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Threat inflation threatens freedom of speech

Peter Ewart
Peter Ewart

BY PETER EWART

Special to the News

On February 17, the National Firearms Association (NFA) recorded a podcast on the issue of pending gun control legislation being brought in by the federal Liberal government which the NFA is strongly opposed to.  In the course of the podcast, the president of the NFA, Sheldon Clare, who lives in Prince George, criticized the Liberal legislation as “tyrannical.” 

Furthermore, he jokingly related a conversation that he had previously with an unnamed NFA supporter who “suggested that we needed to revisit our old woodworking and metalworking skills and construct guillotines again.” Clare added “that would really be the best kind of committee of public safety, to get that re-established.” 

News outlets since then have reported that the House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms has been alerted to Clare’s comments and has been pressed “to consider those comments in the context of several threats made against MPs in the last year.”  In addition, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and Security voted to condemn the comments made by Clare calling them “dangerous” and potentially “leading to violence,” especially in light of the recent storming of U.S. capitol by Trump supporters and threats to certain MPs.

Responding to this criticism, “Clare rejected the idea that his comments were advocating violence.”  “I’ve merely related comments from upset people who have a real big problem with tyranny,” he said.  “And I think that the virtue-signalling woke liberal left has a problem with being called out as being tyrants.”

In my opinion, the issue with this whole affair is not whether we support the NFA’s or the Liberal Party’s stand on gun control.  Nor is it whether we stand on the left, right or centre side of the political spectrum.  Nor whether we agree or don’t agree with Clare’s remarks or the unnamed person he was quoting.

Rather the issue has to do with freedom of speech which many would argue is under attack on a number of fronts today.  Does anyone seriously believe that the “unnamed person” is advocating the construction of a guillotine outside Parliament that will execute MPs?  The reference is clearly “over the top” and hyperbolic like comments sometimes made by angry constituents saying that such and such politician or public official should be “hung” or “drawn and quartered” or “tarred and feathered.”

I would argue that such comments do not constitute criminal advocacy or a security threat.  To do so, is to put political discourse, with its often intemperate and raucous remarks, under the realm of police powers, threatening the civil rights of individuals, including freedom of speech.

This is not a minor issue these days.  Indeed, the state security apparatus of various countries, including Canada and the U.S., have already brought in or are considering even more repressive and invasive measures to restrict or interfere with the rights of the people, all under the rubric of protecting against “extremism” which often comes down to simply being critical of government and its institutions. 

In addition, the big social media technology companies, like Facebook and Google, which are private organizations, are arbitrarily censoring and de-platforming individuals and organizations from across the political spectrum using “identity politics” and “foreign interference” claims as weapons.

In this context, threat inflation itself becomes a threat. 

Peter Ewart is a writer based in Prince George, BC.  He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca

(with files from Global News)

 


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