About Systemic anti-Black Racism and Freedom of Speech
Editor’s note: Dogan D. Akman puts his critical, legal mind to work analyzing the punishments being levelled against those who dare enter the realm of “systemic racism” in the Canadian context. He studies the recent situation of Stockwell Day’s foray into this regime and sees “systemic” problems – in the sanctity of freedom of speech.
By Doğan D. Akman
The issue is whether anti-Black racism in the Canadian society is “systemic” as a political doctrine or as an empirically established fact.
In this paper, I propose to deal with the outrage expressed by activists about anti-Black racism in Canada. It does so in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis and the terrifying death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet who “dropped” from the balcony of the 24th storey of an apartment, in the presence of members of the Toronto police.
More specifically, I propose to focus on the issue as to whether, based on the available evidence, it can be successfully argued that anti-Black racism in Canadian society is “systemic”?
Point of departure
My starting point is that murder is an odious act forbidden by one of the 10 Commandments and by related religious and moral precepts of all religions. The murder of a citizen by the very people who are entrusted to insure his or her safety and to maintain peace and order is both odious and repugnant in the extreme.
In the case of George Floyd, there is some prima facie evidence of intentional killing by a police officer seemingly aided and abetted by three other officers, although at present, we do not know the full facts of the case in order to render a final judgment until these are vetted in a court of law.
In the case of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, we know very few facts material to the case which is currently under investigation. Until the investigation is concluded and the facts are ascertained, there is hardly a proper reason to engage in noisy and agitated manifestations and to accuse Canadians of being engaged in systemic, anti-Black racism.
The case of Stockwell Day
A disclaimer and a personal experience
First, by way of disclaimer, I have never been a member of the Conservative, the Reform and the Canadian Alliance parties and I have never voted for their candidates. My ideological orientation ranges between center right to centre left depending on the issue or problem at hand, the historical context in which it arises or must be addressed and, if possible, resolved democratically.
Second, by way of personal experience, as a young white Middle-Eastern immigrant to Canada back in the late 50’s, I, along with sorts of immigrant friend, experienced discrimination in the labour market by having my applications rejected for about 10 jobs on the grounds that I lacked “Canadian work experience”. This went on for a fair while until, I told an employer in my half-baked English: If you don’t give me the job, how am I ever going to acquire this experience? I got the job, after being duly scolded for being impertinent. Then again, not all immigrants have the chutzpa(nerve) to speak like that to potential employers.
Stockwell Day, whose political career spanned 25 years at the provincial and federal levels (1986-2011) is the latest high-profile victim of the current Canadian asphyxiating political correctness that brooks no dissent.
His sin or political crime was to express his personal opinion on CBC’s Power and Politics as to whether anti-Black racism in Canada exists and, if so, its nature. His opinion was inconsistent with the prevailing politically correct belief that anti-Black racism not only exists but is of a systemic kind.
He said: We have to recognize that our system is not perfect in Canada…yes , there is a few idiot racists hanging around in Canada but Canada is not a racist country and most Canadians are not racists. And our system, that always needs to be improved, is not systematically racist… are Canadians largely and in majority racists? No, we are not…We celebrate our diversity around the world and for the Prime Minister to insinuate-and that is an insinuation-that our system is systemically racist is wrong.” At one point during the debate, Mr. Day said that he knew “for a fact” that “most Canadians including his relatives, friends and opponents were not racist.”
As a man who has been around in politics for 25 years, it is fair to suppose that his “factual” knowledge is based on his experiences in observing and dealing with quite a large number of people in all walks of life who belonged to different, national, social, ethnic, racial and religious groups.
Mr. Day, in speaking so simply, expressed his honestly held opinion of the issue of racism in Canada and rejected, rightly or wrongly, the existence of systemic anti-black racism. Frankly, I fail to see how a reasonable and fair-minded person could construe Day’s belief and opinion as being offensive to the public at large. At worst, he made a factually wrong statement as do most Canadians from time to time. He certainly did not say anything that could be construed as bad or ugly.
Yet, judging by the reactions to his opinion, you would think Mr. Day caused the skies to fall. These reactions included a storm of indignation and outrage within the all-knowing social media and the establishment types who hold the opposite view; the view that anti-black racism in Canada is systemic” and a very serious one at that.
Since these folks play zero-sum games, Mr. Day had to be made to pay a price for his sheer effrontery of going against their beliefs and unspecified values.
And his public apology on Twitter quite shortly after the controversy erupted did not spare him from paying the absolute full price for the error of his ways. Day wrote:
“By feedback from many in the Black and other communities, I realize my comments in debate on Power and Politics were insensitive and hurtful. I ask forgiveness for wrongly equating my experiences to theirs. I commit to them my unending efforts to fight racisms in all its forms.”
I would have thought that in the light of the wording of the apology, the civil way to address the matter would have been, for the people who felt adversely affected to meet privately with Mr. Day and show him evidence refuting his assertions and take it from there.
Instead, first, Telus, on whose Board of Directors Mr. Day sits, fired him because “Mr. Day's comments “are not reflective of the values and beliefs” of the organization.” Telus feared that the company’s many young wireless customers could be offended as indeed, some were offended enough to call the company and threatened to take their business elsewhere.
While the second reason is quite understandable from a business point of view, the official reason hardly makes sense. What does Mr. Day’s honestly held opinion and belief that Canada is not a racist country have to do with the corporate value system of Telus? Come to think, would Mr. Day have had an easier time of it, if he had expressed the contrary opinion that Canada is indeed a racist country? Surely not.
Where then does this leave the right of people to express their opinions and beliefs, clearly on the understanding that Charter of Rights and Freedoms are not absolute, and that in the event of conflict, they must be reconciled with competing or conflicting values and always be subject to the limitations provided by section 1 and related sections of the Charter.
Then came the turn of the law firm McMillan LLP as a partner and the CEO of the firm posted the following signed statement in Twitter:
“At McMIllan LLP, we believe that systemic racism is real and that can only be addressed when each of us-as individuals and organizations- commits to meaningful change.” Yesterday, Stockwell Day made comments during a televised interview that run counter to this view. Today, he offered his resignation as a strategic advisor at our firm and it was accepted.”
Finally, Mr. Day had to give up his job as a panelist in the CBC show in question.
The lesson to be drawn from Mr. Day’s misfortunes
There exists in Canada, systemic oppression of people who express their honestly held views on matters and issues in the public domain.
Mr. Day’s case is not the first but one of a number of cases where persons who occupy high visibility positions have been, and I fear others in similar situations will continue to be sacked for expressing their honestly held opinions which are not bad or ugly or for making statements that are at variance with the imperative “no-nos” of the day; the politically correct flavour of the times or simply because the anonymous social media lynching crowds feel offended or are outraged.
The lesson I draw from Mr. Day’s case is that, in Canada, there exists a serious systemic oppression of the persons I described in the preceding paragraph.
I think Canada is slipping back in time to the days of Galileo. Recall his claim that the world was round and how it caused such controversy that he was dragged before and tried by the Roman Inquisition in 1633. He was judged to be "vehemently suspect of heresy" and sentenced to an indefinite imprisonment that kept him under house arrest until his death in 1642.
On a more personal level, this case also reminds me of the Spanish Inquisition conducted against those of my Spanish forebears who, after having been forcibly converted to Catholicism, were alleged or suspected of deviating from the teachings of the Church and possibly relapsing back to Judaism. They were not as lucky as Galileo; they ended up being burned at the stake.
The Spanish Inquisition went on for about three centuries. I verily hope for both Canada’s and individual Canadian’s sake that this systemic oppression will not last long.
About the author: Doğan D. Akman is retired from the Federal Department of Justice where he worked as a Crown Prosecutor and then civil litigator specializing in aboriginal law. His “Times of Israel” blog can be found at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/dogan-akman/