Journalists need to start suing, because they shouldn’t be ‘disciplined’ for being politically incorrect
By Howard Levitt
The campus spirit of shouting down and silencing any opinion you disagree with has spread to the media and non-profit groups.
There is nothing improper in news organizations promoting their editorial opinions or endorsing the party of their choice come election time. It is also fair game for publications to hire writers reflecting their editorial mandate and think tanks to hire those who share their vision.
But it is another matter to discipline or fire writers, editors or think-tank directors for merely expressing politically incorrect opinions or, even more worrying, for standing up for free speech and open debate, as we’ve seen recently at Write magazine, the CBC and the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
If I were Steve Ladurantaye’s lawyer, I’d advise him to sue the CBC for constructive dismissal.
Steve Ladurantaye, until recently the managing editor at CBC’s The National, was removed from his position — demoted really — for tweeting. He had made it clear on Twitter that he thought it was unjust that Hal Niedzviecki, the editor of Write, the publication of the Writers’ Union of Canada, had to resign for defending “cultural appropriation.” If I were Ladurantaye’s lawyer, I’d advise him to sue for constructive dismissal.
Besides Ladurantaye and Niedzviecki, Jonathan Kay recently resigned as editor of The Walrus, claiming he had felt silenced there, which he fully realized after he got caught in the “cultural appropriation” controversy for also saying that Niedzviecki should not have had to resign for his views. Before that, Andrew Potter left his post as the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada after writing an article that some Quebecers claimed was insulting and unfair to their province, by characterizing it as a “pathologically alienated and low-trust society.”
If an employee expresses racist views, it would be within an employer’s mandate to require them to obtain training or coaching, the same way an employer can require an alcoholic whose problems affect his employment to attend a clinic. But Ladurantaye did not breach the Human Rights Code, endanger anyone or damage his employer. The CBC announcing that it would require Ladurantaye to undergo “training as to unconscious bias” and to “reach out to indigenous and other communities as part of his learning process” instead reveals shades of Maoist China.
The problem is especially serious since we’re not talking about privately owned organizations. The CBC, McGill and The Walrus are all taxpayer-funded institutions, and the Writer’s Union a taxpayer-subsidized non-profit, that are silencing dissenting opinions.
While Niedzviecki and Potter supposedly “resigned” over their personal views, it’s unclear how voluntary the departures really were. Undoubtedly, Ladurantaye’s demotion was not. Legally, if someone is given the choice of resigning or being fired — as it appears might have occurred in at least one of these cases — that is a wrongful dismissal, whether the employee chose to resign or not.
It’s true that in Canada, any non-unionized employee can be fired for any reason — or for no reason. The only issue is whether there was “cause” for the firing or not. If an editor had never been warned not to express certain views, then there is no “cause” for dismissal when they do. It’s true there are circumstances where expressing offensive views that could damage the employer can be cause for discipline or discharge, such as the Hydro One worker who was dismissed after he was caught on camera shouting misogynistic obscenities at a female TV reporter. But it’s part of the job of an opinion writer or think tank director to be provocative and to sometimes defy political correctness. In none of these cases does legal cause for discipline or dismissal exist.
Canadians need to ask whether we are prepared to permit our publicly funded institutions to use our dollars to suppress free speech. If we don’t push back and stop allowing the scolds at CBC, McGill and elsewhere from applying their own values of political correctness to impose their ideological intolerance, they will grow more empowered in their purge of any and all thought-provoking ideas.