There is a dangerous new wave of censorship rolling our country, threatening to rewrite our laws and scale back civil liberties in the name of the common good. And politicians and civic leaders have rushed to embrace it.
In Quebec, a young girl whose sister was raped, robbed and murdered organized a petition to ban violence on television. In Niagara Falls, a St. Catharines politician tells an audience with complete assurance "We'll no doubt find out pornography played a very important part" in the death of Kristen French. In the United States, the parents of a teenager who committed suicide took the music group Judas Priest to court, blaming it for his death.
Community and church have called for a ban on the importation of serial-killer trading card and board games. And already authorities have responded.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the US. Congress have threatened television broadcasters with regulations on violent programming if it does not impose standards on themselves.
Unfortunately, none of this is new. In the 1940s, parents upset about so-called "crime comics," asked for and got new laws banning the importation and sale of crime comics in Canada. Like today's crusaders, they argued "we copy what we see."
They repeated loudly the assumption that crime comics caused juvenile crime. Comic companies stopped publishing them and like today's television broadcasters, created a code of self-censorship to avoid legislation by the US. Congress. Parliament passed a little-used law banning the importation and sale of crime comics. Charges were rarely laid and convictions even fewer, yet the law remains in the Criminal Code today. The anti-comics crusade of the late 1940s and 1950s had a permanent and negative impact on the genre.
The principal event leading up to the criminalization of crime comics in Canada was the conviction of two juveniles, aged 11 and 13, found guilty of a murder in Dawson Creek, Yukon, in 1948.
The judge and the prosecuting attorney, to no end, noted that both youths were avid readers of crime comics and blamed the periodicals for the random murder of James M. Watson. Public pressure built up and eventually crime comics were banned in 1949. When it was all said and done, the ban had a negligible impact on juvenile crime and did nothing to address the real causes of violent behavior among young people.
Of the many millions of crime comics consumers in 1948, only two were found guilty of murder, yet that was all it took to have the publications banned.
Of the millions of television watchers in Canada in 1993, it took one copycat killing this summer for CRTC chairperson Keith Spicer to increase his demands for television self-censorship.
The thought police use events like the Dawson Creek murder of 1948, or the Kristen French murder in 1992 to argue their hypothesis and increase public pressure to pass the laws and regulations they want. No event is too sacred for them to exploit.
The thought police echo the same arguments year in and year out, hoping these assumptions will become an act of faith: Crime cards and comics cause juvenile crime, violent television causes real violence, pornography causes violence against women, heavy metal and rap music causes lawlessness and suicide. Pro-censorship groups chant these mantras, knowing that if they keep at it, powerful people will listen. Politicians will side with for fear of appearing on "the wrong side" of the issue. And citizens will have even more regulations telling them what they cannot see, read, buy or use.
When people challenge these assumptions, they are castigated as enemies of society. Several months ago a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario quoted a study in class that contradicted the pornography/violence link and a student complained. When news of this was leaked to the press, women's groups on campus and fellow colleagues told him he was wrong.
The censorship lobbies won't stop until everybody agrees with them, or are silenced.
If the hoopla surrounding crime cards, pornography and television violence is any indication, it is an uphill fight. Powerful interest groups are engaged in the erosion of your rights in the name of "public safety" and "protecting children".
Fighting back means exposing the assumptions of the would-be censors as misleading and mendacious reasoning. Fight back means opposing new laws that weaken your rights as a citizen.
The Reform party carried within it populist traditions as diverse as Social Credit, the Western Farmers party, the CCF, and the Western Concept Party. Their frank unvarnished approach to issues made many cringe, but this was mitigated by a new approach to politics in Canada. Indeed, Reform exposed contadictions that are at the heart of "representative democracy" in Canada.
That an electorate could recall their own MP via referendum, or dictate how they voted in parliament, was revolutionary. Reform's stance on federalism was in many ways modeled after Switzerland, a decentralized republic that utilizes participatory democracy and referenda. This was a far cry from the current system whereby a fraction of our citizens - mostly well-off middle-class Canadians - vote into office MPs, who go off to Ottawa or the provincial capitals, and do the bidding of their party masters.
It was Reform that rejected the Ontario/Quebec axis that has been the heart of the Canadian polity for the past 200 years. While some angry voices were urging "Let Quebec go", there were others who understood that the the only long-term answer to the problem is regionalism (and its cousin, separatism) is more regionalism, with diffusion of power away from Ottawa, closer to the people. Preston Manning's original stance that 50% + 1 was a sizeable enough victory for a Quebec referendum was a courageous act, and consistent with the democratic instincts of Reform.
Some of Reform's supporters - mostly one-issue voters - misunderstood just how subervsive it actually was. And there were others - richer, more powerful interests - who saw the danger it posed to its power base, instructing it to drop its populist trappings, and transform it into yet another establishment party with only a shadow resemblance to its predecessor. I have no doubt that many Reformers will congregate (albeit begrudgingly) around this new pretender. But there are others who view the creation of the Canadian Alliance as the betrayal of everything Reform stood for.
Reform was not alone in seeing its principles corrupted. The NDP in Ontario - from the standpoint of its supporters - was as powerless in office as it was in opposition. The lesson to be learned - for labor, the working poor, women, farmers, the West - is that there can be no salvation in adversarial politics. This is cold comfort to the union activist in Windsor, or the Reform supporter in Winninpeg or Vancouver, but it is a truism.
The tragedy is that in the creation of this new party, Preston Manning has destroyed one of the few alternatives on the political spectrum. I lament the death of Reform. The party was itself a contradiction, but it pointed to a different future for Canada, and I will miss it.
The first was the statement that surgeons do not have enough time to practice their skills in the public system - perhaps ten hours a week. If private clinics were expanded, these same surgeons could perform additional surgery. The second was that private clinics would reduce the amount of waiting time for those awaiting surgery. Nowhere in the article was there anything which suggested that the public system could be made flexible enough to address both issues.
The final point was the apparent financial benefits to provincial residents. "B.C. taxpayers could save a total of 900 million dollars a year". This is a very misleading statement. What would really happen is that the costs would be transferred over to the private sphere. Because clinics operate outside the public system, the amount being "saved" will likely be offset by their operating costs. Given that their clients mostly belong to the same group of taxpayers, it is hard to imagine what is being saved.
In Alberta, Premier Ralph Klein states that private clinics will expand in his province, whether the people like it or not, for the same reasons. He openly acknowledges that this is unpopular, but claims opinion will change once his plan is implemented. In reality, it doesn't matter what the people think, for by that time, it would already be too late.
The underlying assumption by many public officials, in B.C., Alberta and elsewhere, is that the public system is irretrievably broken. In the last decade, under both Mulroney and Chretien, federal/provincial transfers have been bled dry. Funding is no longer matched dollar by dollar by the federal government. This has had a negative impact - resulting in hospital closings, empty beds, cutbacks in staff hours, and wage concessions absorbed by healthcare workers. Provincial governments have often unfairly taken the blame for this imbalance of funding.
Canada's medicare system is based on universal access. It is considered socialized in the sense that it is available for Canadians of all levels of income. But medical professionals are not government employees - rather, they perform medical services in publically-funded institutions, write out an appropriate bill, and are compensated through the pool of income gathered collectively from taxpayers. From strictly a cost standpoint, our system compares favorably with the American model, burdened by private insurance, HMO "managed care", and multiple layers of paperwork. A report by 60 Minutes several years ago drove this point home to Americans.
Private clinics are essentially a band-aid solution to the health care crisis. We should not distracted by the purported benefits of their expansion. These proposals do nothing to address the fundamental problem of federal underfunding, and compromise the principle of universal access that is a shared heritage of all Canadians.