Ours is "one of the oldest free societies on the planet." That's Mark Steyn speaking. Canadians are heirs to a tradition of freedom that goes back "eight centuries."

In his column of March 23 in the National Post, Steyn says that the University of Ottawa's attempt to lecture guest speaker Ann Coulter about the nicey-nicey "Canadian approach" to free speech, is at odds with "eight centuries of Canada's legal inheritance."

Eight centuries! From the time of Magna Carta.

You will remember that anticipating Coulter's appearance at the U of O, Provost François Houle wrote her to say that Canadians and Americans take different approaches to free speech. We're more civil, supposedly; we're more constrained on contentious issues.  Houle's right in one way. Since the 1960s Canadians have been chipping away at their tradition of liberty. But he's wrong to suggest that there's an inherent, long-standing difference between the countries. The Canadian tradition of ordered liberty is the same tradition that informs the American Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution.

Canada and the U.S. are heirs to the same eight centuries.

We're forgetting the legacy. Did I write "forgetting"? That's a euphemism. We're trashing it. Consider this statement by Irwin Cotler, then Canada's Justice Minister, in a speech to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Before the Charter, said Cotler: "Canada had a history of state-sanctioned institutionalized discrimination … The judicial emphasis was with the powers of government rather than the limitations of the exercise of power … Although there was an implied bill of rights, there was no constitutional protection of law" (Rick Kardonne, The Jewish Tribune, 21 April 2005).

"There was no constitutional protection of law." How could Cotler say that?  What was he taught in law school?

Compare Pierre Bédard's description of Canadian tradition as "a rare treasure." Writing in 1806, Bédard promised readers of his political journal, Le Canadien, that he would reveal "the rare treasure which we possess in our Constitution." No one was more aware of the difficulties of the new regime in Quebec than Bédard. As leader of the majority party in the Assembly, a party consisting mainly of French Canadians, he was constantly at war with the "English" in the Executive and Legislative Councils. But knew what was due to French Canadians under British law. He boldly claimed the British tradition of freedom of speech and in Le Canadien, he reproduced excerpts from John Locke's Two Treatises of Government,  and excerpts from William Blackstone, and documents associated with the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

We've lost Bédard's long view. We're letting the treasure slip away.

[From The Idea File]

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