11.01.2012

first they came for pride: city of toronto vs free speech

Last week, I blogged about the ongoing pattern of harassment and discrimination against people who express solidarity with the Palestinian people. This isn't in the same universe as the oppression endured by Palestine every day; nonetheless, it's a violation of our own civil liberties and rights, and raises a huge obstacle to disseminating accurate information about the situation in Gaza and elsewhere.

When powerful institutional forces are heavily invested in repressing information, for much of the public, that information will remain invisible or be seen as suspect and dangerous. In other words, when someone like Immigration Minister Jason Kenney constantly associates Palestine solidarity and humanitarian aid with terrorism, and the compliant media echoes that characterization, large segments of the public will accept that link without question.

Currently, the City of Toronto is poised to revise its anti-discrimination policy to reflect this kind of repression. As many of you know, there was a battle between the City of Toronto and the official Pride Toronto organization on one side, and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid on the other. Pride eventually reversed its ill-conceived attempt to refuse to allow QUAIA to march under its own banner, but the City has not given up the fight.

As part of changes to the City's anti-discrimination policy, Pride Toronto would be required to prohibit the use of the term "Israeli Apartheid" during Pride as a condition of funding, as certain city councillors claim the term constitutes hate speech. Get your head around that one. An anti-discrimination policy would discriminate against people who express solidarity with the Palestinian people, who believe that Israel's policies towards Palestinians constitute an apartheid regime, and who express that belief publicly.

To my knowledge, no other festival and no other movement has been similarly targeted. This seems to be a clear violation of Charter rights and possibly the Ontario Human Rights Code. And, as far as I can tell, the only media reports about this appeared in the LGBT newspaper Xtra: "A new battle over Pride funding - City executive committee wants 'Israeli Apartheid' banned". No other newspaper saw fit to report on this. (If I'm wrong and you see something I missed, please do post it in comments.)

Xtra also published an Open Letter to Toronto's major cultural institutions, calling for solidarity against this attack on freedom of expression. Leaders of those groups responded positively.

Lost in the City's grandstanding against QUAIA is the irrefutable fact that the words "Israeli apartheid" have nothing to do with hating Jews. If you have trouble distinguishing between the two, please refer to this simple lesson to refresh your memory.

QUAIA organizers tell me that it's not too late to write to Toronto city councillors about this - and they believe it's worthwhile for people who don't live in Toronto to apply pressure as well. Here's a sample letter from QUAIA, and a list of Toronto city councillors is below.
Dear Councillor,

On September 10th, the revised City Anti-Discrimination Policy was once again blocked at the Executive Committee and sent back to city staff for further revision (EX22.4). The motions for revision included vague proposals to “go beyond provincial and federal statutes and legislation,” and to include “anything which shows a lack of respect for all persons.” They further instruct staff to single out Pride Toronto for special treatment; “the imposition of a condition of the funding for the 2013 Pride event, that the term “Israeli Apartheid” not be permitted to be used as part of the event.”

I am concerned that these motions trivialize the real discrimination faced by designated groups in Toronto. They open the door to frivolous complaints that will waste city and community resources. They threaten to violate Charter rights of freedom of expression. They single out a group defined by its sexual orientation for special scrutiny in apparent violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The City’s Anti-Discrimination Policy must be clear and fair, not subject to the whims of lobbying and political manipulation, or used to muzzle “challenging” viewpoints in all arenas – from Pride to our city’s arts and culture.

I urge you to ensure that any changes proposed to the City of Toronto’s Anti-Discrimination policy be opened to a full and accessible public consultation process. The Policy must reflect the input of all citizens, and the traditions of Human Rights legislation in Canada.
Sincerely,

councillor_ainslie@toronto.ca
councillor_augimeri@toronto.ca
councillor_bailao@toronto.ca
councillor_berardinetti@toronto.ca
councillor_carroll@toronto.ca
councillor_cho@toronto.ca
councillor_colle@toronto.ca
councillor_crawford@toronto.ca
councillor_crisanti@toronto.ca
councillor_davis@toronto.ca
councillor_debaeremaeker@toronto.ca
councillor_delgrande@toronto.ca
councillor_digiorgio@toronto.ca
councillor_doucette@toronto.ca
councillor_filion@toronto.ca
councillor_fletcher@toronto.ca
councillor_dford@toronto.ca
councillor_fragedakis@toronto.ca
councillor_grimes@toronto.ca
councillor_holyday@toronto.ca
councillor_kelly@toronto.ca
councillor_layton@toronto.ca
councillor_lee@toronto.ca
councillor_lindsay_luby@toronto.ca
councillor_mammoliti@toronto.ca
councillor_matlow@toronto.ca
councillor_mcconnell@toronto.ca
councillor_mcmahon@toronto.ca
councillor_mihevc@toronto.ca
councillor_milczyn@toronto.ca
councillor_minnan-wong@toronto.ca
councillor_moeser@toronto.ca
councillor_nunziata@toronto.ca
councillor_palacio@toronto.ca
councillor_parker@toronto.ca
councillor_pasternak@toronto.ca
councillor_perks@toronto.ca
councillor_perruzza@toronto.ca
councillor_robinson@toronto.ca
councillor_shiner@toronto.ca
councillor_stintz@toronto.ca
councillor_thompson@toronto.ca
councillor_vaughan@toronto.ca
councillor_wongtam@toronto.ca
and
mayor_ford@toronto.ca

3 comments:

doconnor said...

Just because Rob Ford's Executive Committee passed it is no reason to believe it will get through council. Many other issues have been overturned by council, like the LRTs and plastic bags. I doubt this one will be any different.

laura k said...

I don't doubt that, but (a) we shouldn't count on the outcome and (b) I don't want to see something like this go unchallenged by the public. City councillors should hear from the public. We should all stand up for free speech.

I'm as concerned about sheep-like compliance as I am about whether this will pass or not.

Andrea Peloso said...

Thanks, this is great. I will post this at Code Pink Toronto.