Well thanks a lot, Alan Borovoy, you noodge. Now of all times you choose to die. Grand old man of Canadian liberty. Scourge of racist bosses, bullying speech codes and the state’s outrages against equality, fair play and decency. Five rough-and-tumble decades of struggle since the days of Africville in Nova Scotia. And just when we needed the moral clarity of your voice the most, just when the principles you spent your life defending have started to sink in a swamp of nonsense and incoherence, you decide to leave us.
When the Canadian Civil Liberties Association announced your passing on Tuesday without mentioning the precise cause of your death, if it weren’t for the pluck and the saucy humour you brought to everything you did, a person might have figured you’d died of a broken heart. You’re probably laughing, right now. That would be like you.
Here’s what I needed you to explain to me this week.
On Monday, the day your 83-year-old heart gave out, the CBC headlined a story: “Ottawa considering hate charges against those who boycott Israel.” You would have said something like: See? I told you nothing good would come of those idiotic hate-speech laws. But hold on. Almost straight away someone from Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney’s office said the story was “inaccurate and ridiculous” and that the CBC’s Neil Macdonald had made a shambles of himself. Then somebody else from Blaney’s office said: “We won’t dignify this bizarre conspiracy theory with further comment.”
Then the CBC walked the story back somewhat and changed its headline: “Ottawa cites hate crime laws when asked about its ‘zero tolerance’ for Israel boycotters.” That much at least was true. Then Macdonald’s email exchanges with Blaney’s office somehow ended up in the hands of Glenn Greenwald, that paranoid character whose relationship with the CBC is part source, part trafficker in stolen files and part freelance correspondent.
The exchange contained no evidence that Ottawa was “considering hate charges” against Israel’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) rabble-rousers. Nobody seemed to know how on earth Ottawa could even do that anyway. The whole thing quickly became like one of those Rorschach inkblots, Alan. Now, people are seeing whatever they want to see. I can’t make head nor tail of it.
What the CBC says it sees is the outline of a ploy to round up BDS advocates, even those nice United Church people and Quakers. In January, Blaney made it plain that Canada intended to take a “zero tolerance” approach to BDS mischief, then an amendment to the hate propaganda section of the Criminal Code “expanded the definition” of “identifiable group” to include “national origin.” So when Blaney’s office responded to Macdonald’s queries about “zero tolerance” for BDS with an enumeration of the criminal law’s hate provisions: Hey, presto, Zionist police state.
But “national origin” has been a protected category in the Criminal Code’s anti-discrimination provisions for years, and it’s been on identifiable-group lists since the days of John Diefenbaker’s 1960 Bill of Rights. The BDS and Israel Apartheid Week obsessives have been seized with the shivers ever since last year when Bill C-13, Ottawa’s cyberbullying law, added “national origin” along with age, sex and disability to a list that already included colour, race, religion, ethnic origin and sexual orientation.
If we’re going to have these kinds of laws on the books at all, should “national origin” be excluded so that the anti-Israel crowd can sleep better at night? Should activists who organize boycott-Israel campaigns be exempt from dumb hate-propaganda laws? And while you’re at it, Alan, tell me this. Why should I cut the Quakers any slack?
In Britain the Quakers have lately poured more than £300,000 into an outfit headed by the gangster turned Taliban-fancier turned activist Moazzam Begg. Formerly called Cageprisoners, now called CAGE, the outfit’s directors were explaining to the world only three months ago that the Islamic State’s head-chopping Mohammed “Jihadi John” Emwazi, a chum of theirs, was a “beautiful young man” who’d been radicalized by Britain’s beastly MI5 intelligence service. CAGE has cultivated a habit of anti-semitic hate propaganda that would curdle milk.
Six years ago when Israel Apartheid Week noisemakers were moaning about the administration at Carleton University having taken down their silly posters, you stood up for them, Alan. “You’d have to stretch yourself into a pretzel” to call the posters a human-rights abuse, you said. “We are talking about the right to castigate the behaviour of. . . foreign governments,” you said.”Universities are supposed to be a storm centre of controversy and debate.”
I know you’d stick up for those BDS Quakers if they found themselves in a jam, Alan. You’d even gone to bat for that neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel and the Jew-hating Albertan Jim Keegstra, back in the 1980s. But riddle me this.
Last week, the Liberals joined with the Conservatives to push the anti-terror and surveillance omnibus Bill C-51 through third-reading in the House of Commons. It allows judges to issue CSIS warrants to violate our Charter rights. It’s got quasi-secret court proceedings. There’s hardly any oversight. Go over it closely and a Quaker-roundup conspiracy theory starts to look almost plausible.
Years ago, when we were talking about the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act, you warned me that its Criminal Code amendments were so broad that Canadians could be sent to jail for sending money to help an armed insurrection against the Khomeinists in Tehran or the Communist tyrants in Beijing. And now, Bill C-51 defines propaganda so broadly that a newspaper columnist could face a five-year jail term for advocating on behalf of such insurrectionists.
Remember the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada? In their submission to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, November 8, 2001, they talked about a UN refugee camp in Thailand on the Cambodian border, home to 30,000 Khmer Rouge refugees in the 1980s. Every now and then some diehards would launch raids back into Cambodia, but a Christian aid group had continued to provide them with medical help and food, because that’s what Christians are supposed to do. The Evangelicals saw that staying true to their faith could constitute “participating in or contributing to” terrorist activity.
After the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act was passed, the University of British Columbia law professor W. Wesley Pue raised the Evangelicals’ dilemma in his Laskin Lecture speech at Osgoode Hall in Toronto. Of course nobody would prosecute such nice people, Professor Pue said. “But the fact that we are confident that certain groups would not be considered to be terrorist, should not reassure us,” Pue warned. “No invisible ‘bubble zone’ protects other kinds of religious or charitable groups.”
Take the case of a hypothetical human rights activist encouraging Rotarians to divest from a fictional “Mortland” to raise the heat on the country’s regime, Pue proposed. The activist would be guilty, under the law: “Promotion of a ‘boycott’ or ‘divestment’ campaign amounts to ‘counselling’ an act (divestment) for political purposes in the hope of disrupting ‘economic security’ so as to compel ‘a government’ to change its conduct.”
The bothersome, useless BDS bunch: can we really expect that they will be listened in on, followed around or prosecuted under Bill C-51? You’d have had some sensible answer, Alan. You were so wise, but you probably had no idea how much we needed you. Now you’re gone, and you have no idea how much we already miss you.