What do Canadians think about publishing images of Muhammad?

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, I wrote a scathing criticism of the English-speaking media for their cowardice and their betrayal of both the victims and the principles of free expression. But what do Canadians at large really believe about the issue of protecting religious sensitivities?

More recently, Canadian Michael Ondaatje was among a group of authors protesting an award given by the PEN American Center to the Charlie Hebdo survivors, in recognition of their stand against intimidation. You’re probably tempted to try rereading that last sentence, in the hopes it might make some sense on the second or third read. Don’t bother. Their logic is as stupid as it sounds, and there are plenty of good writers who have laid bare the craven absurdities of Ondaatje’s “stand”.

And of course, the violence continues. Last week two assholes tried to shoot up an art exhibit showing images of Muhammad in Texas. In that case the people running the exhibit were bigots, but that doesn’t excuse the murder attempt. Wanting to murder people over cartoons is stupid enough; being baited by Texan Islamaphobes is Republican-presidential-candidate-level stupid.

Several writers – myself included – have pointed out that the Charlie Hebdo tragedy only occurred in the first place because of mainstream media’s cowardice in the wake of the Jyllands-Posten cartoon controversy. If showing Muhammad cartoons in the wake of extremist threats – or actual violence – had been normalized across the board right from the start, the threats and violence would have been self-defeating, and extremists would probably have abandoned the strategy. Think about it: What if every time Muslim extremists raised a stink about images of Muhammad, all news media was flooded with such images as part of the story – “in today’s news, Cleric so-and-so says showing images of the Prophet is forbidden in Islam… images much like this one, or this one, or this one….” If that happened every time the issue was raised, the extremists would stop raising the issue. (And most people would likely stop showing images of Muhammad if extremists stopped making it an issue, because there would be no point. You don’t see many people drawing images of Ganesha, after all.)

Instead, mainstream media has doubled down on its cowardice, and refused to show any images of Muhammad – even when they’re newsworthy – thus making the extremists’ strategy effective. So we can expect more threats and violence in the future. Great job there, guys!

But clueless and entitled elitist authors and cowardly and useless media executives aside, how do Canadians in general weigh in on the issue? Do Canadians agree that religious sensitivity trumps freedom to express opinions? Do Canadians agree that news media shouldn’t show images of Muhammad, even when they’re news?

Luckily someone thought to ask those questions. That someone was the Angus Reid Institute, who conducted a survey of more than 1,500 Canadians in the weeks following the Charlie Hebdo murders, asking them about the ethics of publishing Muhammad cartoons.

According to the survey, 70% of Canada says: « Je suis Charlie. »

A pie chart showing whether survey respondents thought it was right or wrong for Charlie Hebdo to publish images of Muhammad; 70% chose 'right'.

Support for Charlie Hebdo

This would be interesting enough by itself, but there were some other interesting findings in the survey.

It turns out that one of the strongest predictors of support for Charlie Hebdo was how informed people were. Canadians who knew “a lot” about the attacks were significantly more likely (74%) to support Charlie Hebdo than those who knew “a little” (65%) or “nothing” (61%).

Education was also a factor; more educated Canadians were more likely to support Charlie Hebdo. University (74%) and college/technical school (72%) graduates were far more likely to stand by Charlie than high school graduates (65%).

It also turns out that Charlie had significantly more support in Québec (78%), Alberta (73%), BC (69%), and Ontario (68%) than they did in Saskatchewan (64%), Manitoba (60%), and Atlantic Canada (59%). One finding that amused me was that people who voted Conservative and NDP were both equally likely to support Charlie (74%)… and both were much more supportive of free expression principles than people who voted Liberal (65%).

But that wasn’t the only question the survey asked. It also asked people to rate – on a scale of 1 to 10 – what is more important when balancing the issue, with “respect for religious feelings” at 1 and “freedom of speech” at 10. Here’s where I was really surprised. While Canadians like free speech, they are also far more willing than people in many other modern democracies to put limits on it – for things like hate speech laws, for example. I would have guessed that the score would come out roughly in the middle, and wouldn’t have been shocked if it leaned toward kowtowing to the religious.

But dig this:

A bar chart showing what survery respondents thought was more important - respect for religious feelings, freedom of speech, or middle ground. 50% chose freedom of speech, 42% choose the middle ground, 8% chose respect for religious feelings.

Support for free expression

Yeah, that’s right. Half of Canada says, “fuck yo’ religion, and fuck any compromise over it; free speech rules.” Not damn bad, I’d say.

One very interesting thing I noticed is that, once again, those who were more informed about the attacks were significantly more likely to support free expression over respect for religious feelings. Those who knew only “a little” or “nothing” about the attacks actually produced results more in line with what I would have predicted, largely taking the middle ground. In other words, religious extremists are pushing more people toward supporting free speech, and away from respecting religion.

A bar chart showing whether survey respondents thought it was right or wrong for Charlie Hebdo to publish cartoons of Muhammad, compared to their knowledge about the attacks. The chart clearly shows that more knowledge correlates to more support for Charlie Hebdo.

Support for Charlie Hebdo, compared with knowledge about the attacks

Support for free expression is fairly even across the provinces, but there is a very disappointing result in the gender breakdown. While Canadian men are strongly supportive of free expression (57%/37%/6% for free expression/middle ground/respect for religious feelings), Canadian women are not (43%/47%/10%). In fact, of all the groups mentioned in the study, the only ones less supportive of free expression than Canadian women are Manitobans (41%/45%/13%) and people who know “nothing” about the attacks (37%/49%/14%). That’s pretty depressing.

There was one other curious result that came out of the survey. In addition to asking “was it right to publish the cartoons”, respondents were asked: “Suppose you had been in a position to give advice to major Canadian news outlets on whether they should or should not have re-printed the same images, what would your advice have been?”

Despite 70% supporting publication, it turns out that when it’s on them to make the call, Canadians are much less bold. Only 56% would have advised republishing.

I don’t think that’s a shocking result, and nor do I think it calls into question the general support Canadians have for publishing the cartoons. What I think it demonstrates is how much courage it takes to actually make the choice yourself. To me, that result shows that Canadians in general have a great deal of respect for Charlie Hebdo, in that uniquely Canadian way: they are eternally grateful for what you’re doing, but at the same time thankful that they don’t have to do it.

The fact that more than half of Canadians appear to have more backbone than the leadership of our major news media outlets should be profoundly embarrassing to them, but I believe they’ve sunk so far into their own self-serving justifications for their cowardice that it probably won’t even reach them through the haze.

At any rate, 70% of Canada (±2.5%, 19 times out of 20, if you want to get technical) – notably the Canadians who are most informed and most educated – support Charile, and 56% would personally take responsibility for publishing them. Well done, Canada. Not bad at all.

Review Privileged Status: Public Funding

Renton Patterson, President of Civil Rights in Public Education (CRIPE), reviews Reva Landau’s book, Privileged Status: Public Funding – The Surprising History of Ontario Catholic Separate Schools:

An Excellent Read
I have done a lot of research about the public funding of the Roman Catholic separate school system, but Ms. Landau has out-done me thorough an outstanding job of digging up the most obscure details in the history of separate schools to make her points. She finds the details and then shows how they are relevant to a correct understanding of the situation. After relating the pre- and post-1867 history, she applies her analysis to the controversial Supreme Court decision about the notorious Bill 30. This is where one can’t help but get out the pencil and start underlining. In point after point she tears the decision apart and lays bare the faulty process which led her to ask the question: “Or did the Supreme Court just decide to ignore this material to make it easier to reach the decision they wanted?”

Up to page 32, the content isn’t that interesting to the ordinary reader. But once Landau applied that history to the Supreme Court decision which told us that our much-vaunted Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to us, and that the “guarantee” of freedom of religion and of equality of citizenship are just window-dressing, my interest rose as she, piece by piece, tore that decision apart. From page 33 to page 56, I couldn’t put the book down. Her attack on the Court was gripping. Then from page 57 to 74 one can read all the reasons — reasons that we all know so well — that the public funding of Roman Catholic separate schools is wrong – dead wrong. Totally unjustifiable by any measure. Pages 75 to 78 conclude by outlining “What can be done.”

If anyone doubts any part of Reva’s research, the Appendix will put that doubt to rest. A Selected Bibliography and End Notes finish the remarkable account of “The Surprising History of Ontario Catholic Separate Schools.”

To purchase the book, go to www.amazon.ca and search for Privileged Status: Public Funding. Just a few chapters are worth the $7.33 Amazon price. So get one for your friend, your local library, your local MPP, your local school trustee – spread the word!

Renton Patterson

P.S. To criticize a Supreme Court decision is not unusual. Pierre Trudeau is quoted as saying about a particular Supreme Court’s ruling:  “They blatantly manipulated the evidence before them so as to arrive at the desired result. They then wrote a judgment which tried to lend a fig-leaf of legality to their preconceived conclusion.” (Shades of the Bill 30 decision?)

Nobody Knows Child Abuse Like Catholics

Members of a concerned Catholic group have written a letter to Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada. This “group of concerned, faithful Catholics” want to protect their children’s innocence from exposure to activity that is “illicit” and “morally and spiritually damaging.” In particular, these parents want Bonazzi to help them protect their children from sexual abuse because

Any action which sexualizes a child before he or she is ready is sexual abuse.

Because the parents are “disappointed by the lack of support from [their] Bishops,” they are appealing to Bonazzi, whose job it is to

inform the Apostolic See about the conditions in which the particular Churches find themselves, and matters which affect the life of the Church and the good of souls.

Unfortunately, these parents are not asking Bonazzi to take swift action against the possibility that the priests who interact with their children in church, at parish social events and in the halls of publicly-funded Ontario Catholic schools will abuse their children. Oh no, these parents, who continue to expose their children to the very real possibility of sex abuse by Catholic clergy, want Bonazzi to protect their children from the Ontario government’s newly revised 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum for elementary and secondary schools.

These parents complain that their children are learning about homosexuality and masturbation while ignoring the very real danger that their children may be abused by their parish or school priest.

These parents are so ignorant that they really believe that the Vatican, through its Nuncio, will be able to successfully affect what is taught in publicly-funded Ontario schools:

Your Grace, we would greatly appreciate if you would look into these matters; the matters-we fear-if allowed to continue will have very serious and grave consequences. We kindly ask Your Grace to forward this correspondence to each of these dicasteries: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Catholic Education. With great confidence and hope, we pray for Your Grace to be able to help us resolve these matters.

How can Catholic parents be so naive? They are looking for help from an organization that won’t even take effective action to punish sex abuse by clergy or to ensure that the abuse doesn’t occur in the future.

The parents claim they “cannot trust the Institute for Catholic Education.” They’re correct, they can’t trust any organization that calls itself Catholic. These parents should stop going to church, fraternizing with priests and sending their children to Catholic schools. As long as parents continue to be “faithful Catholics,” their children will experience the “very serious and grave consequences” of a Catholic education that is mired in superstition, ignorance and bigotry.

The TTC Goes Secular



The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has finally decided to discontinue its practise of maintaining special Sunday transit stops in front of Toronto churches in

an attempt to rationalize service, but also an acknowledgement of Toronto’s changing religious landscape.

The TTC board decision made the decision to eliminate Sunday to improve “safety and service for all TTC users on all routes.” However, there are other reasons: the TTC has finally recognized that “Toronto the Good,” is no longer just a “City of Churches,” but a city of temples, mosques and other places of worship that do not have the privilege of special transit stops.

At least one church going Christian is going to complain to his city councillor because he just doesn’t get it:

“I understand that they’re saying others don’t have it, but does that mean no one should have it?”

That’s right, the days of granting special privileges to Christians are over, at least for the TTC. As the transit’s spokesperson Brad Ross points out,

“We are a secular society and times have changed.”

The TTC’s elimination of Sunday transit stops is one small step in the recognition that religion should not dominate the public sphere.

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