The death of Allan Borovoy deprives Canada of a unique voice speaking in favour of liberty, but without the constraints of political correctness.
The human rights industry in Canada has often shown undue deference to fashionable causes, whatever they might be for the moment. Allan Borovoy, long-time president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, never let himself be swayed by fashion. As a lawyer, writer and activist, he put individual liberty first and in particular defended freedom of expression, which is always under attack. Unfortunately, Canadian human rights activists are all in favour of freedom of expression, but not when their favourite cause is at issue. Allan Borovoy was a lawyer who put into practise the principle enunciated by the great philosopher of modern democracy, John Rawls, that liberty must be given priority over other values.
Not that Allan Borovoy was a man of the right. He was a life-long social democrat who at one point ran for the NDP and always believed in social justice. He would not, however, sacrifice freedom. An example of this is his hawkish-anti-communism which was not always looked upon with favour by the main-stream left. He refused as well to sacrifice freedom on the altar of feminism, prudishness or repression of racist speech. He also believed that communist views, which he loathed were protected by freedom of expression. Needless to say, he believed in the equality of genders and races, in democracy and in good taste. Unlike so many of us, he could draw a distinction between his opinions and state-sponsored prohibition.
Allan Borovoy contributed more than most active politicians to the Canadian achievements in human rights – our powerful Charter, the absence of capital punishment, the principled judiciary. The Civil Liberties Association headed by him intervened in many of the leading cases and helped establish the principle which now guide Canadian lawyers. It also presented briefs and opinions on legislation which has human rights implications. Allan Borovoy’s influence was felt not only in his home province of Ontario, but throughout the country and was enhanced by his very impressive publications.
What we must learn from Allan Borovoy is the coexistence of two permanent dangers. On the one hand, the absence of human rights legislation and enforcement leads to the type of injustice, inequality and absence of power which was endemic in Canadian society throughout our history. On the other hand, dogmatism and excessive zeal in the promotion of these human ights can also lead to absurdities and abuses of power. Allan Borovoy was vigilant in denouncing those new abuses and he was one of the first to do so. He will be sorely missed.