A Charlottesville-Like Riot Could Be Coming To Toronto

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gathering of white nationalists in Charlottesville is already breeding copy-cats. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the most prominent planned iterations of ethnic white nationalism is being organized north of the border.

The Canadian Nationalist Party, the political organization said to be behind the proposed gathering on University of Toronto’s campus, lists these as two of its tenets:

1) ‘In 1971, 97% of Canada’s population was of European ethnicity. Therefore, we demand the suppression of the founding Canadian people, an agenda put forth by Pierre Trudeau and accelerated by Justin Trudeau, be discontinued immediately.’

2) ‘An amendment of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, characterizing ethnic nationalism and removing its stance of multiculturalism.’

The party does not espouse Nazi sympathy, but their stance on the importance of European ethnocentrism serves as the overlap between their platform and that of the far-right segments who flocked to Charlottesville to participate in the chaos. Naturally, Canadians have made a connection between the two, and all indications seem to signal that this proposed gathering will be stifled before it has a chance to occur.

Which, quite frankly, is somewhat positive. Despite likely infringement on free speech, the suppression of groups who find any kind of inspiration in the extremists– on both sides– who have hijacked the nation’s collective attention will likely invite little sympathy. While the left loves to foment the image of the right as a party of ethnic extremists, the right would like nothing more than for the dregs that ignore the nuances of racial conversations– the dregs exposing themselves as such in Charlottesville– to merely go away.

Such simple-minded, hateful groups ignore the benefits that immigration and a certain level of cultural diversity have provided. They use ethnic whiteness as an excuse to preclude high-achieving groups– Asians, as one example– in lieu of blanket ‘whiteness.' It is no way to view the world, and it is not how most on the right think.

Yet, the debate between what speech is legal, and the extent to which we should go to protect even speech considered deplorable, is central to the conversations surrounding Charlottesville and now Toronto.

According to the University of Toronto, the Canadian Nationalist Party has yet to file a request for a permit to organize a demonstration, and they may not follow through on the social media calling for such an event to occur. However, statements made by the University, the city of Toronto, and others bring to light once again the willingness to abridge speech considered to be offensive, and in some cases deplorable, by the public.

Statements given to the Toronto Star have provided a general feeling about institutional and municipal reaction to the proposed gathering of Canadian Nationalists. One spokesperson for the university referenced its policy for booking events at the school, which apparently also entails the school’s policy regarding free expression:

‘The policy states there is a balancing act between freedom of expression and mutual respect and civility. The first principle points to the school being on private property and the university “reserves the right the right to control access to its campuses, and to the use of its space and facilities.”’

The policy reeks of the ambiguity that has served as justification to silence conservative speakers deemed hate-mongers in past instances. While it is tempting to view such a policy only in light of nationalist and far-right groups, such policies must be viewed through the lens of potential abuses, not merely the more justifiable applications.

What is the line upon which the ‘balancing act between freedom of expression and mutual respect and civility’ sways? In the case of white nationalism, it seems certain that the balance will fall in favor of ‘mutual respect and civility,' and that the proposed gathering will be denied under such a ruling. In 2017, this much is predictable. On college campuses, free speech is often eschewed in favor of feelings protected from harm.

Nobody will shed a tear for white nationalists, who often embrace division as a tactic to move toward their goal of ‘unity.' However, what about a similar instance in which, say, a conservative speaker such as Ben Shapiro is deemed ‘hateful’ by a large segment of U of T’s population? Where would the balancing act between free expression and civility fall in such an instance?

If you take the social media post at face value, mere discussion is the goal of the proposed Canadian Nationalist event:

"Join us ... as we discuss the nationalist movement in Canada the future of our country," says the page for the event hosted by the Canadian Nationalist Party.

This is not to serve as any level of support of such a party’s platform. But, if one is to genuinely support the laws of the Constitution, which protects even speech considered offensive, then one must put forward the case for free speech of all forms.

Except– and this is where the Charlottesville crowd falls in violation of the Constitution’s protections– when the speech is meant to incite violence.

In the case of the proposed U-Toronto Nationalist gathering, no indication has been made that violence will be incited. However, violence at an event tied even tangentially to Charlottesville is a likely outcome. For that reason alone, I believe the university would be within its rights to forbid such a gathering.

However, such a decision must not be relied upon as blind precedent for how groups with controversial– even hateful– views should be handled regarding free speech on a given campus. Make no mistake, it is a very slippery slope, and one that has been used in the past to abridge dissenting speech of all kinds.

And to err in favor of speech abridgment is fundamentally un-American and decidedly un-Canadian.

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