The absurdity of Kellie Leitch’s ideological purity test

I published the very first post on this new blog: “The cowardly, lazy notion that liberalism cannot tolerate dissent”. The immediate inspiration was a comment on Canadian Atheist, but it was a response to an attitude I’d seen seen widely expressed for some time. The most widely noted example was Donald Trump’s proposal for extreme vetting of immigrants, but I deliberately avoided citing his particular example because he’s well on his way to becoming the star of the next iteration of Godwin’s Law. Besides, I thought, that kind of wacky “politics” is an American thing; my blog focuses on Canada, and we don’t have that kind of nonsense in Canadian politics. Well….

[Photo of Kellie Leitch.]
Kellie Leitch.

If you’re not familiar with the unfolding Kellie Leitch scandal, I’ve written about it in more detail at Canadian Atheist. Or you can just do a search for “Kellie Leitch anti-Canadian values” and pick a link.

[Screen capture of a question in Kellie Leitch's survey: Should the Canadian government screen potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values as part of its normal screening for refugees and landed immigrants? (Yes/No/Don't know)]

By suggesting that Canada cannot tolerate the existence of quote-unquote “anti-Canadian values”, Kellie Leitch is really saying that she is either too cowardly or too lazy to defend those values herself. That hardly sounds like a potential Prime Minister.

What Conservative leadership hopeful Leitch is proposing – through the insidiously subtle tactic of “just asking questions” – is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about in my previous post. By suggesting that Canada cannot tolerate the existence of quote-unquote “anti-Canadian values”, what she is really saying is that she is either too cowardly or too lazy to defend those values herself. That hardly sounds like something you’d want in a potential Prime Minister.

Of course, it also raises the thorny question of what, exactly, “Canadian values” are. I can’t imagine Leitch has given much thought to it. To her, “Canadian values” are like pornography: she just knows them when she sees them.

Is opposition to LGBT rights “anti-Canadian”? That’s an interesting question. I presume Leitch would agree, because she marched in the 2015 Toronto LGBT Pride Parade. She also said in a statement that the “anti-Canadian values” she wants to screen for include intolerance towards other… sexual orientations…. (As an aside, I have to draw attention to the fact that one of the “anti-Canadian values” she wants to screen for is a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of… economic freedoms. What? What the fuck does that even mean? That if you oppose capitalism, you’re “anti-Canadian”?)

[Logo of the Conservative Party of Canada.]
The Conservative Party of Canada.

There’s a lot of squawking about “look how much the Conservatives have changed!” because all declared candidates* for the Conservative leadership marched in the 2016 parade. Yet it was barely ten years ago that the Tories were officially adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage. Furthermore, I direct your attention to the asterisk a couple sentences back. That sentence was true in July. It’s not true now. More candidates have declared, such as Brad Trost, who – in that very article – branded [Conservative MPs embracing Pride] as a sort of socialist plot. And there are other Conservative MPs quoted in the article pooh-poohing the idea of LGBT rights.

So please, MP Leitch, enlighten us. If opposition to equal rights for women is “anti-Canadian”, why isn’t opposition to equal rights for LGBT people? And if that is anti-Canadian, why are you focusing your efforts on going after refugees with those “anti-Canadian” opinions, rather than dealing with the rot within your own caucus?

What about something like – oh let me just pick something “random” – abortion? Wasn’t that settled in ? To quote then-Chief Justice Dickson: Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a foetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus a violation of security of the person. Has anything changed since then? No? Well, standing up for a woman’s right to control her own body according to her own priorities and aspirations seems like a very Canadian value, eh? Doesn’t it MP Leitch?

Whoops!

To Kellie Leitch, “Canadian values” are like pornography: she just knows them when she sees them.

And that highlights the scam behind Leitch’s “anti-Canadian values” rhetoric. What Leitch considers “anti-Canadian” is defined by what she detests. She wants to use her own values to draw the line between what is “Canadian” and what is “anti-Canadian”, and she would surely vociferously object if anyone else – say, me – were to use their values, which might find her opinions repugnant.

There are many values, beliefs, and opinions held by Canadians that I abhor, and that I might be inclined to label rhetorically as “anti-Canadian”. For example, there are those who wish to legislate Muslim women who wear the hijab out of public life. That opinion disgusts me, and I can eloquently argue that it contradicts the principles laid out in the Charter, and, thus, is “anti-Canadian”. I am also quite antipathetic to anti-abortion activists… like Leitch. And yet, it would be absurd, incoherent, and – yes – cowardly and lazy to want to simply banish the people who hold such opinions from Canada for being “un-Canadian”. That applies whether you’re talking about expelling people who are already in the Canadian club, or just locking the gate to those who were unlucky enough to be late to join the group.

There is no way to draw the line between “Canadian values” and “anti-Canadian values” that isn’t arbitrary. Just try this thought experiment: What is the maximum number of Canadians who can hold an “anti-Canadian opinion” before it becomes a “Canadian opinion”? Is it less than 50%? Less than 25%? Less than 1%? Just one person? Because no matter what repugnant, repressive, backward value you can dig up, you can almost surely find at least one asshole in Canada who reveres it. And if you try to use some kind of objective standard, like, say, “what is legal in Canada”… well, that includes things like abortion, so… it would pretty much make two-thirds of Canada – and most of the the Conservative Party – “anti-Canadian”.

Leitch, of course, frames her interest as “concern” for the well-being of women and children in Canada. That’s simply disingenuous. Canada already has perfectly serviceable laws for protecting women and children and no shortage of help for any woman or child who needs it. If she were really concerned about protecting women and children, the intelligent thing to do would be to make it easier to get into Canada… not harder. Canada’s social services and support are much better than most of the world. We could do far more to help women and children here than if we booted them out and forced them to stay in whatever country they got their backward, repressive values from.

But of course, we all know that Leitch’s proposal isn’t really about protecting women and children, despite her pretensions to that. It’s about sticking it to the people, and the quote-unquote “barbaric cultures”, that she doesn’t like. It’s about enshrining and protecting her values. Not “Canada”’s.

And as Leitch is finding out very publicly – for the second time in a year – from the response of the majority of Canada, the idea of othering groups of people with labels like “anti-Canadian”… seems to be pretty darn anti-Canadian.

CC BY-SA 4.0 The absurdity of Kellie Leitch’s ideological purity test by Mark A. Gibbs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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