Government intrusion into our most basic rights was the meat and potatoes of the buffet of opinions, oratory, evangelizing and musical theatre presented by Mark Steyn and friends last night at his Steynamite show at the Toronto Convention Centre.
Readers of the National Post know that its columnist and editor Jonathan Kay is witty and insightful, but his introduction of Steyn was a reminder of his comedic gifts. And comedy was the medium through which the clarion call for defense of free speech was delivered throughout the two hours of the event. That indeed was Kay's explanation for Steyn's ability to convey his blunt, controversial and necessarily insensitive messages to the public - that rare ability to make people laugh while hearing about matters both serious and disturbing.
Sun TV's Krista Ericson and Michael Coren added to the levity with their interpretive dance gestures spoofing Ericson's infamous contentious interview with Canadian performance artist Margie Gillis prior to Steyn taking the stage.
The large hall was filled to near capacity with Steyn fans and they got everything they came for and more. Steyn, a native born Torontonian (like Omar Khadr, as he pointed out) had the audience simultaneously outraged and guffawing at local, national and international government abuses of individual rights through so-called Human Rights mechanisms. He spoke of the kangaroo courts that subjected hapless citizens to years of turmoil and exorbitant legal costs over frivolous cases. One of the most egregious examples he gave was of the St. Catherine's health club owner who was brought before the Ontario Human Rights Commission because he wouldn't let a pre-op transsexual woman, meaning he/she still had a penis, use the woman's changing room. Even more outrageous was the case of an Ontario Bar owner who was brought before a the Human Rights Commission for not allowing a customer to smoke medical marijuana in the bar, while at the same time being told by the Liquor Licensing Board that he would lose his license if he did allow it.
Steyn's scatter-gun attacks on censors, social engineers, totalitarians and hypocrites inside the government and out hit an array of targets including "Hatefinder General" Richard Warman, Muslim wife beaters, Sharia law proponents, and those who practice genital mutilation along with their stupid western enablers. Among the additional victims of Steyn's ire were the Immigration form required for travelers entering the United States, the ridiculous gang of hypocritical misfits called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, and plenty of others.
The essential point of Steyn's sermon, delivered both as a lecture and in song parodies, was that by trying to make society more "civil" through restriction of free speech and free thought and the loss of individual property rights, the medicine is 1000 times worse than the disease.
The message he
delivers, particularly in the ironic and thought-provoking way he
presents it, is one that is critical for the generation coming of age
in Canada and the west to hear.
And that's where the dilemma of Mark Steyn lies. There's a great moment in the TV cartoon series Family Guy where Peter Griffin shows up at a party riding an elephant and says to his wife, "Hey look, Lois, here are the two symbols of the Republican party, an elephant and an overweight, middle-aged white guy who's afraid of change."
Looking around at the audience at Steynamite, I didn't see any elephants. But it was also clear that Steyn and his cohorts spent an evening preaching to the converted. The people most in need of the message weren't there to hear it.
Another dilemma that Steyn presents is the way that some of his admirers interpret him. One of his core messages is that while racism is bad, but depriving people of their ability to express any
thought, even a deplorable one, goes against the fundamental principles
of individual liberty which provide the bedrock of western civilization. Unfortunately, a few too many of Steyn's audience seem to be under the impression that being needlessly racist is somehow striking a blow for free expression.
One of the most important points of the night came up during the brief question and answer session at the end. A woman asked what people can do in their daily lives to protect the freedoms that are government is consistently eroding. The answer that Steyn and Michael Coren provided was an interesting one. They noted that even if governments change, social engineers in our civil service and education bureaucracies are so deeply immersed that acting to reform them is extremely difficult. Deprivation of liberty is something that has become embedded in our culture, and so we have to act to change culture so that popular attitudes and eventually laws will follow.
That presents a massive challenge. But with great talents like Steyn and others tackling it, this challenge may yet be overcome.