Free Speech Conference Held Despite Official Attacks

ThoughtCrime: 03/27/96
Published: 1996-03-27

"Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death."
George Orwell

The Canadian Association for Free Expression's (CAFE) Second Canadian Free Speech Conference in Vancouver, came under severe attack from government and media "censors." Frantic attempts to cancel the conference demonstrated just how little free expression is left in Canada today.

The conference featured Pat Burns, the dean of Vancouver open-line shows; Doug Collins, the indestructible curmudgeon columnist for The North Shore News; lawyer Doug Christie; author Paul Fromm; and student activist Steve Dumas. Anti-racist fanatics mounted a concerted attack to try to get the Surrey Inn to cancel the event. Journalist Kim Bolan wrote several scabrous pieces for the Vancouver Sun. Her March 20 article smeared the conference as "racist" and erroneously alleged that one of the speakers had once attended "a birthday celebration for Adolph [sic] Hitler." The article continued:

"Multiculturalism Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said Tuesday he's appalled a conference featuring associates of racist groups is to be held Saturday in Surrey, just two days after B.C. celebrates the International Day for the Elimination of Racism. 'I'm appalled that this event is taking place and I'm appalled it is happening so close to March 21,' Dosanjh said."

Dosanjh proceeded to condemn the content of a conference that hadn't yet taken place. Dosanjh condemned the conference hiding behind the guise of free speech, while promoting racism. Dosanjh said "All of us have a fundamental right to freedom of expression, but we also have a responsibility to make sure we don't promote racism."

The Surrey Inn came under heavy pressure from a number of self-identified "anti-racists" and persons purporting to be calling on behalf of trade unions. Marilyn Berger of the Canadian Jewish Congress said it was "disconcerting" the hotel should open its doors to "these people." As of March 19, hotel management was holding firm. The Vancouver Sun continued its attack with coverage from Alan Dutton, who reported that while the topic of the meeting was free speech, it would "more likely promote hatred toward minorities." (The North Shore News, March 27, 1996)

On March 20, the hotel decided to renege on a written contract. Manager Steve Casson told CAFE Director Paul Fromm:

"We've had to cancel your function for this weekend. … We've had a tremendous amount of pressure from the unions and the B.C Federation of Labour. I'm under strict instructions from the owner. … We've bowed to pressure at the end of the day."

Doug Collins reports that The Vancouver Sun, March 21, 1996, "followed up with the joyful headline: 'Racists' meeting cancelled.'" (The North Shore News, March 27,1996) The headline, typical of the Sun and CBC's coverage, was a gratuitous smear of those who attended the conference.

The next day the hotel manifested further contempt for its commitments. Paul Fromm, director of CAFE, was refused admittance, despite holding a confirmed reservation.

Hotel staff confirmed that they had received only one complaint in writing — either by FAX or by letter — and that from Local 40 of the Hotel Workers' Union. One person who dropped by to praise the hotel for breaking its contract was described as "an East Indian gentleman." The caller turned out to be Charan Gill, President of the B.C. Organization to Fight Racism, and now NDP candidate in Surrey-Cloverdale.

Nevertheless, the Second Canadian Free Speech Conference went ahead at a new location. A dozen people worked the phone lines and redirected participants, some who travelled from as far away as Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary. A large contingent attended from Vancouver Island. A total of 95 people packed the new meeting hall. Columnist and participant Doug Collins notes: "The meeting took place anyway, but in secret, The early Christians had to do the same sort of thing in the catacombs of Rome."

Adapted from a report by the Canadian Association for Free Expression (CAFE)

For more information, contact :
The Canadian Association for Free Expression (CAFE):
Box 332,
Rexdale, Ontario,m M9W 5L3
FAX (905)-277-3914;
E-MAIL — [email protected]

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): CODOH News
Title: Free Speech Conference Held Despite Official Attacks, ThoughtCrime: 03/27/96
Published: 1996-03-27
First posted on CODOH: March 25, 1996, 6 p.m.
Last revision:
Appears In: