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Intolerance undermines the free speech essential for democracy to survive

Brian GiesbrechtThe quest for “diversity” has become the universal rallying cry for every institution, including universities, government departments, corporations, and even law societies. “Diversity” has been defined as including skin colour, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.

However, the one kind of diversity not included on this list – and the one that is desperately needed today – is diversity of viewpoint. That most important kind of diversity is not welcomed at all. It is too often actively shunned or outright cancelled.

We saw this play out during the truckers’ “Freedom Convoy” last winter. The protesters in Ottawa represented a significant portion of the Canadian population who were fed up with vaccine mandates and other measures they saw as government overreach undertaken in the name of “keeping Canadians safe” from a respiratory virus that listens to no government. They also asked to be heard by a government that is expected to belong to all Canadians.

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Instead, they were called names by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and told that they held “unacceptable views.” Draconian punishment, including the seizure of bank accounts, then followed. Clearly, a government committed to “diversity” did not include a diversity of viewpoints on its list.

But this failure to include a diversity of viewpoints on the diversity list in all of Canada’s institutions. Universities that have made the quest for “diversity” almost a religious calling routinely shout down or outright cancel those with viewpoints they disapprove of. Mainstream newspapers simply refuse to allow writers with a different perspective on issues such as residential schools, climate change, or COVID vaccination to air their views. No diversity there.

But in the recent Twitter revelations, we are beginning to see how damaging the failure to allow a diversity of viewpoints to flourish can be. Twitter certainly encouraged diversity in almost everything except for diversity of viewpoints. Twitter staff are of different colours, genders, and sexual orientations. But, until Elon Musk came along, Twitter didn’t have the diversity that really mattered – diversity of viewpoint. Although some Twitter employees were actively partisan, most saw things through a progressive lens. There were virtually no conservative thinkers on the Twitter payroll. As a result, their multi-coloured, multi-gendered, and diverse sexually oriented staff all thought the same way. They were all living within the same liberal/progressive thought bubble.

There is nothing wrong with their views; probably half the population holds similar liberal/progressive views. The problem is that everyone within the organization approached every censorship decision from exactly that viewpoint. There were no conservative thinkers to offer balance. The Twitter staff looked different but thought the same.

And that is essentially what has happened within mainstream media generally. There is nothing wrong with the viewpoint of an urban, middle-class, university-educated journalist, but when every journalist comes from that same background, there is a problem. The journalist sees every story through their progressive lens. In the days when many “newspapermen” were blue-collar conservatives, a balance existed in mainstream newspapers. But that is largely gone now.

As a result, many alternative conservative media outlets have sprung up. And this is leading to a world where half the population lives within one liberal/progressive thought bubble while the other half lives within a traditionalist/conservative thought bubble. And never the twain shall meet.

And those living within the one bubble deny access to, or “cancel,” those living within the other bubble.

There is no obvious solution to this problem. On an individual basis, we can choose to leave our comfortable bubble once in a while and see what those in the other bubble are watching and reading. A Fox fan can turn on CNN and vice versa. Or, in Canada, a CBC or CTV fan can tune in to True North or Rebel News. A Globe and Mail reader can choose to read the Western Standard occasionally. And vice versa.

However, until our major institutions take note of how much damage is being done by coercing everyone to accept the view of the liberal/progressives, and marginalizing Canadians who think differently, the problem will only get worse.

The fact is, the civil rights battles over skin colour, gender, and sexual orientation rights were largely won years ago. That kind of “diversity” is already well accepted and is here to stay. But the battle over the failure to accept a diversity of viewpoints is raging and shows no sign of letting up any time soon.

And we must find a solution because that intolerance undermines the free speech essential for democracy to survive.

Diversity of viewpoint is the most important diversity of all. Canada needs it.

Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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