In the Anglican prayer book the collect to be said upon the Sunday after Easter is:
Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: Grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
It is from this collect that Robertson Davies obtained the title for the second novel in his trilogy set in Salterton, a fictional, although loosely based on Kingston, community in Ontario. The plot of Leaven of Malice follows the events that unfold due to the placing of an advertisement in the Evening Bellman newspaper announcing the upcoming nuptials of Pearl Vambrace and Solomon Bridgewater. The problems with the ad are numerous. The wedding is set for the 31st day of a month that has only 30 days. Jevon Knapp, the dean of St. Nicholas Anglican Cathedral where the wedding is set to take place reads about it for the first time in the newspaper. So, for that matter, do the couple in question, whom we met for the first time in Tempest-Tost where they participated in an amateur production of the Shakespearean play alluded to in the title. They are not in fact engaged and worse the young lady is the daughter of Professor Vambrace whose one-time rivalry with the young man’s father for a deanship at the university had developed into an animosity between the two families comparable to that of the Capulets and Montagues.
The malice which spreads like leaven throughout Salterton in the book, begins with the malice of the person who placed the spurious advertisement out of spite against both the couple named and Gloster Ridley, the editor of the newspaper. It spreads to the elderly busybody Puss Pottinger and Matthew Snelgrove, lawyer and diocesan chancellor who share a dislike of Humphrey Cobbler, the irascible cathedral organist that causes them to baselessly and irrationally accuse him of placing the advertisement. The extent to which it infects old Mrs. Bridgewater who exercises a soft tyranny over her son is not fully evident until the third novel in the trilogy, A Mixture of Frailties, in which the vengeful terms of her will are revealed. It is perhaps most evident, however, in Professor Vambrace, whose response to the advertisement of his daughter’s engagement to the son of his hated rival is to threaten a suit of libel against the newspaper and, when the newspaper fails to apologize in a way that he deems satisfactory, take steps to initiate that lawsuit.
Malicious libel suits are not limited to the realm of fiction alas. Last fall a jury delivered a verdict against Mark and Connie Fournier, the administrators of the conservative message board Free Dominion, and two of the members of their board, in a lawsuit for libel that had been brought against them by Richard Warman several years previously. The jury awarded Warman $42, 000 in damages plus costs. On Thursday, January 23rd 2014, Justice Robert Smith of the Ontario Superior Court awarded those costs, raising the total bill the Fourners have been ordered to pay Warman to $127, 000. He also issued what is in effect a gag order. He gave an injunction against the Fourniers that prohibits them from publishing anything negative about Richard Warman. As a consequence, Free Dominion has been closed to the public because due to this injunction all anyone possessed of malice towards the Fourniers would need to do is post something negative about Warman and it would mean an automatic trip to jail for them for contempt of court. This, of course, means that Free Dominion, can no longer perform the function of a public forum for which it was created. Appropriately, the Fourniers have placed in large red letters the announcement “Censored! Closed to the Public” across the main page of their site.
The verdict and Justice Smith’s decision are both tremendous injustices in my informed opinion. Richard Warman, the plaintiff, is a human rights lawyer, who formerly worked for the Canadian Human Rights Commission, who made multiple complaints under Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and who is a noted activist for the progressive cause of anti-racism. This means that he is a public figure, whose actions affect the interests of the public and are therefore subject to public discussion and debate. The threshold for what constitutes defamation against a public figure is supposed to be much higher than what constitutes defamation against a private citizen. In this case, however, the threshold was lowered. Several of the Free Dominion posts deemed to be libelous against Warman consisted merely of name calling. Name calling is not supposed to constitute actionable defamation. It is my opinion that the handling and outcome of this case are not only grounds for the verdict and ruling to be overturned upon appeal but for disciplinary action to be taken against the court.
The ridiculously high amounts the Fourniers have been ordered to pay constitute what is known as punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to plaintiffs in civil lawsuits as a means of punishing the defendant. To obtain punitive damages the plaintiff is supposed to be able to show malicious intent on the part of the defendant. This would seem to be the justification on the part of the plaintiff and the court for allowing the inclusion of the kind of insults that would normally not be considered actionable within this suit.
They do not show any such thing, however, for there is no malicious intent to be shown. The Fourniers started Free Dominion thirteen years ago as a public forum for the promotion of small-c conservative ideas. What those ideas basically consist of are classical liberal views of political and economic freedom and conservative moral and social stances such as those held by evangelical Christians, traditional Catholics, and other conservative faith groups. Part of their understanding of political freedom is the idea of freedom of speech, that government and law should not be used to control what people think or say. The Fourniers’ opponents on the left have accused them of inconsistency because they moderate what is allowed to be posted on Free Dominion but this charge is not valid. Belief in free speech does not mean that you have to provide a platform for every idea out there. It means that you oppose the use of law and government power to curtail the expression of thoughts, whether you yourself agree or disagree with those thoughts.
This is where Richard Warman enters the picture. As an employee of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Warman worked for the government. It is my understanding that he still is an employee of the government in some capacity. More importantly, however, because this is what became the subject of public discussion, he was a complainant in multiple cases using Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Canadian Human Rights Act was a bill passed by Parliament in 1977 during the premiership of Pierre Trudeau that prohibits people and businesses from discriminating against other people in certain situations – employment, housing, etc. – on the basis of criteria such as race, sex, religion, etc. Section 13 of this Act, which Parliament rescinded in a bill passed last June that comes into effect this June, declared certain types of speech, i.e., speech which is “likely to” expose someone to “hatred or contempt” on the basis of his race, sex, etc., to be discrimination when it is communicated electronically. Warman made numerous complaints under this Section which is why he and his actions came under criticism from people, like the Fourniers, who are concerned about the erosion of free speech in this country.
Many of Warman’s defenders have argued that because Section 13 was Canadian law he should not be criticized for using it. That is a ridiculous line of argument. If the government were to pass a law saying that on a certain day every year it is legal to beat up elderly people and take their money would that mean that we should not criticize or condemn those who took advantage of that law? Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was bad law. Indeed, the entire Canadian Human
Rights Act is bad law, because while it is laudable for a government to adopt a policy of non-discrimination towards the people it governs it is reprehensible for that same government to prohibit those same people from discriminating among themselves. Those who use bad laws against their fellow countrymen are as much the proper subjects of criticism as the laws themselves.
In opposing Warman’s actions and allowing them to be freely criticized on their message board the Fourniers were not acting out of malice but out of principle. Indeed, if it is evidence of malice that you are looking for you might do better to look for it on the other side. This lawsuit is one of several that the plaintiff filed against the defendants. He has launched several other similar lawsuits against several other defendants as well. He asked for a crippling amount in punitive damages and an injunction that prevents the defendants from operating their website as the public forum it was intended to be. Surely in all of this there is far more evidence of an intent that has been leavened with malice than in the principled refusal to allow someone else to dictate what you will or will not say or allow to be said on your own website? As Dean Knapp said of malice in Davies’ novel, “You find it, for instance, in unfounded charges brought against people that we dislike.”
The malice that is on display here, I hasten to point out, is not necessarily personal malice. Not being God, I am not priviledge with the ability to peer into Warman’s heart on the assumption that he actually possesses one and therefore make no judgement as to what may or may not be found there. Rather the malice on display here and in the Schadenfreude that could be found dripping from the entries and comments on blogs of those progressive, forward-thinking, types who followed this case every time they had a Warman victory and a Free Dominion set back to report is the malice that is inherent within anti-racism.
The malice in racism is easy to see. Malice is ill will and evil design towards other people. Racism can be defined either positively or negatively. Defined positively it is the belief in the superiority of a race, typically one’s own. Defined negatively it means a dislike of a particular race or other races in general. When that dislike comes with a desire or intent that its object suffer harm then malice is clearly present in racism. The malice in anti-racism is harder to see, because anti-racism defines itself as opposition to an evil that stands in the way of universal peace, harmony, and getting along, a desire for which could hardly be described as malicious. Yet malice is present in anti-racism where it has indeed leavened the whole lump.
Anti-racism is itself a leaven that has thoroughly permeated Western culture in the last half century. Clergymen in churches, pedagogues in schools, professors in universities, journalists in newspapers and on television and silly entertainers in media of all sorts have joined together in spreading the message that we must all learn to get along with each other and that in order to do so we must stop attaching any importance to race or ethnicity. Those who do so, at least if they are white people, are racists who stand in the way of universal peace and harmony. They must therefore be shunned, treated as social pariahs, and practically be considered outlaws (an outlaw is someone who has been declared to be outside the protection of law so that whatever is done to him will be without legal consequence). There is clearly malice present in this way of thinking.
Consider the anti-racist position on laws like Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It is basically that laws like this are needed to protect “vulnerable minorities” against a resurgent Nazi movement and that the concern that such laws unjustly infringe upon basic rights and freedoms such as freedom of thought, speech, and association is unwarranted because the laws only target racists. Apart from the fact that the minorities they are concerned about are in no way vulnerable and that the resurgent Nazi movement they are worried about is nothing more than a bugaboo what this position ultimately amounts to is “who cares, it is only racists and they deserve it”.
It is the nature of malice, however, like all leaven, to grow and spread. Lawyers who defend murderers and rapists in court are not considered to be tainted by the criminal guilt of their clients. Lawyers who defend people on so-called “hate” charges are viewed by anti-racists with the same contempt their clients are viewed regardless of what their own ideas may or may not be. Mark and Connie Fournier of Free Dominion are not racists. Indeed, if anything they are moderate anti-racists. Their stand against hate speech laws is based entirely upon the idea that infringing upon the freedom of speech of some is infringing upon the freedom of speech for all and the test of one’s commitment to freedom of speech is one’s willingness to extend it to those with whom one disagrees and not just those with whom one agrees. For taking that stance, progressive anti-racists have ridiculed them and accused them of being apologists for racism. In July of 2005, Richard Warman in an address to the group Anti-Racist Action in Toronto, described his methods of combatting neo-Nazi groups, saying that the approach he found to be most effective was one of “maximum disruption” which basically meant going after the neo-Nazi groups in as many ways possible at the same time. Can the resemblance between this strategy and his multiple-lawsuit approach to conservative critics like the Fourniers be merely a coincidence?
Sadly, the worst part of the malicious leaven of anti-racism is that its permeation of our whole culture has created widespread indifference to the injustices committed in our midst, first against those whose views are considered to be racist and second against those who are not racists themselves but who oppose the injustices committed against racists. How many more degrees removed from actual racism will the injustices have to spread before we shake off that indifference?
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