Victoria Times Colonist

The freedom to spew hatred

Victoria Times Colonist
October 4, 2001

A few months ago, Secretary of State Hedy Fry claimed in Ottawa that crosses were burning in Prince George and Kamloops. Nobody else saw them.

This week, Fry sat on a podium in Ottawa and heard B.C. feminist Sunera Thobani call the United States "the most dangerous and the most powerful global force unleashing horrific levels of violence." Fry made no move to leave the podium or challenge Thobani, who also said the world has more to fear from the United States than from terrorism.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien has already made it clear that Canada will stand beside the U.S. in its war on terrorism. The Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and Washington were attacks not only on the United States but symbolically on all the countries of the West, including Canada. As a minister in the federal cabinet, Fry has an obligation to defend the position taken by the government. She failed to do that, and through her actions at the conference gave a silent endorsement to the venomous words being spoken.

Like Fry, Thobani is no stranger to controversy. Since coming to Canada from Tanzania she has risen quickly in the national women's movement, and was president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women from 1993 to 1996.

She gave the organization a new look, claiming it had been run too long by women who are white. She has also challenged the country's immigration laws, saying the system is biased in favour of males.

Beyond her work as a professor at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, Thobani has been involved in several organizations (such as the NAC) and attended many conferences that have been given financial support by the taxpayers of Canada. For example, the federal government provided the Women's Resistance Conference, where Thobani spoke, with $80,000, about half the cost of staging the three-day event.

In simple terms, Canadians welcomed her into this country, then gave her a stage and money. In return, she has repeatedly criticized our way of life and directed sheer hatred at our friends.

At the WRC conference, she said women will never be emancipated until the U.S. and the West stop dominating the world. In most non-Western countries, Thobani would have been laughed off the stage, assuming that a woman would have been allowed on it in the first place.

Whatever problems they still continue to have in our society, women in the Western world have achieved a status and freedom rarely found elsewhere. Thobani's personal history as a feminist activist in Canada is proof of that.

In Ottawa, however, her comments drew several standing ovations from the crowd of about 500 delegates.

Fry said after Thobani's speech that it was "incitement," but also defended freedom of speech in Canada. For the record, that's the same line used by those who spew anti-Semitic bile. Fry just doesn't get it.

The world changed on Sept. 11, and there's more than enough hatred around as it is without ideologues like Thobani adding to it, and a cabinet minister tacitly condoning it by refusing to speak out.

It's more proof, if any was needed, that it's time for Fry to go.

© Copyright 2001 Victoria Times Colonist