Reporting on the Free Speech Wall

UPDATE:  Courtesy of Victor Laszlo, photos from today can be seen here.

Today is the day!

Sunday, September 13th!

Today, I have a permit to hold my Free Speech Wall on Parliament Hill, from 1 to 3 pm!

With 30 minutes ahead to set up and 30 minutes after for teardown.

EXCITING!!!

I wish I could report that it was a beautiful, warm and sunny autumn day.  But, I woke up to cold sleet, the gray rain  drumming loudly on my window…  Ah, well – still excited!!!

*   *   *

All the ‘political demonstrations, rallies and other events’ are supposed to take place on the ‘middle walkway’.

If you are unfamiliar with Canada’s Parliament Hill, here is a picture:

As you can see, the front of The Hill is sort of shaped like a wide horseshoe, with a central walkway bisecting the lawn into Eastern and Western halves.  Since this is a hill, and the lawn is flat, the central walkway leads from the Centennial Flame Fountain towards the Peace Tower with a flight of steps at the top, to bring the walkway up to the level of the roadway in front of the Parliament Buildings.  The retaining wall between this roadway and the level of the lawn is fronted by decorative bushes and flowers.  Yes, red and white flowers:  this is Canada!

So, most political thingies are supposed to be located on the central walkway itself, which is wide enough for a set of tents and tables to be along one edge without impeding the pedestrian traffic.  I’ve been to The Hill many times when this was happening – never did this cause traffic problems.

Nothing is supposed to be located on the stairs themselves, unless there is a special permission for that:  which only makes sense.  I have been at events where the stairs are used in place of a dais and it works very well – just that the RCMP has to be on hand to ensure there are no traffic jams.

OK.

My event, however, was considered by the RCMP to be ‘highly provocative’ and might expose ‘innocent people’ to being shot if I were to locate my Free Speech Wall in this high traffic area.  Wanting to be as cooperative as possible, I readily agreed to set up my Free Speech Wall on the Eastern Lawn, in the North-Eastern-most corner, right in front of the decorative bushes and flowers – and about 5-10 meters in from the Eastern path up The Hill, with my ‘Wall’ facing South.  This was where I had agreed to have been set up for the International Draw Muhammed Day event, so…

OK.

I arrived at the Eastern Gate to The Hill at 12:30 on the dot.  Luckily, the downpour had given way to a chilly drizzle alternating with light showers, so that was good.  Very good!

RCMP Constable Gregory Welsh was already there, waiting for me.  With some helpers, I brought my stuff (OK, they brought most of it) to my spot.  To get there, Constable Greg had to untie a rope which acted as a barrier, preventing people from going from the walkway onto the lawn and then he closed it behind us – I guessed to protect us from the throngs of people while we were setting up.

Constable Greg also informed me there was going to be ‘some religious thing’ going on on the stairs, which turned out to be a group of Messianic Jews singing and praying and blowing some weird twisty horn thingies – so, perfect atmosphere for celebrating freedoms of all kinds!  Very exciting!!!

First, the folding table – to keep everything out of the puddles in the grass.

I lay my three permitted cardboard panels, protected in plastic, onto the table and set up my one permitted lawnchair to keep the rest of my props from being drowned, and we set about putting up the gazebo-tent thingy which S/Sgt Roussel generously, out of the goodness of his heart, permitted to be used (but only in the case of rain).  This was the tricky bit – the sand from its last use was making extending the legs a little tricky.  But, with help from two of my tall voluntolds, we got it done!

Popping the tent over the table and wiping it dry, I went about connecting up my three panels and putting up the last few pages that overlapped the panel-breaks.

Explanation is needed, I think…

S/Sgt Roussel had, during our meeting, asked if I would prevent people from writing anything on my Free Speech Wall that might contravene Sections 318 and 319 of Canada’s Criminal Code – the Hate Speech provision.  I pointed out that this would, kind of, defeat the purpose of actually having a Free Speech Wall!

Knowing from an earlier interview that I had been a political refugee, having been born in Czechoslovakia, he demanded:  “So, if somebody wanted to write:  ‘rape all Czechoslovakian women’, you would not stop them?”

My response, understandably, was:  “Of course I would not stop them!”

We went back and forth like that for a while – I’m sure most free speech loving people have had a version or two of this conversation with bannies (people who like to ban things) and their bureaucratic minions.

When they realized I would not stop people from exercising their Constitutional right to Free Speech on my Free Speech Wall, Constable Greg had given me a copy of Sections 318 and 319 of Canada’s Criminal Code, which he had prepared earlier.  I had to promise to S/Sgt Roussel that, in order for me not to entrap people into accidentally getting arrested by writing something forbidden, I would prominently display these laws on my Wall.

So that everybody would have fair warning.

Because if there were a crime in progress, they would have to pull the plug on the event, confiscate my wall and start arresting people.  When I pointed out that without being arrested, citizens could not challenge bad laws in court, S/Sgt Roussel lost control of his facial expression for a while and, while he muttered:  “You’ll never get any laws changed” under his breath, his face showed amused contempt.

It seemed to me that, at this very moment, S/Sgt Roussel decided to make sure things went so smoothly that no arrest would be made.

Well, I myself would not want anybody to get arrested through ignorance of the law either – and on my account to boot!

So, of course, I complied!

I took S/Sgt Roussel’s exact quote – and had him inspect it and confirm I got it right – and then, under the heading of this quote (one side in English, the other en Francais – this is Canada, non?) I posted the exact wording of the Crimnal Code of Canada’s sections 318 and 319.  It was some of these pages that overlapped the ‘seams’ of my 3 permitted cardboard panels – and which I had to attach on site.

Printed on red paper – so people could see it is a warning from a proverbial mile away!

When the clock on the Peace Tower chimed 1 pm, I had everything set up.  The three cardboard panels, connected as they were, turned out to be a bit of a sail (it was windy) so I strengthened the cardboard supports built into them by sticky taping them to the table.  I set out a brand new set of markers in front, my chair beside the table – and all was set to go!

Constable Greg came to check it all out and and confirmed everything was done exactly as the RCMP had told me to do it.

I said good, we were ready, and could he please now remove the rope that separates the lawn from the walkway:  just between two of the nearest supports, so there would be a gateway for people to get to me.

To my great surprise, Constable Greg refused.  He would not look me in the eye when he told me that the rope was low enough for people to just hop across it!!!

If the RCMP was worried I would be swamped with people had they made it clear that people were not forbidden from walking on the wet grass, they succeeded 100%!!!

A lot if people looked at my display, then at the rope, then at the many RCMP officers watching me – and them – and decided to walk on.  Only the one guy with a Jesus sign, whom I had seen during my interview with the RCMP on The Hill earlier, had the guts to come over – out of curiosity…..but that was it.  Even he chose not to write anything on The Wall – under the watchful eye of the RCMP.

Given the implications of Bill C-51, I can’t really blame him!

Oh, yes.  One brave media person (and no, Rebel Media, though well aware of this event, chose not to cover it) interviewed me – I hope to have pics and or video soon.

In the meantime, here is my potato quality flip-phone picture of the ‘Gate’ to my Free Speech Wall – the rope people could ‘just hop across’:

The Rope people could hop over

And, here is a blurry picture of my Free Speech Wall itself:  the red bits are the lists (English and French) of what is forbidden and the White area is the Free Speech Area itself.  And, yes, Constable Greg had looked it over and agreed that this is exactly what the RCMP had asked me to do.

Free Speech Wall

It was so peaceful, I hope to do this again next spring!

Edit:  I forgot to say what S/Sgt Roussel’s exact quote was:

“Freedom of speech, yes…

….but there is a line in the sand!”

Knowing that this warning implies the use of maximum military force if ‘the line in the sand ‘ is crossed, and knowing S/Sgt Roussel commands a lot of people armed to the teeth, I had to take his warning very seriously indeed…

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One Response to “Reporting on the Free Speech Wall”

  1. peterodonnell Says:

    Multiple choice quiz:

    Ottawa is to free speech as

    (a) Labrador is to sunbathing
    (b) Maple Leafs are to playoffs
    (c) Canada is to soccer
    (d) all of the above

    RCMP is to free speech as

    (a) can’t say this
    (b) can’t say this
    (c) can’t say this
    (d) all of the above


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