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Free speech, hate crimes and insidious stereotypes of the Roma people

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On July 15th of this year, the Morinville News (Alberta) reported that Conservative MP Paul Storseth was "looking to educate constituents about what he sees as the overzealous bureaucracy that exists within Canada's Human Rights Act."

The News reported that the MP would hold public meeting in the Fedorah Hall near Bon Accord, Alta., to discuss his private member’s bill, Bill C-304, An Act to Amend the Human Rights Act: Protecting Freedom, which had passed the House of Commons in June. 

C-304 is now before the Senate. 

The bill's main purpose is to repeal section 13 of the federal Human Rights Act, which states that it is a "discriminatory practice" to use the phone service or the internet or other means of telecommunications to communicate "any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination ...”

Those prohibited grounds include race, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and national or ethnic origin. 

Section 13 "gives tremendous power to the bureaucrats that are enforcing this," Storseth told the Morinville News. 

The Conservative MP fears that this section of the Human Rights Act "allows for the bureaucrats to decide what is free speech in our country, and what isn’t free speech in our country."

Mind you, Storseth is no fan of hate speech, which, he says, is a criminal matter. 

"Real hate speech is something that is disgusting and we shouldn’t tolerate in our country," Storseth argues, "If you are actually perpetuating violence or hurting somebody else, then that should be investigated by a real police officer ..."

In other words when you witness someone using hate speech, don't complain to a human rigths commission. Call the cops!

Which brings us to the recent case of so-called broadcaster Ezra Levant of Sun TV and his hateful and vicious smear of the entire Roma people -- all 8 to 12 million of them (and all of their ancestors!)

Was that rant merely legitimate free speech, not the business of meddlesome human rights "bureaucrats"? 

Or was it hate speech, as Paul Storseth describes that criminal act. Was Levant's rant, in fact, an effort, as the Conservative MP put it, to "perpetuate violence or hurt somebody else"?

Sun TV must think there is something wrong with what Levant did. Exceptionally, it took the offending rant off its web site only a few days after it was posted. Normally Levant's stuff is up there for months. 

As well, after a few days, the Sun folks removed all of the supportive, hateful comments in response to Levant some viewers had posted (a few suggesting using guns against the Roma). It is also reliably reported that a few days ago someone from Sun went on the air to apologize for what Levant said. 

The people who run Sun TV wouldn't do all that if they thought Levant was merely exercising his legitimate right to freedom of speech. 

Now, the question is: will anyone who witnessed this possible hate crime do what Paul Storseth suggests is appropriate in such cases and call the cops?

As we wait, here is the last of the exchange of e-mails between this writer and California Lawyer Maria Janossy. 

The subject is the Roma, and while, in what follows, nobody grazes too close to hate speech as legally defined, the exchange might reveal something about the intractable negative notions that so many have about these much maligned people, thousands of whom had hoped they might find a free, tolerant and welcoming home in Canada. (You can read our earlier exchanges here and here.)


From Maria Janossy

Mr. Nerenberg,

No one is denying that there is prejudice against the Roma in Europe. As you state, studies have shown "many European societies are profoundly and fundamentally racist with regard to the Roma." So is the solution to turn a blind eye to certain culturally-motivated behavior that is detrimental to the Roma themselves -- behavior that you characterize as simply obnoxious to the majority? 

For example, girls as young as 10 are married off to assure that they are still virgins. This is a well-known fact. Clearly, not every Roma practices this - no one is saying that. But if any other non-Roma would have intercourse with a young child that would be called statutory rape or pedophilia. But because it's part of the Roma culture, it's acceptable? 

The U.S. recently outlawed female genital mutilation, even though that's part of certain African tribes' culture. Was that a racist move? Should we allow honor killings because that's part of certain Muslim groups' culture? 

Regarding petty theft perpetrated by some Roma, the Hungarian authorities even came up with a name for it -- "survival crimes." In your opinion, is it OK for a Roma to steal an elderly person's chicken or crops? Is it acceptable because he was hungry? And again I'm not saying that all Roma steal - I'm just saying that most of these crimes are perpetrated by the Roma - it's the statistics. 

Regarding education, it is a known fact that the government of Hungary pays some Gypsy families to send their children to school. Otherwise, many wouldn't, even though the law requires it. Should they not be forced or enticed to go to school? 

My father's funeral was held in a small village in Transylvania. Nowadays most of the villagers there are Gypsies. A few of them were at the funeral -- dressed in suits. When my husband went to tour the village with his camera, he was invited into one Gypsy's home. He was served coffee ... then he was offered a wife and a kid for the road. The house elder explained that the woman's husband went to Canada and abandoned the family. They have way too many kids, and so my husband should take one. He was not joking. We thought it was a cute story -- is that condescending? 

Clearly the solution is not to condemn all Roma, but it's neither to pretend these issues don't exist, as you seem to prefer to do. 

The statistics show that in the future the Roma will be the majority in Hungary. It's clearly in everyone's interest to make sure they are educated and have employable skills -- not just as musicians, and construction workers, but nurses, doctors etc. I don't have the answers, but I hope someone has. 

Maria Janossy


From: Karl Nerenberg

Thanks for your reply, Maria.

I find it interesting to think that the Roma might be the majority in Hungary in the near future! That ought to be motivation enough to try to afford the Roma as much equality of opportunity as possible.

I am not going to continue to reply to all these points.

I understand that in its texture and tangible reality every social and political issue is complex and variegated -- and does not fit into any kind of neat Cartesian grid. That is why, in part of my life, I tell stories using film. I want to capture some measure of inherent human complexity.

I still can't get over the most enduring image I retain from the last shoot we did in Central Europe -- of hateful, sneering mobs, some very affluently and well-dressed, shouting epithets at people whose only crime is to be part of the Roma community.

Some of that behavior would actually be illegal in Canada where we have not only a Charter of Rights, but also so-called "hate crimes" laws. I think freedom of speech ends at calling "fire" in a crowded theatre, or shouting openly hateful slogans into innocent peoples' windows! 

Karl Nerenberg


From Maria Janossy

I was actually relieved to read that you agree every social and political issue is complex and variegated - this is all I wanted to achieve with our e-mail exchange. You may want to read this article about Hungary, which in my opinion is the most balanced reporting on the Romas in Hungary I have read.

I was a liberal like you when I became an immigration attorney years ago. Seeing so many coming to the U.S. to defraud and take advantage of the system, more recently I became a libertarian. I truly believe that the welfare system spawned by liberalism is enabling the plunder of this country, to the point that this country has shifted from being a land of opportunity to a land of opportunists ...

And after seeing illegal immigrant client after client with three or more children receiving welfare, food stamps, etc. etc. -- clients who have no education beyond elementary school, and speak no English after being here for even 20 years, I want to ask where is the sense of social responsibility? Why have child after child when you know quite well you can't afford them? 

I just read Canada will start deporting some of the Hungarian Roma asylum seekers. Most have nowhere to return, and of course the Hungarian "racist" taxpayers will have to foot the bill. And it occurred to me, what would happen if one day all the Hungarians would decide to emigrate from Hungary, and only the Roma would stay? All the presumably racist doctors and nurses and teachers and police officers would be gone. And then who would take care of the ill Roma, or educate their children -- because there are only a handful of Roma in these professions...?

Maria Janossy

Thank you for reading this story…

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