An imbroglio in Canada’s House of Commons developed recently over a “summer jobs program” funded by the government.
Well, not so much the program, which all parties seem to agree is a good thing. In fact, the article refers to it as a “normally feel-good program.”
The trouble started when Mr. Trudeau’s government introduced a condition for funding applications this year. It is the requirement that applicants must sign an attestation that their organization’s “core mandate” respects the notion of “reproductive rights.” Otherwise, their applications would be rejected. Over 1500 have been rejected so far with just over 100 at the same point last year, according to the article.
Things really began to flare up when it was discovered that one application, submitted by something called the “Dogwood” initiative, had the express purpose of paying for an assistant to “help our organizing network stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker project.”
So the current Liberal government of Canada is prepared to financially support “anti-pipeline protestors.” Apparently “Dogwood” has no problem attesting to its “core mandate” of respect for “reproductive rights” if it means getting subsidized for “free speech.” To be fair, there is a connection between the privilege of having others finance your right to protest and the privilege of women to have others pay for their abortions. It’s “others pay.”
“Free expression and advocacy” is a principle his government must defend says Prime Minister Trudeau in defending both the required attestation and approval of the “Dogwood” application. Mr. Trudeau might think it nitpicking, but there is an important derivative distinction between a principle and a right. And free speech is a right.
A principle is a fundamental truth, upon which other truths depend. The principle underlying free speech is the right to your own life. It’s only when you choose to live among other humans that the issue of “rights” comes into relevance. We have government ideally to protect those rights.
In the House of Commons imbroglio and subsequent coverage nobody addresses a proper definition of free speech.
So let’s try to help. Freedom of speech means “freedom from interference, suppression or punitive action by—the government.” What are the implications? Free speech must be judged on its merits by those who choose to listen without being forced to pay for the opportunity. It means no interference in the form of, for example, subsidy by the government, no censorship, which only government can do, and you should not face fines or imprisonment for criticizing the government. It also means that if you have something to say, you do so by your own means and without trespass on the rights of others.
The “summer jobs program” itself is an improper action by government and is financed by wealth extorted from the productive sector. What makes it worse is the condition added related to matters of “conscience.” No one should need to swear an oath respecting the legitimate rights of others as they also pertain to all of us. There is a reciprocity principle when it comes to rights.
A violation of rights can be met with retaliatory force. It is one of the reasons for establishing government, to place the use of that force under objective control through a justice system. When government violates rights, as I think it clearly does with the “core mandate” attestation requirement, it degrades our culture and moves us further along the path to despotism.