Free Speech at Sea: Andrew Lawton on the Mark Steyn Show

Mark Steyn and I have completed our Freaky Friday role reversal. Just a few weeks after he and I sat down for a full-length interview for True North Initiative, it was my turn in the hot seat, joining singer-songwriter Tal Bachman and author Kathy Shaidle on a free speech edition of the Mark Steyn Show, filmed in front of a live audience aboard the maiden Mark Steyn Cruise.

From Tal’s background as a successful musician, Kathy’s as a published poet, and my own navigation of the world of media and politics in Canada, there was a general understanding that the threats to free speech are coming about from within the cultural sphere and not just from statist forces.

It was a great pleasure to be on the panel, so I hope you’ll enjoy watching.

NDP makes brazen pitch for censorship

As time passes, the fringe becomes mainstream. This is happening with efforts of the rabid anti-free speech Antifa types, who now seem to have an ally in a federal political party in Canada. The NDP has adopted the position that former White House advisor Steve Bannon should not be allowed to participate in a debate scheduled tonight in Toronto.

It shows how unserious the NDP really is, but that doesn’t mean it’s brazen opposition to free speech isn’t a serious problem.

I tackle this in my latest Loonie Politics column, which subscribers can read here. If you aren’t a subscriber already, use promo code ‘Lawton’ for a discount.

Here’s an excerpt:

Allowing these ideological clashes to happen is paramount for any free society to be able to challenge its paradigm.

Far too many people don’t want this or any other contentious debate to go on.  Since Munk Debates announced the Bannon-Frum square-off, self-styled anti-fascist groups have tried to get it shut down.  These calls became far less fringe when NDP member of parliament Charlie Angus said this week that Bannon’s invitation should be cancelled “out of respect” for the victims of last weekend’s horrific synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.

So far as I know, Bannon had nothing to do with the attack and wasn’t even in Pennsylvania at the time, but somehow his presence in Toronto would be disrespectful to the families of slain Jewish worshippers, Angus says.

An NDP spokesperson told CBC that Angus’ comments reflect the party’s position.

I suspect the NDP’s stance was the same last week, but the Pittsburgh tragedy gave Angus the political cover to promote an agenda of silencing others.

Freedom of speech means controversial people can express controversial opinions.  It also means anyone can decide whether or not to entertain those views.  Yes, it even gives people the right to criticize a platform being afforded to someone.

This process becomes censorship when the force of the state is weighing in.  The NDP may not be in power right now, but it’s a party seeking to govern Canada.  As such, Canadians should be concerned if it has an official stance that anyone’s speeches should be shut down.  If it’s Bannon today, it’s someone else tomorrow.

In conversation with Tommy Robinson

Tommy Robinson carried a prison bag into London’s famous Old Bailey courthouse last week, expecting he’d be headed to jail after a contempt of court hearing.

That hearing never happened. The judge instead referred the case to the attorney general, which Robinson and his legal team had wanted all along. It was passionate personal statement from Robinson that swayed the judge.

This may be the end of the road for Robinson’s legal trials, but it won’t be for Robinson himself, who is still on a mission to expose the rape and grooming gangs that have popped up around the United Kingdom and Europe.

When I left Canada for the England, I wrote here that my coverage for the True North Initiative was for two purposes: I wanted to cover the case in a way the mainstream press has proven itself unable to, and also to get to the bottom of who and what Robinson really is.

The night before his court appearance, I sat down with Robinson one-on-one to talk about his legal ordeal, and more pointedly whether his beliefs align with how the media characterize them.

These interviews are only possible by your support, so please do consider becoming a member of the True North Initiative, to get exclusive access to content like this before it’s made public, and also some extra goodies.

It’s illegal to defame Muhammad, European human rights court rules

If you dare to criticize the Islamic prophet Muhammad in Europe, prepare to pay for it. Literally.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled this week that an Austrian woman broke the law in 2009 when she gave two seminars in which she accused Muhammad of being a pedophile, based on his marriage to Aisha.

Scholars say Aisha was likely six or seven years old at the time, though the marriage wasn’t consummated until she was nine or 10.

Despite the historic record, the ECHR decision, which upheld an earlier Austrian criminal court ruling, said the woman’s remarks go “beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace.”

As of press time, the ECHR had regretfully not been razed to the ground.

That’s the only solution I can propose for a body that so effortlessly brings back blasphemy law and codifies political correctness.

Understandably, Muslims aren’t keen on their prophet being mocked. I don’t blame them. As a Christian, I don’t like it when an artist tours the world with a crucifix soaked in urine. Freedom requires people of faith sucking it up when others don’t share their reverence.

Incidentally, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, so Muhammad hardly needs the public relations help from European judicial bureaucrats.

The perpetrator was fined €480 for the offence, and also had to pay for the proceedings against her. I can’t imagine that was all that cheap considering the case spanned for nine years.

Almost a decade to determine that free speech isn’t important. The woman tried to argue it was, but the ECHR said its decision “carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected, and served the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria.”

You read that right. Religious feelings. The “feelings” of Muslims are more important than everyone’s fundamental right to criticize religion, or anything really.

The timing of this is interesting for me, having just returned from the United Kingdom where I was covering the case of Tommy Robinson, a vocal critic of Islamism. In an interview with Robinson, which will be published in the coming days, I challenged him on what I see as an uncomfortably broad brush he uses to define and characterize Islam.

The “Muhammad is a pedophile” argument is not a particularly new one from anti-Muslim activists. Muslims don’t dispute the timeline of Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha, but do defend the union based on historical context and traditions that suggest it wasn’t atypical, disgusting as it is by today’s standards.

Today, it’s difficult to imagine anyone taking issue with you for calling a 50-something married to a seven-year old a pedophile. Hence the absurdity of the state—or in the case of the European Court of Human Rights, a judicial body above any one country—carving out special protection for Muhammad, or any religious figure.

What’s next, a fine for calling Buddha fat?

Part of free speech means not having to be civil, and not having to justify why you say something. And that doesn’t mean speech is always free of consequences, but in this case the court wasn’t even interested in whether there were any.

The ECHR said the woman’s comments “could” spark some sort of prejudice.

Criticizing Muhammad means you’re taking your life into your own hands, as numerous incidents have shown over the last 15 years. From threats against those involved in producing the infamous Danish cartoons to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s office, blood has been shed for the right to be uncivil and offensive.

Now, if the terrorists don’t get you, the government will.

Who is Tommy Robinson?

I write this from the departure lounge at Toronto Pearson International Airport, an hour before a flight to the United Kingdom where I’ll endeavor to answer that very question.

Is he an activist or a rabble-rouser? A martyr or a scofflaw? A freedom fighter or a hate monger?

More importantly, do any of these matter when it comes to the question of due process?

Robinson, the pseudonym of English Defense League founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, will once again be in court Tuesday, facing a contempt of court hearing at the legendary Old Bailey in London.

I’ll be there. Not as a cheerleader for Tommy, or for anyone for that matter. I’m going to London to get the facts, and cover a case with implications beyond Tommy, and beyond the United Kingdom.

At stake is whether Robinson knowingly and wilfully broke a publication ban when he hosted a 75-minute Facebook Live stream in May outside the Leeds Crown Court.

The stream took place as a number of young Muslim men were facing trial in a case involving allegations of mass sexual grooming and trafficking in Huddersfield. Robinson filmed men he thought were defendants heading into the courthouse and discussed public record facts of the case, as well as broader musings about Islam and immigration.

He wasn’t discussing the proceedings of the case, if for no other reason than he wasn’t even in the court to know what was happening.

Robinson was already on thin ice in the eyes of the justice system, however, having been found guilty of contempt in a separate (though eerily similar case) in Canterbury, for which he was given a suspended sentence of three months.

In the Leeds stream, he was very cautious, even referring to the case’s publication ban and confirming with his colleagues that he was staying within its parameters. Or so he thought.

The grooming trial judge not only had Robinson arrested, but also tried, convicted and sentenced. All in less than five hours. The judge didn’t even review the full video in the makeshift hearing.

So Robinson was off to prison with a 13-month sentence. Much of the time he spent behind bars was in solitary confinement. He was ultimately freed in August when a judge threw out the earlier contempt finding, arguing there were numerous errors in judgment and fact in the earlier judge’s decision.

On Tuesday, the court will host what is effectively a retrial of what happened so hastily back in May.

As an independent columnist, foreign junkets aren’t typically an option for me. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to cover this case thanks to a crowdfunding campaign by Ezra Levant and the Rebel.

There was only one condition with this grant—that I cover the trial. I’m not doing this on the Rebel’s behalf, and neither it nor Levant have any oversight of my coverage. This was an important stipulation for me, as Robinson used to work for the Rebel.

Levant admits he’s a fan of Tommy Robinson. I’m not approaching it from the same place. My interest in this case is because I’m a fan of due process.

In Robinson’s history I see decisions that can be characterized at best as lapses in judgement, or at worst something more grim. I disagree with many of his proclamations on Islam, in particular his belief that the religion is inherently a negative force.

He says lots of individual Muslims are good, peace-loving people, but that this is in spite of Islam, and never because of it. When I sit down with Robinson for an interview this week, this will be one of the points I challenge him on.

When it comes to the contempt of court charge, however, none of this matters. I could find him loathsome and disagreeable on every count (I don’t) and it wouldn’t take away my belief in his deservingness of due process.

Unfortunately, the British justice system and the British press have not extended such a courtesy. That’s why I’m covering this case for myself.

Robinson was subjected to a judicial witchhunt that has everything to do with what he believes and nothing to do with anything he actually did, let alone whether his actions threatened the integrity of a critical trial.

The importance of due process, fair trials, and the right to espouse the kinds of beliefs Robinson does are universal issues. They are not exclusive to the United Kingdom, which is why this case is one of global interest.

I’m taking a stand for freedom and fairness by covering this trial. While I’m there, I want to find out whether this livestreamer from Luton is as bad as the media says he is.