soutenir la religion dans une société pluraliste et dans la vie publique canadienne

Salut, Charlie! Are there limits to expressive rights?

Of the myriad responses to the Charlie Hebdo and related murders in and around Paris between January 7th and 9th last, from elegies on free speech and democracy, to lamentations that the depredations of Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in Peshawar were largely ignored, to mass marches through the streets of Paris and beyond, one of the deepest dialogues on the tragedy and its origins was convened by the Canadian Muslim Leadership Institute (CMLI) at the University of Manitoba on January 25th.

The CMLI is not an instructive Institute in Islam; it seeks to acclimatize young Muslims in the complexities of Canadian culture. CMLI was born of ISSA, the Islamic Social Services Agency of Winnipeg, which emerged in 1999 from a rapidly growing and often marginalized Muslim community in Manitoba.

The question in play: are there limits to expressive rights?  Free speech, if one prefers. The panel was stellar; the format that of a “conversation café.”  The panelists were Karen Busby, professor of law and human rights; Fraser Nelund, editor of The Manitoban, the university’s student paper; John Harvard, former journalist, MP and Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba;  Shannon Sampert, perspectives editor of The Winnipeg Free Press; and Shahina Siddiqui, founder of ISSA.

About 100 diverse participants were present.  Initial positions were stated, then small groups focused on each of several areas of discussion with questions redirected to the panelists. Envelopes were pushed; comfort limits strained; but courtesy prevailed.

No definitive conclusions were reached. Few, if any, new insights were attained. But what became abundantly clear is that a free society depends not on the particular decisions of what to express and what to suppress, but rather the creation of safe space for the kind of dialogue that shapes a vibrant public square: a dialogue in which people of all faiths and no faiths have a voice.

Contributed by James Christie, Ridd Institute for Religion and Global Policy, Manitoba Multifaith Council