Smith, Doug, Canadian Dimension
This past June The Globe and Mail ran an editorial criticizing the Peel Board of Education for transferring a high school teacher to its adult education program. According to the Globe the teacher, Paul Fromm, was willing "to consort with neo-Nazi groups like the Heritage Front." A commission of inquiry had concluded that there was no evidence Fromm actively discriminated against any students. However, the commission felt Fromm's behaviour outside the classroom was inconsistent with the board's "core values."
The Globe suggested this policy was at odds with those of a democratic society, and that a better one would be "to adopt a neutral position: that to hire is neither to condemn or condone, but merely to uphold a basic tenet of a free society: that so long as an individual does the job he is paid for, what he says or does on his own time is his own business."
This ringing endorsation of free speech is somewhat problematic--first of all, it ignores the fact that Fromm remained employed even after the disciplinary action had been taken. In other words, he had not been put out on the street for his beliefs. Secondly, parents of the children attending a public school have the right to expect that teachers do not harbour quasi-racist views. This is a complex issue but I still don't think a person can be committed to free speech--i.e., that there should be no criminal sanctions against people who make hateful statements--while still believing that there are certain jobs which people who make hateful statements should not be allowed to hold.
Finally, the Globe's vigorous defense of free speech would not seem like such a blast of rhetorical hot air if the news media held itself up to the same standard it demands of the school system.
News organizations have a long tradition of restricting their employees' outside activities. At a talk he gave in 1989, the then managing editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, Murray Birt, joked that he was uncomfortable with the idea of a journalist becoming president of the local chess club. And if journalists get involved in their local community trouble eventually erupts. In 1988, the CBC forced Cross Country Check Up host Dale Goldhawk to resign as the president of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, Radio and Artists because of ACTRA's opposition to the Free Trade Agreement. The Windsor Star disciplined a number of employees for walking a Canadian Union of Public Employee's picketline, on their own time, during a 1989 strike at the CBC. And back at The Globe and Mail, Linda McQuaig was taken off the tax beat after she published her devastating account of the inequities of the Canadian tax system, Behind Closed Doors. …