On Allegations of Libel

I believe very strongly in free speech. I believe, without a doubt, that without freedom of speech, we would be in a much worse place.

Freedom of speech is what lets you disagree and voice that disagreement. It’s what lets you have an opinion, it’s what lets you debate. I would argue that all freedoms derive from freedom of speech. Every single one. Freedom of speech is the most important thing in a modern society and is what differentiates us from nations ruled by despots. Nearly every great achievement of mankind can be traced to someone who had the ability to pursue their dreams without fear of reprisal. It’s all about freedom.

I’m not so extreme so as to suggest that freedom of speech should be limitless — indeed, some things are just hate speech and should be categorically denounced. But here’s the thing.

I only have the right to say something if you have the right to say something, and vice versa. If you can’t voice your opinion and only I can voice mine, well, the debate becomes pointless — we achieve nothing. So, freedom of speech gives you the right to not only say horrible things, but gives someone else the right to denounce them. Freedom of speech allows for a classic battle of good against evil: you cannot have one without the other.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in her biography of Voltaire, summed up his beliefs as such:

While I disagree with what you have to say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Hall-as-Voltaire has been my philosophy for most of my life. I completely support everyone’s ability to speak freely. But freedom of speech is a two-way-street. You can have an opinion, and I can disagree with it. That’s democracy, that’s freedom of speech. I don’t believe for a second that my rights end where your feelings begin.

It is with some chagrin then that I announce that we have removed a line from one of our articles.

Douglas_Todd

Douglas Todd, award-winning writer.

Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun — who “delves into topics we’re told to avoid: religion, ethnicity, politics, sex and ethics” — has tacitly threatened legal action against the author of the piece, “One Woman’s Brave Battle to Fight Richmond’s Assault on Whiteness.” Sarah Arboleda, the author, has written on the issue a number of times and I completely support her on this issue.

The issue is as such: Kerry Starchuk, and evidently Douglas Todd, are of the opinion that people in Richmond, British Columbia, should not be allowed to have Chinese-only signs. The two allege that it is disgraceful because Canada is a bilingual country of French and English, and that Chinese is neither of those languages. The debate often spills into an issue of whether or not it is a “good business practice,” as though the government should have any right telling people how to run a business (imagine a group of police officers kicking down the door to a store: “Hey! These shelves are messy and your floor needs to be mopped! As well, your prices are not very competitive and your produce is wilty!”; the Good Business Police issue a ticket and leave how they arrived). Starchuk often makes mention of how long her family has been living in Richmond, as though that gives her more right to live here than anyone else (four generations, in case you were wondering — I’m second-generation, so that’s egg on my face), and Todd has written on the issue a number of times, often pulling Starchuk back in. Thick as thieves, those two.

At the end of the piece, Arboleda alleged that their actions were racist and, furthermore, that they were racists. Strong language to say the least.

The piece was written a full sixteen months ago, and I guess Todd only noticed it now. But even a cursory search reveals that Todd has been called such names before — in fact, in one About article, Todd even debated with the writer who called him a “bigot!” (note: all racists are bigots, but not all bigots are racists)

Todd, however, doesn’t have the time for that. Around the same time he published his most recent article, he sent Arboleda a tacit threat: in his e-mail, he questioned what her intent was with her article, because his response would vary based on her own response. Obviously not very straightforward, but the threat is quite clear — take it down or I sue you.

It was a difficult decision, but we removed the potentially libelous claim of Todd being a racist. It’s gone now, and in its place is a note explaining its removal.

I am very disappointed, however, in Douglas Todd. In response to a very lengthy article that takes him to task, he sent a one paragraph rebuttal. Instead of addressing the issue, instead of facing it, he shut it down. He is, unequivocally, trying to stifle debate. “I’m right, you’re wrong.” A hell of a stance for someone who writes in the “Opinion” section to say the least.

Would Todd have sued? I doubt it. Would his publisher have sued? He e-mailed from his Vancouver Sun e-mail address but I can’t imagine the Sun supports his actions.

It’s horrifically ironic that someone working for a newspaper — you know, an institution that depends on freedom of speech more than just about anywhere else — would threaten legal action over an opinion.

That, my friends, is the state of journalism in Canada.

Below is the Editor’s Note attached to Arboleda’s original, ire-inciting article.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece previously referred to Douglas Todd and Kerry Starchuk as “racists.” Todd, although he did not directly request we remove the reference to him as a racist, tacitly threatened legal action were we to not remove it. While as editor I take a different stance, Arboleda has requested this line be removed.

So The Pletteau is no longer directly alleging that Douglas Todd is a racist, although About does refer to Todd as an “anti-atheist bigot,” so take it with a grain of salt. We have been wrong before.

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One Woman’s Brave Battle to Fight Richmond’s Assault on Whiteness

Chinese-only signs dominate the Richmond Night Market, an example of the cultural cesspool threatening to drown to Richmond’s noble white heritage.

January 14th’s Vancouver Sun raised an important question: When will it finally be okay to openly hate the Lower Mainland’s rapidly expanding Chinese population?

To be fair, the question was couched and carefully sugar-coated as a debate on whether there should be a restriction on the number of “Chinese”-only signs in Richmond, but let’s face it: white British Columbians love being able to complain about the Chinese whenever they can smoke-screen it behind a debate on common decency or civic responsibility.

We all long for those dreamy, care-free days when “those damn UBC condo owners” were blocking the progress of a hospice because of their culture’s phobias and superstitions regarding the dead and dying taking up residence in their backyard. But we weren’t attacking them because of their race or culture, we were attacking them for being bad, selfish, nasty, rude and insensitive human beings who just so happened to be Chinese.

But when the Sun’s Douglas Todd brought us the story of a Richmond woman who was getting the “bureaucratic brush-off in her efforts to restrict the predominance of Chinese-language signs in her hometown,” I knew that the glory days of uninhibited Chinese-bashing might just have returned to us again.

First, allow me to pick apart that opening sentence: a “Richmond woman,” who we can only assume is not of Asian descent is getting the “bureaucratic brush-off” for trying to restrict Chinese-language signs in her hometown. Unlike those immigrants who aren’t really “from here.”

The Richmond woman in question is Kerry Starchuk, whose linkedin profile states that she works as a Personal Home Manager at Kerry, the Social Butterfly which does not appear to be a business, but rather a personal statement about her winning personality. If it is a business, however, you can bet your ass its sign is in English — as God intended. But not French, that would be a little gay.

Kerry, the Social Butterfly.

Todd argues that there are many reasons to support Starchuk’s campaign, which has since been “stonewalled” despite her many letters to the editor and “buttonholing” of politicians. Todd argues that Starchuk is not alone in her feeling that the many Chinese-only restaurant and retail signs around the city need to be reduced, or at least offer an English translation, but fails to mention anyone that has taken up under Starchuk’s banner (other than himself, of course). He goes on in the article to outline how British Columbians need a common language to flourish, taking his talking points from studies released in the Fall by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney:

1) Learning English may be good for immigrants’ health.

2) Everything that encourages new-comers to learn English, including having to understand signs, contributes to their financial well-being.

3) An emphasis on English-language signs will help reduce the segregating effects caused by the rise of Canadian ethnic enclaves, which have expanded from just six in 1976 to more than 260.

Then there’s this doozy: “Although these dominant foreign-language signs are permitted under provincial legislation, presumably in the name of freedom of expression, they constitute a misguided approach to multiculturalism.”

Kerry Starchuk and Douglass Todd think Canada’s mosaic could use fewer Asian tiles.

I’m the first person to say that “legal” and “moral” aren’t exactly synonyms, but come on. First, it is currently legal. They are not breaking any laws. But second – and this is probably the most important element of all – if a store does not have any English signage, what are the chances that its owners speak a great deal of English? What are the chances that the menus are in English or that anyone will be able to assist you? In short: for many of these retail or restaurant locations, wouldn’t English signage effectively amount to false advertising?

Then there’s the second issue, which is that no one thinks that calling an Italian restaurant “Luigi’s Ristorante” is terribly exclusionary and a misguided approach to multiculturalism. It’s expected because even someone with no exposure to Italian can probably figure out that Luigi’s Ristorante isn’t a sporting goods store. But that’s because English and Italian and French and Spanish and a whole pile of other languages share the same basic alphabet. Chinese – or, more accurately Mandarin and/or Cantonese – do not.

Another example of a culture trying to destroy Canada’s values by refusing to offer an English translation.

You can absolutely make the argument that if someone is going to immigrate to a new country they ought to learn the language first. And it’s a fine argument, but the trouble is that current Canadian immigration laws might require one person in a family to learn English, but then once that family member becomes a citizen, they are able to bring over their mothers, fathers, siblings and grandparents without the same language requirements being applied to them. If you have a problem with the predominance of Chinese-only signs (but really Chinese-only people, let’s be real), then your issue should be with immigration, not a provincial law on signage.

Ultimately, signs are a reflection of the behavior and attitudes of a society, not its cause. A town with a population of great drivers doesn’t need to have a thousand traffic lights, stop signs and crossing guards. And a city – or a province, or a country – with a firm immigration policy on English or French language requirements for its residents and citizens wouldn’t need to restrict its number of Chinese-only signs.

I’m not saying that Todd and Starchuk are wrong, but I am saying that they’ve aimed their fight at the very tail end of the actual issue.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece previously referred to Douglas Todd and Kerry Starchuk as “racists.” Todd, although he did not directly request we remove the reference to him as a racist, tacitly threatened legal action were we to not remove it. While as editor I take a different stance, Arboleda has requested this line be removed.

So The Pletteau is no longer directly alleging that Douglas Todd is a racist, although About does refer to Todd as an “anti-atheist bigot,” so take it with a grain of salt. We have been wrong before.

 

Sarah Arboleda contributed this article to The Daily Pletteau. Read about her here.