebel without a viable cause. F Yoga? Really?

I get that transit officials anywhere want to make the riding experience as positive as possible for all, but anyone who has taken public transit would know that a little button, no matter how vulgar, wouldn’t rank high on the concerns of most passengers.

Dire straits, indeed

- January 15th, 2011

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard about the controversy regarding a decision by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council banning the playing of a certain version of the ’80s hit Money for Nothing by Dire Straits.

For those not familiar, a listener to a Newfoundland radio station too issue with the use of the word faggot, uttered thrice in the catchy ditty about a working stiff taking a swipe at such ’80s luminaries as Motley Crue.

So far, the controversy has attracted the scorn of people in the radio industry, free speech advocates, most intelligent people, and a heaping of gay Canadian celebrities. The defence offered by the head of the CBSC is laughable.

Most have pointed out three truths about the problem with the CBSC decision.

1. The complaint ignores the context of the lyrics, and their satirical bent, which are an attack on what was popular in the ’80s.

2. People are free to change the station if they’re offended by the content.

3. There are songs with far worse content than this relatively innocuous hit that seem to not concern anyone. But for those who are concerned, see number 2.

But the thing I find most striking about this is the fact that the CBSC even waded in at all. Or does in a lot of these cases.

Given the prevalence of satellite radio, where one can hear all sorts of uncensored music, as well as the volumes of content available on the Internet, it’s a wonder the CBSC would want to point out how irrelevant they even are.

Yes, I get that there’s a belief that if broadcasters are being given licence to transmit over the airwaves, then a set of standards needs to be enforced. But where is the line drawn. Well apparently the word fag is OK, but faggot is not. And what about bitch? As a fellow blogger, and Calgary radio employee pointed out, the song Smack My Bitch Up is playable, as are some very objectionable lyrics courtesy Nickelback.

But hey, maybe we’re so desensitized how objectionable Nickelback is that we’ve stopped caring.

As far as Dire Straits goes, why is it just the word, and not the context? Surely the people at the CBSC decision can grasp the notion of context.

Beyond that, if a radio station wants to play music that may or may not be objectionable, why do they not have the right? Why is it the right not to be offended so entrenched in Canadian society that we don’t want to let listeners, or readers, or viewers make judgment calls on their own.

And for those that suggest that we need to control what is on television or radio because of the accessibility of the media by people of all ages, may I remind you of the vast wealth of filth of all kinds on the Internet.

I’m not calling for a radio free-for-all. There should be standards. The paper whose site you’re readint tries to live up to certain standards. But do we really need a blanket ban on a song because one person in Newfoundland complained?

Surely not.

Greatest hits

- December 31st, 2010

I wrote about 30,000 words in the last year.

I knocked out 52 columns hovering between 580 and 600 words. Some were good. And some, in my own estimation, could have been better.

But they all were fun to write.

There was a lot that made good column fodder in 2010: oilsands issues, health-care concerns and a municipal election I won’t soon forget.

But going back through the last 12 months, there were five that I am most proud of.

1. Last call spills issues into streets: This wasn’t the first column I wrote on soft closings at bars, and it certainly wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last, column I will write about booze, and the province’s approach to alcohol. But it’s always nice to have evidence that proves your opinion. I know the province has some more pressing issues to deal with, but a couple of small changes could make a world of difference in dealing with bar violence.

2. Rules ignored on vanity project: I have devoted a lot of column space to the Peace Bridge. Not as much as our man on Page 5, Rick Bell, but enough. And despite some aldermen complaining about the price tag and Calgarians believing that the bill for the bridge was impacting our property tax hike, the process by which we’ve been stuck with this now twice-delayed project is what really gets me. But the notion that the process violated policy in the plan the goals of which the bridge is supposed to help us meet gave me a good laugh. And that is always a good start for a column.

3. Canucks vote with remote: Lindsay Blackett took a lot of flak for comments he made at the Banff Television Festival, questioning the funding model for TV and film. He took it from the panelists, and then from the country’s intelligentsia. And a lot of it was unfounded. His position was worth defending.

4.Smouldering issue reignited by skinny blond: Despite defending Blackett for the pounding he took for his comments about arts funding, I think he has failed the cause for free speech in Alberta. In championing the flawed Bill 44, he enshrined something as a right that was already protected as government policy, and he let down those hoping for an end to the so-called right not to be offended. That he would even suggest that Alberta “isn’t in the business of dealing with hurt feelings” is galling.

5. Child-free zones OK with this dad: I don’t like making a habit of writing about my son. I’ll make passing reference to him, but generally he’s off limits. But I like when I can reflect on my fatherhood in relation to a news story. Sometimes it’s in relation to tragic events, and, in cases like this, it’s something I can laugh about. I can see how the family that got snubbed by the winebar that wouldn’t allow an infant would be a little peeved. But then I think about how much I would just love a quiet evening at a restaurant with no kids present and my empathy vanishes.

So there you go. My favourite five columns in 2010. I’m sure you have your own. Feel free to let me know.