Democracy Dies in Darkness

Global Opinions

Canada is not afraid of Stephen Bannon or free speech

September 12, 2018 at 2:58 PM

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

In most historical comparisons between the United States and Canada, the former almost always comes out on top when it comes to defending free speech, championing intellectual discourse and allowing opposing voices to be heard.

As a Canadian, I’ve always accepted this analysis and have said it myself on many occasions. Yet when it comes to listening to a controversial figure such as Steve Bannon, Canadians may actually be braver than Americans.

Let’s go back a few steps.

It was revealed on Sept. 3 that Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News and chief strategist to President Trump, was going to be interviewed at the New Yorker’s annual festival in October by the magazine’s editor, David Remnick. Indeed, this would have been an unusual tête-à-tête between a highly controversial figure admired by the alt-right and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Nevertheless, it was an intriguing decision and would have led to a fair amount of press and discussion.

Yet it all came crashing down when a gaggle of left-wing celebrities, including Judd Apatow, Jim Carrey and Jimmy Fallon, voiced their objections on social media. Bannon’s inclusion in the festival was seen as a means of “normalization of white supremacy” and  an event that “normalizes hate.” If he was going to be there, they weren’t going to show up.

Remnick sadly folded like a cheap suit. While he supported the position that “the point of an interview, a rigorous interview, particularly in a case like this, is to put pressure on the views of the person being questioned,” he ultimately succumbed to this left-wing mob and canceled Bannon’s appearance.

When Bannon called Remnick’s flip-flop “gutless,” it was hard for some people to argue against this — no matter what they thought about Bannon.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

A couple of days later, the Toronto-based Munk Debates announced that Bannon would debate David Frum, a senior editor at the Atlantic, on Nov. 2 about the rise of populism in the West. This semiannual event, founded in 2008 by the late Canadian businessman Peter Munk and his wife, Melanie, has attracted many prominent individuals over the years. This includes former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Washington Post columnist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and the late columnist and author Christopher Hitchens.

Rudyard Griffiths, organizer of the Munk Debates, said in a statement that this particular debate would showcase two individuals with “sharply different views.” He also noted that they believe they “are providing a public service by allowing their ideas to be vigorously contested and letting the public draw their own conclusions from the debate.”

Many American conservatives and liberals used to believe the same thing, too. Unfortunately, the growing number of Americans situated on the radical left are getting louder and more aggressive. They reject free speech, they refuse to tolerate differences of opinion, and they don’t want opposing views to share the same forum or venue.

Instead, it’s a Canadian organization that is showing real courage of conviction and the willingness to have a controversial figure speak in front of an audience. Both Bannon and Frum will be afforded the opportunity to speak their minds, make their cases and let the roughly 3,000 people sitting in Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall decide on the merits of their arguments.

It’s an unusual position for Canada to be in. Some of my fellow countrymen believe as strongly in free speech as I do, including the somewhat controversial University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson. Nevertheless, this nation rarely leads the charge in defense of this important principle on the international stage.

But that’s what makes the decision to invite Bannon to speak in Canada, when the New Yorker caved in to far-left yelps of fury, all the more impressive. When it comes to determining the right formula for healthy debate and discourse in a democratic society, Canada has suddenly turned into its own land of the free and home of the brave.

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