Last month, a student at Canada's McGill University was compelled to apologize for sharing a fairly recognizable gif of President Obama kicking down the door after a White House press conference that originated from a video bit on the Tonight Show. Brian Farnan, a member of the student government, sent the gif as part of a weekly e-mail in October about midterm frustrations, and got hit with an "equity complaint" for racial insensitivity. One of the remedies for such a complaint, as the university's newspaper reports, is a public apology, which is what Farnan did, leading to widespread criticism that's causing the university to say it's reviewing its equity policies, which stress confidentiality for the accuser. Legal Insurrection picks up the apology via Facebook:
Oppression, as outlined in SSMU's Equity Policy, means the exercise of power by a group of people over another group of people with specific consideration of cultural, historical and living legacies. The image in question was an extension of the cultural, historical and living legacy surrounding people of color—particularly young men—being portrayed as violent in contemporary culture and media. By using this particular image of President Obama, I unknowingly perpetuated this living legacy and subsequently allowed a medium of SSMU's communication to become the site of a microaggression; for this, I am deeply sorry."
Setting aside for a moment the transparent use of a term like "microaggression" to impose onerous restrictions on speech, the public apology is completely oblivious to President Obama's actual aggressions, such as the kill list drone program, which may have killed more than a thousand civilians alone, using kill lists and policies that actually consider any military-age males (young men of color!) in a target zone as "militants," including, for example, the 16-year-old American son of Anwar al-Awlaki killed in a US drone strike. Obama certainly has a "living legacy" of violence, one that's an extension of the historical legacy of violent US foreign policies prosecuted by American presidents, not just Bush's but nearly all of the 42 presidents that preceded Obama, something you probably didn't hear trumpeted on President's Day.
The policy that produced such a tone-deaf apology is also a an extension, a natural product of a country with particularly heavy restrictions on free speech for a democracy. Last year, for example, Ontario's human rights tribunal dismissed a complaint against the heteronormativity of A&W's "Burger Family" not because it's problematic for a government to be involved in accepting or acting on such complaints, but because it was filed by a man posing as a "radical lesbian feminist." Stephen Harper, now Canada's prime minister, once called Canada's system of speech-restricting human rights tribunals "totalitarian." As prime minister, however, he admits that there's a problem but also that he has no idea what the solution should be. Maclean's suggested repealing Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act*, which deals with material that could "expose a person or persons to hatred" by creating a "conciliatory" system exempt from due process that nevertheless levies fines and penalties. Depressingly for Canadians interested in free speech, repeal even of that section would still leave has left a bevy of other laws on the book that regulate and restrict speech north of the border.
*UPDATE: Section 13 was actually repealed last year.