Does Canada, with a Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing freedom of expression, need a free speech conference? The events of the week leading up to March 23 would seem to demonstrate the peril free speech faces in Canada today. It’s hard to believe, but the Canadian Association for Free Expression’s Second Canadian Free Speech Conference in Vancouver, scheduled for March 23 came under severe attack from the censors of the politically correct. Frantic attempts to cancel the conference demonstrated just how much free expression is under attack in Canada today.
The conference featured Pat Burns, the dean of Vancouver open-line shows; Doug Collins, the indestructible curmudgeon columnist for The North Shore News; lawyer Doug Christie; author Paul Fromm; and student activist Steve Dumas. Anti-racist fanatics mounted a concerted attack to try to get the Surrey Inn to cancel the event. Leftist journalist Kim Bolan wrote several scabrous pieces for the Vancouver Sun. Her March 20 article smeared the conference as “racist” and erroneously alleged that one of the speakers had once attended “a birthday celebration for Adolph [sic] Hitler.” The article continued: “Multiculturalism Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said Tuesday he’s appalled a conference featuring associates of racist groups is to be held Saturday in Surrey, just two days after B.C. celebrates the International Day for the Elimination of Racism. I’m appalled that this event is taking place and I’m appalled it is happening so close to March 21,” Dosanjh said. Amazingly, Dosanjh proceeded to condemn and prejudge the content of a conference that hadn’t taken place yet. “Dosanjh said conferences of this type in the past had hidden behind the guise of free speech, while promoting racism. All of us have a fundamental right to freedom of expression, But we also have a responsibility to make sure we don’t promote racism,” Dosanjh said.
This statement condemning racism is certainly amazing from a man whose government has an aggressive “employment equity” — affirmative action — programme. The Surrey Inn came under heavy pressure from a number of self-identified “anti-racists” and persons purporting to be calling on behalf of trade unions. Marilyn Berger of the Canadian Jewish Congress said it was “disconcerting” the hotel should open its doors to “these people.” As of March 19, hotel management was holding firm. Also consulted for the Sun’s slanted coverage was Alan Dutton, the Marxist who is now getting government grants for something called the Canadian Anti-Racism Education and Research Society.
He said that while the topic of the meeting was free speech, it would “more likely promote hatred toward minorities,” Doug Collins reports. (The North Shore News, March 27, 1996) However, in behaviour that has become, unfortunately, all too typical of gutless hotel managers across Canada, on March 20, the hotel decided to renege on a written contract. Manager Steve Casson told CAFE Director Paul Fromm: “We’ve had to cancel your function for this weekend. … We’ve had a tremendous amount of pressure from the unions and the B.C Federation of Labour. I’m under strict instructions from the owner. … We’ve bowed to pressure at the end of the day,” he concluded. Doug Collins reports: The Vancouver Sun, March 21, 1996, followed up with the joyful headline: “Racists meeting cancelled.” (The North Shore News, March 27,1 996) The headline, typical of the Sun and CBC’s coverage, was a gratuitous and phony smear of those who attended the conference.
The next day the hotel manifested further contempt for its commitments. Paul Fromm had a reservation for three nights. While he was now going to stay for only one, when he arrived at the hotel, he was refused admittance, despite holding a confirmed reservation., Manager Casson went to intercede with the owner. However, he came back under instructions: “My job is on the line. You can’t stay.” Thus, having incurred a $45.00 cab fare from the airport, Fromm was sent away. It has become painfully clear that, in Canada, a small band of fanatical censors armed only with quarters and access to a pay phone can intimidate weak business establishments into cancelling meetings that fail the litmus test of political correctness. Hotel staff confirmed that they had received only one complaint in writing — either buy FAX or by letter — and that from Local 40 of the Hotel Workers Union. One person who dropped by to praised the hotel for breaking its contract was described as “an East Indian gentleman.” The caller turned out to be Charan Gill, President of the B.C. Organization to Fight Racism, and now NDP candidate in Surrey-Cloverdale. Nevertheless, the Second Canadian Free Speech Conference went ahead at a new location.
A dozen people worked the phone lines and redirected participants, some who travelled from as far away as Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary. A large contingent attended from Vancouver Island. A total of 95 people packed the new meeting hall. Columnist and participant Doug Collins notes: “The meeting took place anyway, but in secret, The early Christians had to do the same sort of thing in the catacombs or Rome.”