Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
For eight years, this environmental leader has called for the imprisonment of those who disagree. Why is he still welcome in polite society?
David Suzuki is a disgrace. I say that as a former vice president of the same civil rights organization with which he was once affiliated. From 1979 to 1991, Suzuki was a famous face on the board of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), this country’s largest free-speech advocacy group.
Back then, the CCLA distributed literature during classroom visits that included commentary attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller. One of the reasons totalitarianism took hold in pre-World War II Germany was because people with independent views were systematically silenced:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;
then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist;
then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;
then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;
then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.
It’s difficult to imagine a clearer argument against politically-motivated imprisonment. Societies that arrest people for their political views are terrifying places in which to live. The Nazis dragged people away in the middle of the night, shipping them off to prisons and concentration camps. In Russia, Stalinists behaved likewise, condemning those with unsanctioned opinions to the gulag, a network of slave labour camps. Similar horrors occurred in Maoist China. In each of these cases, millions endured torment and then perished.
To this day, Amnesty International defines a prisoner of conscience as someone who has been jailed because of their non-violent political beliefs. No sane person wants anything like that to start happening where they live. Except David Suzuki, who has been saying so for the past eight years and yet is still welcome in polite society.
Last week, the Australian edition of Rolling Stone magazine reported that this Canadian national icon is “happy to chat” about “giving jail sentences” to people whose climate views differ from his own. Here’s the full quote:
I really believe that people like the former Prime Minister of Canada [Stephen Harper] should be thrown in jail for wilful blindness. If you’re the CEO of a company and you deliberately avoid or ignore information relevant to the functioning of that company, you can be thrown in jail – and Canada is probably more vulnerable to climate change than any other industrialised country, because we’re a northern country and the warming is going on much faster and we have the longest marine coastline of any nation, so sea level rise is going to affect us more. And to have a Prime Minister who for nine years wouldn’t even let the term ‘climate change’ pass his lips! If that isn’t wilful blindness, then I don’t know what is.
Sea levels may one day become an issue for Canada. At the moment, computer models cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change project an increase of less than 1 meter (40 inches) by the year 2300 (see the bottom of page 1140 here).
It would have been absurd for people in the early 1700s to spend time worrying about our sea level. Canada’s former Prime Minister was democratically elected by millions of voters who knew full well that the climate wasn’t his top priority. Lots of people wanted him to deal with today’s problems rather than with the speculative concerns of hundreds of years from now.
This means that millions of Canadians – not just the former Prime Minister – hold political views at odds with Suzuki. Despite his former affiliation with the free speech-championing CCLA, if he were running our country it would not be a better place.
It would be a hellhole in which people like me were dragged off to prison in the middle of the night.
Donna Laframboise joined the board of directors of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in 1993. She served as a vice president between 1998 and 2001.