Whenever I write a critical article about Canadian companies, I have one particular friend jokingly ask me why I hate Canada so much. I laugh and tell him it’s because I’m an American trapped in a Canadian’s body, but the truth is it’s because I’m actually a patriot. If I criticize some of our businesses, it’s because I’d like to see them do better so that we can all do better relative to the rest of the world. That’s why I’m also quick to praise those businesses and individuals that are doing well.
Similarly, I get mad when Canada is unfairly criticized, or when inaccurate statements are made about it. Such was the case with a Huffington Post article over the weekend, headlined “The Slow and Painful Death of Freedom in Canada.” If ever there was a more over-wrought and wrong title, I’d like to see it. It was clearly meant to be provocative, so allow me to rise to the occasion.
The article, written by political science PhD candidate Adam Kingsmith, is predicated on the latest press freedom report from Reporters Without Borders. While Canada whooped it up as one of the freest countries in the land in 2012, landing in the top 10, this year it has plummeted to 20th overall.
The cause is explained on page 8 of the report:
[The drop] was due to obstruction of journalists during the so-called ‘Maple Spring’ student movement and to continuing threats to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and Internet users’ personal data, in particular, from the C-30 bill on cyber-crime.
The article adds this up with other recent happenings, such as the passing of Bill C-309 – which prohibits the wearing of masks while taking part in a riot – Quebec’s requirement to register large assemblies, the Harper government’s muzzling of scientists and bureaucratic quagmires with access-to-information requests as evidence that our freedom is being eroded. Put it all together and it’s no surprise that Canada has lost its press freedom crown in the Western Hemisphere to Jamaica, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Is Canada becoming less free? If only the above is considered, then yes, it might be easy to come to that conclusion. Yet, when the more holistic picture is examined, the case becomes considerably weaker, if not absurd.
For one thing, consider that Canada ranks fifth in the United Nations’ World Happiness Survey. While economic prosperity plays a role in this assessment, far more important are less tangible factors such as governments “helping people meet their basic needs, reinforcing social systems, implementing active labour policies, improving mental health services, promoting compassion, altruism and honesty, and helping the public resist hyper-commercialism.”
The UN also consistently ranks Canada as one of the best countries in the world in which to live. This past year, we slipped out of the top 10, mainly because of a decline in education – if there’s an aspect of public policy worthy of concern, that would be it.
Harper critics like to believe that the world is ending, while Liberal haters do the same when the other guy is in charge. But partisanship aside, both UN findings consistently signify one thing: Canadians are generally a happy bunch and Canada is a pretty good place to live, regardless of who’s in power. That just wouldn’t be the case if the people who live here found it so damn un-free. Freedom is thus relative – if it’s the ultimate measure of happiness and prosperity, then Canada has it in spades.
In terms of press freedom, I found another story over the weekend to be quite noteworthy – that of former Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke suing to find out the identities of people who he says anonymously defamed him. Anyone who’s ever read a story online – and especially anyone who’s ever written one – can probably sympathize. Comments sections are often a cesspool for the nastiest of human tendencies, including potentially hurtful and libelous behavior.
If anything, Burke’s lawsuit highlights the fact that when it comes to the internet, people have perhaps too much freedom. As the old saying goes, the freedom to swing one’s fist ends where your neighbour’s nose begins. When the aluminum-hatted paranoiacs bemoan laws that prevent public anonymity as government conspiracies to control the masses, they conveniently forget that truism. Is it possible that such laws are actually enacted in an effort to preserve that right, and that perhaps they have even contributed to Canada’s good standings in happiness and desirability rankings?
There is a danger in conflating press freedom with actual freedom. Jamaica may rank higher than Canada in the Reporters Without Borders rankings, but all things considered, very few people would rather live there than here (it ranks 40th in the World Happiness Survey). While some of the recent negative developments in Canada are definitely of concern, we’re lucky enough to live in a country where if we truly don’t like something – say the aforementioned C-30 internet spying bill – we can peacefully rise up and make it go away.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I greatly prefer living in a country where the worst thing we have to worry about during elections are attack ads and robocalls. It’s a lot better than having politicians enlisting gangs to violently force people to vote for them, like they do in Jamaica. If that’s what freedom is, they’re welcome to it.