Last year, Manitoba Child and Family Services removed two children from their home.
It’s an all-too-common occurrence, but this particular case was newsworthy because the children were taken from a neo-nazi home, where social workers believed they were suffering “emotional damage”.
The older of the two children, a girl of seven, showed up at her Winnipeg primary school with neo-nazi symbols on her arms and legs, including a swastika. When her teacher washed them off, the girl’s mother redrew them with nonwashable marker pen. The school reported the incident, and social workers visited the home, where they removed the girl’s two-year-old brother.
The girl told social workers that black people should die, describing horrific ways this could be accomplished, including whipping them with a spiked ball- and-chain. She reported seeing violent hate propaganda films at home. She said that her mother had told her she’d be punished if she remained friends with nonwhite children. In short, she had been systematically indoctrinated into a hate-filled racist ideology.
Later, allegations emerged of violence and drug use in the home, but the central issue, at least as far as the media are concerned, is child-protection versus freedom of expression. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of expression, and parents in Canada have the right to bring up their children as they see fit, within certain obvious limits.
Neo-nazis are almost constantly battling for what they call freedom of speech, and freedom of expression. The law in Canada and in most of the world curtails those rights in at least two important ways. Nazis may not advocate racial violence, and they may not deny the historicity of the Holocaust. Since these represent the bulk of neo-nazi discourse, they have ample opportunity to present themselves as victims of state censorship.
This is not the first time the question of nazi freedoms has come up in this column. As I’ve pointed out before, there are restrictions on nazis’ freedom of expression not simply because their beliefs are abhorrent, but because they represent a continuing threat to world peace. Much as we might want to believe it, neo-nazis in Winnipeg are not an isolated bunch of skinhead loonies, they are part of a dangerous and violent international cult of hatred.
Most of the time, neo-nazis’ voices echo back at them from an empty canyon. When Paul Fromm defends hate propaganda as free speech, only other nazis and the lunatic fringe at Fox News take him seriously. But the Winnipeg case has prompted a chorus of support for the right of parents to express their freedom on the minds and bodies of young children.
Guests on the CBC’s The Point raised the spectre of social workers removing children from the home because their parents are homosexual, while Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente suggests the case “reflects the moral panic of the day.”
Wente goes on to quote conservative Christian activist and noted homophobe Bill Whatcott that, “If you’re going to target neo-nazis who haven’t actually hit or sexually abused their children, who’s to say conservative Christian evangelicals aren’t next?”
The answer to that question is quite simple. Conservative Christian evangelicals will make that decision for themselves. If they advocate violent hate against specific groups, and if they indoctrinate their children into those beliefs to the extent that those children advocate horrific hate crimes at seven years old, they might very well be next.
Canadian law already clearly limits the right to freedom of expression in the case of hate crimes. You may not advocate violence against a specific group of people. It’s not surprising that Paul Fromm and other nazis would defend the rights of parents to teach their children hatred and violence, but it is unsettling to find so much mainstream commentary backing them up.
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.