By Rory Leishman
London police Chief Al Gramolini should direct some of his senior officers to take a refresher course in the basic principles of freedom under law, before their high-handed tactics land his force in serious trouble.
The first lesson might be on the elementary right of a citizen not to be subjected to arbitrary detention. Under terms of this right which predates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by at least 300 years, no police officer can require a citizen to show up at a police station, unless the officer has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the citizen has broken or is about to break the law.
In this light, consider the letter sent to seven individuals on Nov. 1 by Det. Supt. Dave Lucio. "The London police service has identified you and several others as members of the Northern Alliance, an organization which holds extreme right-wing beliefs. As an identified member, we require you to attend London police headquarters on Sunday, Nov. 21, 1999, at 2 p.m."
Alan Borovoy, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, maintains that Lucio might well have invited members of the Northern Alliance to discuss their point of view. However, Lucio had no legal authority to force or require these citizens to attend a meeting at police headquarters without placing them under arrest.
In an interview with The Free Press last week, Lucio charged that members of the Northern Alliance are potentially violent toward members of minority groups. "These people," he said, "are basically urban terrorists."
That's extremely strong language. Raphael Bergmann, leader of the Northern Alliance, has emphatically denied the accusation. He insists that he has no criminal record and has never advocated or condoned violence.
However, this last claim is questionable. Earlier this year, the Northern Alliance published a semi-literate article in its Newsweekly head-lined, Why racism is right. The crack-brained author states: "Racism aids the development of the separate races which exist. One of the truths of nature is that for some things to survive and flourish, some other things must die, be removed or grow and flourish elsewhere.
"A good example from nature is the cultivation of a crop of potatoes," the writer suggests. "This crop is to be grown as food. You try to control both weeds and pests --- things that would damage your crop and deprive you of food. Thus you will at times hoe out the weeds (if you practise organic methods) or otherwise control them. That is, you kill them."
In the same issue, the Northern Alliance Newsweekly states that it, "proudly endorses the following periodicals and organizations." Included on the list are Paul Fromm's Canadian Association for Free Expression, the Heritage Front, the Ku Klux Klan and Ernst Zundel's Web site.
Should the London police force step up the pressure on the Northern Alliance by laying criminal charges against the publisher and editors of its Newsweekly for the wilful promotion of hatred against people distinguished by race, religion or ethnicity? Borovoy does not think so. In his latest book, The New Anti-Liberals, he argues for outright repeal of the anti-hate law provisions of the Criminal Code because of "the hopelessness of formulating a legal prohibition precise enough to nail unredeemed expressions of hatred without, at the same time, catching other speech - including valuable speech - in the same net."
To illustrate the point, Borovoy cites several excesses, such as the hate-mongering accusation levelled at the Jewish leader Edgar Bronfman for vigorously denouncing the willingness of Austrians to condone political leaders with a Nazi past. While Bronfman was not convicted, it's evident that for others, if not also for him, the fear of prosecution under the Criminal Code for expressing hate can have a chilling effect on strong but legitimate, speech.
Of course, if the police have reasonable grounds to believe that a hate-monger is liable to commit violence, they have an obligation to intervene. Short of that, they should leave the haters alone. Let the racists spew their bile so the rest of us can know who they are and denounce their bigotry.
"At least at this stage of history and in the foreseeable future," warns Borovoy, "Canadians have more to fear from the censorship powers of their governments than from the racist invective of extremists."
last updated on April 28, 2002