British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) executive director Harsha Walia retweeted a Vice News article on June 30 about two Catholic churches being burned down in Canada. These terrible incidents were reportedly related to the discovery of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at three former residential schools.
A retweet wouldn’t have been noticed by most Twitter users. It was what Walia wrote on top of it that raised plenty of eyebrows: “Burn it all down.”
Word began to spread like wildfire on Twitter. I caught Quillette editor Jonathan Kay’s July 3 tweet, followed closely by fellow Troy Media columnist Maddie Di Muccio. I did my due diligence and went straight to Walia’s Twitter handle. There it was, in plain view for all to see. I retweeted Kay and others continued the trend.
Walia eventually locked her Twitter handle and blocked others. Perceived acts of bravery can quickly turn into cowardice on social media.
Who is the BCCLA’s executive director?
She’s a Vancouver writer/activist who authored a 2013 book entitled Undoing Border Imperialism. She also co-authored Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration (2015) and Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (2019).
The University of British Columbia (Okanagan Campus) noted in October 2014 that Walia, a guest speaker on migrant justice, was “named one of the most influential South Asians in B.C. by the Vancouver Sun,” as well as “one of the 10 most popular left-wing journalists by The Georgia Straight.” The left-wing writer/activist Naomi Klein described her as “one of Canada’s most brilliant and effective political organizers.”
She only assumed her role at the BCCLA on Jan. 6, 2020. According to a press release by the organization’s president, Caily DiPuma, “Harsha has always been known to the BCCLA as a generous ally who approaches community organizing with skill and humility” and “brings a unique set of skills and relationships to the BCCLA that will support the goals in our five-year strategic plan.”
I wonder if DiPuma still feels that way.
The entire episode is even more bizarre when you consider the BCCLA’s history.
It was founded in 1962 to “promote, defend, sustain, and extend civil liberties and human rights.” The BCCLA is actually the oldest non-government organization related to civil liberties advocacy in our country. (The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, based in Toronto, opened its doors two years later.)
The BCCLA’s policies have mostly been on the left of the political spectrum. But fair-minded conservatives and libertarians would have agreed with several positions in principle. This includes concerns with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it came to certain legal rights and protecting individual freedoms, and defending the accreditation of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school on the grounds of religious freedom in 2014 (although it reversed this stance in 2018).
These are understood positions of civil libertarianism. Individual rights and freedoms of citizens must be defended and protected against current or potential increases in state and corporate control. The BCCLA, CCLA and other civil liberties advocates have played this very role in many democratic societies for decades.
Walia’s comment about Catholic churches and the need to “burn it all down” doesn’t represent civil libertarianism or protect civil liberties. It’s a statement that would normally be found on the radical left-wing fringes of society.
As B.C. NDP Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told Global News on July 4, “I thought it was just disgusting and reprehensible that somebody who heads up an organization like that would make such comments. It’s vile beyond belief, it does nothing to bring about reconciliation. All it does is create conflict and division.”
What will the BCCLA do about Walia?
Her right to free speech is one thing, but she’s also the face and voice of the nearly 60-year-old organization. While BCCLA’s civil libertarians have been quiet during this controversy, they can’t stay silent forever about an executive director who seems to be neither civil nor libertarian.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.
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