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M-103 talk turns to prosecution, censorship

Michel Juneau-Katsuya makes an announcement on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

After the first M-103 hearing on Monday, I wrote that we were perhaps facing a less adversarial process than expected. Liberal MP Iqra Khalid was conciliatory as the initial witness, emphasizing that her motion to tackle discrimination was equally about all religions and races. She hardly mentioned the ill-defined phrase Islamophobia.

How quickly things change. Wednesday’s hearing confirmed some of Canadians’ worst suspicions about the process and its effects on free speech. Witness Michel Juneau-Katsuya was an officer in both the RCMP and CSIS. He’s been in private security for a number of years and a regular media voice offering commentary on national security and terror. From what I know of him, he’s never said anything particularly controversial. Yet on Wednesday, he offered a number of eerie observations about using the state to deal with voices that “go too far.” Juneau-Katsuya used his time to speak – in French, so all of my quotes are the interpreter’s words – about the threat of the “alt-right” in Quebec, never specifying how he was using this term. This in itself is no big deal and Quebec certainly seems to have a problem with radicalism. But then he went on to chastise what they call “trash radio” in Quebec, recommending they should perhaps have their licences pulled for engaging in Islamophobia. What exactly are they saying on Francophone radio? Are they calling for violence? Issuing death threats? In the aftermath of the Quebec City mosque shootings, there were similar calls to deal with these stations. A CBC story featured much hand-wringing over the stations, but could only offer this evidence: “Radio poubelle (trash radio) stations often air segments voicing concerns about Muslim immigration and the threat of Islamic terrorism.” Is that it? Maybe they’re rude and excessive. But how is that a crime that warrants the government shutting them down? Juneau-Katsuya then lamented that there was “too much shyness and political correctness when it comes to the prosecuting process, letting it go under the blanket of free speech and letting things go too far.” We should be prosecuting people more, he said. He was then asked by Liberal MP Arif Virani if Rebel Media “amplifies the voices of the extreme right?” He answered yes. Virani then read out a tweet that wrongly said the Quebec City shooter had an unspecified Muslim accomplice. Juneau-Katsuya said it should be “denounced and if possible prosecuted, because here, this is defamation.” The tweet, Virani then revealed, was in fact made by my colleague Tarek Fatah – who was also testifying that day. What should we make of all this? No one disputes people should be charged for threats, harassment and, of course, assault. That wasn’t what was being discussed though. No, this was a former federal police officer basically toying with the censoring of the media and the prosecuting of individuals when “things go too far.” Rather bizarrely, Virani told Fatah that same day that he disagreed with his opening remarks but believed in his right to say them. So why then did he lay a trap that ended in a witness recommending Fatah be prosecuted for an erroneous tweet? My colleagues in the media tried to say M-103 was a toothless motion. Yet here we are, having a committee hearing. Then they said it would never lead to suppression of speech. Yet look what just happened. This is a dangerous game we’re playing. Everyone's free to disagree with Quebec talk radio, Ezra Levant and Tarek Fatah until the cows come home. But prosecution?! If these observations get turned into recommendations in the committee report, we have a huge problem on our hands.

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