Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

Under Threat

Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things—thoughts, ideas, opinions.” Paulo Coelho  

Years ago, my husband took a certain photograph of my father and me that reflected what I had been taught to do my whole life: never shy away from a good discussion.

In the picture we stood facing each other as swordfighters from another time, our concentration intense and focused. I saw the vein in my neck, our mouths open and of course, we were both pointing a finger at each other. These, along with our words, were our swords.  

I was reminded of that picture this week after receiving this letter of apology from the Executive Director of the Writers Union of Canada. The letter apologized for an opinion piece by the magazine’s editor, Hal Niedzviecki. I wish I could find Mr. Niedzviecki’s editorial on line so I could include it in this blog, but it has been removed from the Writers Union magazine. I have my own paper copy and several articles written by a number of newspapers and magazines that quote his article entitled, Winning the Appropriation Prize.

The Toronto Star piece outlines what was said and who took exception and why. Then there are the articles in response, including a piece by Jonathan Kay in the National Post and another by Elizabeth Renzetti in the Globe and Mail.

And of course I had to add my two cents, writing both to the Executive Director of the Writers Union and my regional representative. As someone who has an opinion about everything and values dialogue, I couldn’t help myself.

Disappointed by the union’s reaction doesn’t begin to explain how I felt about this situation. First of all, Mr. Niedzviecki wrote an opinion piece, plain and simple. And opinions should be shared and discussed openly, not stifled. How else do we learn from each other? And really what did he say: write and explore what you don’t know, help others understand, and the reader will be the final judge. Oh, the horrors of sharing such an opinion. Sure, the use of the word, appropriation comes with a great deal of emotion and controversy, but isn’t discussion the best way to come to some shared understanding? As Stephen Covey used to say, first seek to understand, then to be understood.

Secondly, the union’s apology didn’t outline the complaints or provide much context. How can anyone discuss the matter without first considering the problem?

Finally, I am not a fan of censorship or others telling me what I can view, discuss or read. I can make up my own mind, thank you. Sure, there’s a limit. Hate speech, pornography, violence is that threshold for me and these things are appropriately dealt with by our laws. This particular article did not tread into any of these areas.

In the discussions with the union I’ve had this week, I have come to understand their position a bit more. It was good of them to call, listen to my feedback and for me to hear them out. This should have happened before they thought about pulling Mr. Niedzviecki’s piece. The conversation has not changed my opinion. The Writers Union dropped the ball and with it jeopardized our freedom and right to open discourse.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey