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Shinewald: The Canadian thought police

Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)

This op-ed does not exist. I wrote it, but I did not. Don’t waste your time writing letters to the editor about it, as you can’t comment on a piece that never was. In fact, if your letter gets published, it won’t have existed, either.

If you think that I’m channeling Joseph Heller or Arthur Koestler, I’ve got bad news for you: I’m not. I’m channeling our own House of Commons justice committee.

At the end of May, that committee held hearings into online hatred and invited Faisal Khan Suri, a Muslim leader from Alberta, as a witness. Suri testified that the Quebec City mosque murderer’s online history showed that the killer “repeatedly sought content about anti-immigrant, alt-right and conservative commentators, mass murderers, U.S. President Donald Trump and about Muslims, immigrants living in Quebec.”

Michael Cooper, a Conservative MP from Alberta, harshly protested. “I take great umbrage with your defamatory comments to try to link conservatism with violent and extremist attacks,” Cooper stated, adding that, “They have no foundation, they’re defamatory and they diminish your credibility as a witness … you should be ashamed.”

Cooper then tried to prove his point by reading into the record some of the rambling manifesto of the New Zealand mosque shooter, which rejected conservatism.

In doing so, Cooper made several bad mistakes. Besides conflating the Quebec City mosque murderer with the one from New Zealand, he was rude, dismissive and even abusive. Even more troubling was Cooper’s decision to read the New Zealand killer’s manifesto, which has been banned in that country over the fear that it “promotes murder and terrorism.” Cooper half apologized, then fully apologized and then was removed from the committee by his boss, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. It was all very bizarre.

But even more bizarre was how the Liberal and NDP members reacted. Rather than strongly condemning Cooper for his mistake and making this a teachable moment for us all, they took the truly exceptional step of purging Cooper’s quotation from the official record.

NDP MP Tracey Ramsay defended the committee’s actions by saying that the manifesto “should never have been read into the record. It was completely inappropriate.” Liberal MP Iqra Khalid claimed the expungement “will ensure that the safety of this space has been restored.”

Poppycock. We keep meticulous records of parliamentary proceedings for good reason: they hold our elected officials to account and let citizens understand precisely what is happening in our government.

We aren’t children. We have a right to know what our MPs say – the good and the bad.

But that right has been undermined. In voting to expunge Cooper’s ill-advised quotation, our parliamentarians have come as close to actual thought police as we have ever had in Canada. They have literally changed the official historical record from what really happened, to what they wish had happened.


As Canadians, we should be deeply troubled by this. But as Jews, we should be unnerved.

Jews know that historical facts matter. From bogus claims denying the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, to the Dreyfus Affair, to overt Holocaust denial, Jews are frequently the victims when history is rewritten to suit current political objectives.

We also know that terms like “safe spaces” can sometimes be dog whistles aimed at stifling legitimate Jewish and Zionist activity, particularly on university campuses.

While these spurious rationales for expunging the record do not even come close to touching on these sensitive issues, they risk inadvertently cracking open a door that could see uglier historical rewrites come next. So let’s slam that door shut and deadbolt it for good measure.

Our MPs should respect witnesses, but they also must respect our national historical record. Let them condemn bad mistakes energetically, not pretend that they didn’t happen.