Cornies, Coren, and the Conservatives: all Sun, no light

May 15, 2010 by  

Last Monday, (May 10, 2010), Canada’s Conservative Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, decided to surrender Canadian activist and publisher Marc Emery for extradition to the USA. Emery faces no charges in Canada, but is wanted by the USA for having sold cannabis seeds to Americans via Canada Post. The decision has led to anti-Conservative outrage and protests across the country, and major newspapers have covered the developments. Perhaps most noteworthy, Canada’s national Globe and Mail newspaper reported Thursday that a group opposing the Conservatives’ decision to extradite Emery occupied the riding office of Conservative MP James Moore, where a Canadian licensed to use marijuana for medical reasons lawfully rolled joints on Moore’s desk, in protest. The Globe and Mail newspaper even posted a video of the event to its website.

In stark contrast, the Quebecor-owned Sunmedia newspaper chain – a chain that historically supports Progressive Conservatives provincially and Conservatives federally, no matter what the policies of those parties might be at the time – is today running columns the apparent function of which is to take the focus off of the governing Conservatives, and to place it on Marc Emery himself. In each case, the point of the exercise is to lower the reader’s opinion of Emery so that people will pay no attention to the Conservatives’ failure to defend Canadian freedom and sovereignty. Each column takes an approach somewhat akin to suggesting that a rape victim had it coming because she wears low-cut blouses and doesn’t go to church on Sundays, all to take the focus off of the fact that the main suspect is a church minister.

In a Toronto Sun column titled “Why they call it dope“, Christian Conservative columnist and talk-show host Michael Coren takes a particularly low-brow approach. Specifically, he has written an article that pretends to be about the harmfulness of marijuana use, but that is actually nothing more than a vehicle for ad hominem attacks on those who use marijuana or those who oppose marijuana prohibition. Coren’s command of gutter language is quite impressive, and his use of it exceptionally boorish. In a column comprised of only 524 words, Coren uses all of the following words to describe those who use marijuana or who oppose marijuana prohibition: pothead, selfish, silly (x2), wrong, foolish, naive, callow, high, indifferent, lazy, underachievers, lacking memory, sexually impotent, confused, having poor judgment, unhealthy, escapist, pompous, self-rightous, moronic. In case you are not doing the math, that is a full 4% of the words used in Coren’s screed. Words not found in Coren’s article include: government, Conservative, Harper, Nicholson, rights, freedom, sovereignty.

In Sunmedia’s London Free Press “news” paper (it hardly contains news anymore, but it is reportedly useful if you are looking for coupons to clip), in a column titled “Marc Emery’s pet cause is Marc Emery“, former editor Larry Cornies takes a different approach. Specifically, he refers to a number of things Emery has indeed done, but removes any of the context that would allow a reader to decide why Emery was doing what he was doing over the last 30 years of his life in activism. Having left the whys unaddressed, Cornies thereby leaves himself the latitude to make a wholly unwarranted claim, nowhere supported in his column: that “…the overriding perception is that the most important cause in the mind of Marc Emery is Marc Emery.” The rational among my readers will immediately notice the Ellsworth Toohey nature of Cornies’ conclusion: it speaks about an alleged consensus, rather than about a demonstrable reality. I wrote the following letter to Cornies, as a result:


Re: Marc Emery’s pet cause is Marc Emery

“But the overriding perception is that the most important cause in the mind of Marc Emery is Marc Emery.”

That was an inaccurate and mean conclusion to a decidedly myopic version of Emery’s history. If you haven’t already seen it, I invite you to watch “The Principle of Pot” , my Marc Emery documentary, recently released on youtube (Part 1 here, Part 2 here). Emery did indeed make himself the focus, especially with respect to the marijuana issue, but you have entirely missed his purpose in doing so. It was not an ego trip. It was a deliberate strategy based on sound observations about the nature of the majority of people in our society.

From 1980 until 1990, Emery’s message was that individuals have a right to their own life, liberty and property. By 1990, he had decided that people, essentially, are too busy to think about and adopt abstract political principles. So he changed his strategy.

Emery stopped speaking about individual rights. Having researched the history of individual freedom, he discovered that virtually every advancement in individual freedom was the result of someone intentionally breaking a law. The point was, in each historical case, to have the people observe government punishing a person who was harming nobody (or, at least, nobody but himself/herself). Emery observed that when the governments do that, the public condemns the government for being a bully, and the government repeals the law.

Freedom Party being a party founded upon, and continuing to advocate, individual rights, Emery left Freedom Party. He broke censorship laws and urged everyone to follow his example: pick just one oppressive law and break it. He left London because he found that, although people admired him for his efforts, they would not follow his example: they lacked the courage or will to break a oppressive laws in efforts to have them repealed.

While in India, Emery considered other historical examples: civil rights movements. These differ from the break-a-law-change-a-law efforts of others. The essence of a civil rights movement is that it is a collective of people commonly oppressed by a given law. Normally, those civil rights movements are based upon the unchosen: sex, skin colour etc. Emery’s innovation was to apply the same strategy to a collective defined not by unchosen characteristics, but by the fact that they had already chosen to break the same laws: the laws that prohibit the growth, sale, or possession of cannabis. He chose marijuana prohibition precisely because it is the instance of the violation of individual rights that has led to the greatest number of people being imprisoned, fined, expropriated, separated from their children, etc.. Emery chose to fill the role that two of his civil rights inspirations – Ghandi and King – had filled with respect to their collectives: like them, Emery chose to bring the collective together, to give it a voice (Cannabis Culture magazine), and to give it the money it needed peacefully to fight back (via court challenges and political campaigns). He sold seeds both to violate-the-law-so-as-to-change-the-law, and to raise the necessary funds for the collective that he brought together, organized, and gave a voice.

Having decided that it is not possible – at least in the short-term – to change peoples’ minds such that they believe themselves to have individual rights, he tried a different route: winning their sympathies, their loyalties, and their hearts. And, to do that, he needed to conduct himself in the way expected of a predominantly altruistic society (a society that regards the self-sacrifice of Jesus as the ultimate example of virtuous conduct): he needed to be a self-sacrificial person, sacrificing himself so that marijuana users could be freed from the governments/laws that oppressed them.

The results are everywhere to see. Emery is the go-to-guy, world-wide, with respect to the marijuana prohibition issue. Millions of people both know who he is, admire him, are loyal to him, and recognize him as the leader of a civil rights movement: the movement of those who refuse any longer to be punished for the choice to put something into their bodies; the choice to make decisions for themselves, rather than allowing the government to assume the role of parental authority.

If the “overriding perception” is that Marc Emery’s cause is Marc Emery, your job – if you are a columnist – is not merely to serve as a mirror, telling us what ignorant beliefs exist, but to explain to people that they are mistaken in their beliefs, if so.

Moreover, the relevant issue for Canadians is not what is in Emery’s mind, but what the Conservative government has put into its prison cells. To leave out of your article any mention – any moral evaluation – of what the government is doing to Emery, and why it is doing it, is disgraceful. I suspect that the “overriding perception” concerning your article is that – like another Sunmedia article published today and written by conservative Michael Coren – you are attempting to take the spotlight off of the oppressive conduct of Canada’s Conservative government, and to blame one among its millions of victims. If such a perception is accurate – and only you can know – you should be ashamed of yourself.


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