On Values Screening

In conversation with an advocate for values screening recently, I posed the question “Why do you suppose it’s unconstitutional to punish anyone for thinking non-conforming thoughts (as distinct from the legitimate legal strategy of punishing harmful conduct)?” The answer includes at least several elements.

The reason is that it is loathsome and unhealthy for people with power to try to restrict the thoughts of others. There is no end of the categories of thought that could be exposed to such punishment. We might start by excluding people from entry to Canada if they stand with China, Russia and other dictatorships in supporting Venezuelan dictator Madura. We could exclude anyone who thinks the U.S. stands for democracy. We could exclude Communists, atheists, people who believe in God, socialists, gays, Zionists, Christians, Muslims, flat-earthers, climate deniers, carbon tax supporters, deficit spending advocates, opponents of resource extraction, and so forth. We could determine that everyone from Arabic Middle Eastern countries hates Israel and that everyone from Israel hates Arabs, and exclude members of either of those groups. We could exclude anyone who believes parents should be free to choose the type of education their children receive, and anyone who believes that every human being possesses equal worth and dignity.

All of these ideas have been deemed “un-Canadian” by some people and groups in Canada because their interests and claims lead them to oppose the targeted ideas or those who hold them.

It goes without saying that Canadians who agree with any proscribed worldview will be disadvantaged by the exclusion of people who share their worldview. Not only will they be deprived of additional numbers of adherents, but they will feel marginalized and indeed will be fearful of more repressive measures against those who share their thoughts.

Less obviously, even Canadians who might be indifferent to the proscribed worldview will be disadvantaged, perhaps without even knowing it, because they will be deprived of the advantage gained from fostering an idea-rich public discourse. Perhaps good ideas might be generated from those who are excluded because their thoughts are proscribed.

Further, perhaps the worst consequence of thought proscription is that it will simply cause many people to dishonestly or hypocritically disguise their true thoughts in order to avoid the punishment imposed by those in power who seek to dictate conforming thoughts. Ironically, people with the integrity to stand up for their beliefs will be exposed to the punishment of exclusion from entry (or whatever other punishment those with power impose) and those whose integrity forbids them to lie will suffer the punishment. Liars and hypocrites will easily pass the test. Over time, this will further degrade the morality of our society.

The last, of course, can be the consequence of any law but it is too high a price to pay simply to try to impose upon people a monolithic worldview held by people with power.

You might think that, once legitimized, such a power could be confined only to persons seeking to enter the country. A German Pastor, whose name was Martin Niemoller, some decades ago pointed out the inevitable tendency of such measures to be expanded toward any people deemed to be a threat to those with power. He is reputed to have devised a poem to express this:

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Those who advocate values screening, including those who support Justin Trudeau’s value testing in the Canada Summer Jobs Program and those who support the Law Society of Ontario’s attestation clause, would do well to remember Niemoller’s wise and poignant warning. You might be next on the list, given a change of regime.