OTTAWA—A lot of organizations should think about staying woke instead of using the excuse of free speech that betrays the human rights and existence of others. (I haven’t used the term “woke” since 2017, mainly because it was co-opted by the powerful. But today is a new day.)
We are in a paradigm where the march towards a more equitable society is being threatened by a backlash from those in power who want to keep power. In doing so, they have co-opted the language of social justice, born in Black communities to accomplish their goal. This acquisition has resulted in the reduction—and then derision—of the language of activism to be weaponized against the same communities that birthed it. It has then been expanded by the powerful to be weaponized against adjacent marginalized communities to discredit and silence them. The powerful often claim “cancel culture” and pit it against free speech, as though their rights are being infringed by those less powerful, who have been subject to violence and neglect.
No one is owed a platform that increases exposure for their “ideas”; rather what we are guaranteed are freedoms of thought, belief, and expression from government prosecution. And even that has limits, such as hate speech.
Cancel culture is an extension of the political correctness of the 90s and is a boycott of those who have crossed an ideological line that bends towards social justice. In a society that devalues marginalized communities, those who have standing in society have far too often avoided accountability because they have often been protected by those of their ilk who own the means of communication and are senior decision-makers in institutions of oversight. Social media changed this. Due to the disruption of media by technology platforms, the means of mass communication have no choice but to report on the groundswell of opinions on platforms like Twitter, which has an over-representation of marginalized voices that have grown to internet celebrity status. Those previously written off by society can curate their own voices to speak to the issues that have been ignored; in addition, they can form vocal communities and create content that pierces through the banality of mainstream media and thereby gain traction. And it is that which threatens power.
Cancel culture doesn’t really exist because power doesn’t get cancelled. It should be called consequence culture.
If cancel culture existed, General Jonathan Vance would’ve been cancelled instead of retired on a full pension; the former governor general Julie Payette would’ve been held to account instead of maintaining her eligibility to draw her full pension.
If cancel culture existed, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan would be excommunicated from politics.
If cancel culture existed, Conservative MP Tamara Jansen, whose claim to fame is coining the “lesbian activities” meme, wouldn’t have space in a modern party that recognizes the rights of LGBTQ2S+; J.K. Rowling wouldn’t have a platform to spew her anti-transgender hate.
Even Patrick Brown remade himself into the mayor of Brampton and has been getting some positive press during the pandemic.
Power doesn’t get cancelled, they cancel others.
Who does get cancelled? Those who speak out and those who protest. In an analysis by Jan Malek on the Council of Canadians website, he states, “Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the freedom of peaceful assembly. Protests are a way for people to express themselves for or against decisions made by government or other powerful institutions.” The Department of Justice website confirms this statement by adding, “It protects the right to demonstrate on public streets (Garbeau v. Montréal, 2015 QCCS 5246). The freedom extends also to protecting the right to camp in a public park as part of protest activities.” All over the country, powerful people are curtailing the right to protest. I wrote last week about Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux’s attempt to classify criticism of the police as hate speech, and therefore an exception to free speech protections.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney failed to pass legislation to guarantee workers’ paid leave during the pandemic, however he made sure to curtail the rights of Indigenous people to protest pipeline expansion onto their own lands when he passed Bill 1, a.k.a. the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act. As Sprawl Calgary explains, “Bill 1 makes it illegal for anyone to protest on essential infrastructure, including entering onto, damaging, obstructing, interfering with the construction of said infrastructure, or even encouraging someone to do those things.” What constitutes critical infrastructure? According to the UCP, anything they say it is: “In addition to this sweeping list, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act grants cabinet the power to declare things ‘essential infrastructure’ as it likes.”
Where are all the free-speech advocates when the marginalized communities’ right to freedom of expression is infringed upon by the government?
Nowhere, because those in power continue to weaponize free speech for their own ends that have nothing to do with preserving the rights and freedoms of all Canadians. Don’t be fooled. Stay woke.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.