Parliamentary Speech/Academic Speech

While we’re thinking about the idea that members of parliament sometimes put aside party affiliation to speak and act collectively (see the post of March 1, More on Adam Tomkins), let’s consider a new organization, the International Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism. The founders are Irwin Cotler (Canada’s former justice minister), and British MP John Mann. Parliamentarians from 42 countries attended the inaugural meeting in England on February 17.

Jason Kenney introduced the Canadians: MPs Carolyn Bennet, Raymonde Falco, Hedy Fry, Randy Hoback, James Lunney, Joyce Murray, Anita Neville, Bob Rae, Scott Reid, and Senator Jerry Grafstein. Canada’s was the largest delegation, by the way. (I am taking my information from an e-mail of February 17, circulated by Minister Kenney’s office. A version of Mr. Kenney’s speech appeared in the National Post on February 20, page A12.)

Party affiliations were not to the fore. All present were thinking as parliamentarians about the role of parliamentary free speech in curbing offensive speech.

At my university we’re having a long and sometimes wearisome discussion via e-mail about up ways and means to uphold freedom of speech in academic discussions in the classroom and on the campus. We are not making progress. Should we strengthen the Student Codes of Conduct? The Codes are meant to prevent students from deriding or threatening each other in classroom discussions. I’ve seen them brought into play in situations where men boo women, and vice versa. Now they’re being invoked to moderate the passions of “Israel Apartheid Week,” and are proving decidedly inadequate.

Let’s hope the parliamentarians will do better.

And perhaps they will.  Parliament is supremely an institution meant to enable persons who hold passionately opposed beliefs to engage in fruitful political deliberation.  That’s been its role since 1688.  I’ll have more to say on this subject.

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