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Media attacks on Tzeporah Berman expose hypocrisy of 'free speech' advocates

B.C. environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, who was once jailed for civil disobedience.

"Orthodoxy means not thinking -- not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." -- George Orwell, 1984

The stream of vituperation directed at B.C. environmentalist Tzeporah Berman for her consistent opposition to Alberta's pipeline demands is unprecedented, hypocritical and dangerous.

I am not just talking about the death threats and obscenities sent to Berman from the usual pseudonymous morons on social media.

This is about statements by Alberta's Opposition United Conservative Party and its officials, who have also attacked the Alberta Teachers Association for daring to invite the high-profile environmental activist to address a meeting in the Edmonton area next month about climate change and the future of the energy industry.

And it is about the hysterical daily tirades by Postmedia's four Alberta daily newspapers, whose political columnists all seem to have exactly the same opinion about Berman and her views, not to mention about Dr. David Suzuki, another well-known B.C. environmentalist once invited to address an ATA meeting.

For that matter, it's about the silence of the NDP Government, which appears to have thrown Berman under the bus now that her views and her past role on an oilsands advisory committee have turned into a lightning rod for the UCP and its cheerleading squad at the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal and Postmedia's two Sun newspapers.

Seriously, you'd think many of Alberta's opinion leaders were from North Korea the way they've been carrying on. Although, in fairness, North Korea's media have been setting a rather more balanced tone lately, what with peace feelers going back and forth between Seoul and Pyongyang.

For her part, Berman's position has been consistent and logically argued, even if you happen to think, as most Albertans do, that she is wrong. Her willingness to come here to express her views shows real courage. She's already been spat at and physically threatened at Edmonton Airport. I doubt most of us would be as brave in her shoes.

The UCP's Sept. 19 statement about Berman's planned talk with the ATA social studies and environmental studies committees is a study itself of Rebel Media-style disingenuousness.

Among many misleading statements, it asserts that Berman is an "anti-Alberta activist," excoriates the ATA's committee volunteers as "union bosses," and repeats the canard that the current Education Department curriculum revision (started by a Conservative government) is a left-wing ideological plot by the ATA and the NDP to turn children against their parents.

Former teacher Mark Smith, the UCP education critic who lent his name to this misleading claptrap, ought to be embarrassed. One hopes the quotes attributed to him don't reflect the accuracy or ideology of his social studies lessons back in the day.

As for Postmedia's commentary, the mendacious language of the headlines alone is telling: "The enemies of Alberta's energy industry are running the province" (Licia Corbella); "Note to Teachers Association: Expel Tzeporah Berman" (Don Braid); NDP are green activists in oil workers' clothing" (Lorne Gunter); "Teachers cozy up to Suzuki and now Berman the pipeline-hater" (Rick Bell).

In fairness, Bell's headline was later toned down, but you get the picture. Each one contains a harsh personal attack on Berman in which her views are reduced to a cartoon caricature. Two of them use the same unflattering portrait. All of them contain essentially the same talking points as the UCP news release.

It would come as no surprise if some of the lunatics who gather in the darkest corners of the Internet took this as a stamp of approval for their violent fantasies.

Braid and Corbella both argue that past calls by Berman for civil disobedience and the fact she has been jailed for her beliefs should make her ineligible to speak to teachers lest their students be inspired to revolt.

That's an argument that can be made with a clear conscience, I guess. But don't forget that the same newspapers, following the example of former prime minister Stephen Harper and Alberta premier Ralph Klein, lionized farmer Rick Strankman when his defiance of Canada's grain export legislation landed him in jail. Strankman, pardoned by Harper, now sits as an honoured member of Jason Kenney's UCP Caucus in the Legislature.

Personally, I give Strankman credit for the courage of his convictions, even though he was wrong, just as I respect Berman for hers.

So where are the Canadian right's supposed defenders of free speech now that free speech in Alberta obviously needs defending?

Well, they're not exactly silent. But they're silent about this.

John Carpay, Opposition Leader Kenney's social conservative pal who is rumoured to be a possible UCP candidate in Calgary, was in Wednesday's National Post carping about the threat to free speech on Canada's campuses presented by "social justice warriors" promoting "'diversity,' 'inclusion' and 'equity.'" Nothing about the UCP's and Postmedia's anti-free-speech campaign, though.

Brian Day, the B.C. physician whose corporation is challenging the constitutionality of Canada's health care laws, admitted in B.C. Supreme Court this week he knew his company's billing practices were illegal. No one should be surprised if these same newspapers defend his actions on the grounds he believes the legislation that outlawed them is unconstitutional, as they have done him in the past.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, the real leader of Canada's Conservatives, plans to introduce legislation defunding universities that don't adopt policies that give free rein to right-wing agitators on campus.

So civil disobedience is encouraged by the right's free-speech warriors if the perpetrator happens to be a market fundamentalist physician or farmer. And your free-speech rights will have plenty of defenders if you’re anti-abortion agitator, whiny misogynist, or white nationalist with a tikki torch looking to make trouble on campus.

But apparently you won't find a defender around here if you're a high profile advocate of the environment or a teachers' union committed to free expression and broad exploration of issues.

For daring to advocate or just listen to an unorthodox view, you'll get nothing but insults and threats.

Image: David Climenhaga

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

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