Why Carpay’s Comment About the Rainbow Flag Matters

“History can familiarize, and it can warn.” – Timothy Snyder

On Friday Mr and Ms Soapbox attended Rachel Notley’s Octoberfest in November event.  In her speech, Premier Notley mentioned that Jason Kenney, the leader of the UCP, is still supporting John Carpay, who in a speech at a conference organized by The Rebel drew a link between a rainbow flag and flags emblazoned with a swastika or a hammer and sickle.

John Carpay is a lawyer and the president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.  He takes on cases for pro-life activists, Christian academies, parents opposed to laws forbidding schools from outing kids who join gay-straight alliances and the like.

In his speech he said, “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hammer and sickle for communism, or whether it’s the swastika for Nazi Germany, or whether it’s a rainbow flag, the underlying thing is a hostility towards individual freedoms.”

His remark caused a furor in the media and he issued a statement apologizing for unintentionally drawing a broad comparison between the rainbow flag and the flags representing communist and Nazi ideologies, frankly it’s difficult to see what other interpretation he had intended.


John Carpay is a friend and supporter of Jason Kenney and the UCP.  Kenney called Carpay’s comments vile and offensive, but demurred from revoking Carpay’s UCP membership because such decisions were the responsibility of the UCP Board.  Kenney was not troubled by his lack of authority when he ordered the UCP to revoke the membership of a party member linked to anti-Semitic and white supremacist social media messages.   Perhaps Kenney’s power as leader is inversely related to the status of the UCP member making the offensive comment.

There’s a good reason why the NDP and other Albertans won’t let this go.

Lessons on tyranny

In his book On Tyranny Timothy Snyder says while we’re not wiser than the 20th century Europeans who witnessed democracies slide into fascism, Nazism, or communism, we have the advantage of being able to learn from their experience.

Snyder sets out 20 lessons we can learn from the past.  It’s shocking to see three of them in play in the context of the actions of conservative leaders in Alberta and Ontario.

Lesson #1 Defend institutions:  Institutions like the courts, the media, and unions, and a respect for norms and the rule of law are essential for a robust democracy because simply having a written constitution and a strongly worded bill of rights do not guarantee the protection of our rights and freedoms.

Ontario premier Doug Ford threw respect for norms and the rule of law out the window when he announced he’d use “the notwithstanding clause” to protect his decision to reduce the size of Toronto city council.

The notwithstanding clause is the nuclear option under the Charter.  It was meant to be deployed as a last resort when due process and political solutions have been exhausted.  It is not intended to settle a trivial matter like how many city councilors should work at City Hall.

If Ford can get away with using the notwithstanding clause on a meaningless matter like the size of city council then Kenney, who supported Ford’s position, will not hesitate to invoke the notwithstanding clause to “protect the fundamental freedoms” of people like John Carpay by stripping LBGTQ+ people of the rights and freedoms guaranteed to them under Alberta’s Human Rights Act and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Lesson #2 Do not teach power what it can do:  Snyder says an authoritarian leader won’t pass laws compromising fundamental freedoms unless he knows the people will support him.  The people, hoping to curry favor, show the leader in advance of him passing any laws that they’re prepared to compromise certain values or principles as long as the negative consequences of the compromise fall on someone else.

Snyder calls this anticipatory obedience.  In the Carpay example it would play out like this:  Carpay says a government that protects LBGTQ+ rights is totalitarian, therefore that government must be replaced with one that doesn’t protect such rights.  Kenney says this is a vile comment but refuses to strip Carpay of his UCP membership.  Kenney’s supporters defend his decision to keep Carpay in the party, thereby demonstrating they agree with Carpay’s position, then they go one step further:  a Rebel Media correspondent warned Kenney that if he revokes Carpay’s membership he and 600 UCP members would dump their memberships.

This is an extreme example of anticipatory obedience because the base is telling Kenney if he doesn’t fall into line it will cost him votes and maybe even the election.

This also raises a troubling question:  who is running the party, Kenney or Rebel Media and the 600?

Lesson #3 Watch for dangerous symbols:  Snyder gives two examples:  Stalin’s propaganda portrayed prosperous farmers as pigs:  pigs have no rights, they’re slaughtered at abattoirs.  Trump called women slobs, pigs and dogs and said it was okay to sexually assault them:  they are lesser beings not worthy of protection.

It is extremely inflammatory to say the rainbow flag, like a Nazi flag or a Communist flag, symbolizes a hostility towards individual freedoms and to imply that a government that protects the rights of LBGTQ+ people is on a par with the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.

The greatest danger…?

Snyder says authoritarian leaders create an emergency or exceptional situation to entice citizens to give up their freedoms for the illusion of security or stability.

There is no threat or danger that would justify the curtailment of LBGTQ+ rights so Carpay had to go big and vague.  He said the biggest danger to Canada isn’t the Alberta government or the federal government or even social justice warriors; it was “self-censorship”.  Self-censorship?   

Carpay argued “the slogans” of diversity, equity, tolerance and inclusion have been abused to undermine free society and our fundamental freedoms.  He didn’t say who was doing the abusing or how our fundamental freedoms have been abused, all he did was confirm to his audience that their pain is real and it’s caused by a totalitarian government protecting a bunch of people waving a rainbow flag.

This is garbage, but Kenney’s decision to pander to his base by refusing to chuck Carpay out of the party, and his support of Doug Ford’s abuse of the notwithstanding clause indicates that life under a Kenney government will be very unpleasant for Albertans who value their fundamental freedoms and failed to stand up for them when they had the chance.

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24 Responses to Why Carpay’s Comment About the Rainbow Flag Matters

  1. Emily Kitsch says:

    Wow, this is scary. I can’t even really put into words how scared and awful this post makes me feel as a woman in the LGBTQ+ community, but I wanted to comment and thank you for drawing attention to this. It’s incredibly upsetting and messed up to say the least. I’ve been very unsettled and worried about the politics in our country over the last little while for many reasons and this serves as a reminder that even when I’m finding it too hard to look, or am distracted by what is going on over in the States, I still need to pay attention to what is going on here at home, because it’s way too important to ignore.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Thank you Emily. One of the lessons Timothy Snyder shares is that when a government attacks a minority group, everyone has to fight back. The LGBTQ+ community has many allies. We will stand with you and fight to preserve your rights.

  2. Dwayne says:

    Susan: Thanks for another great blog. The conclusion is that the UCP is showing their true colours. I have a mixed Slavic background, with three grandparents who came from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. Many people had a difficult life under Joseph Stalin. Many people were persecuted under his rule, and also perished, from his bad policies. Those that lived through that, and were fortunate enough to come to Canada, or another country, only have bad memories of that dark time in their past. The Holodomor and the Katyn massacre are prime examples of Joseph Stalin’s awful reign. There was a UCP MLA who compared Rachel Notley’s carbon tax to the Holodomor (the Ukrainian famine, induced by Joseph Stalin, in the early 1930s). He got those comments published in a local newspaper. I wonder what would have happened if this MLA made those comments to Ed Stelmach, (who has Ukrainian born grandparents), when he gave Alberta North America’s first carbon tax, around 10 years ago? Jason Kenney called a university of Lethbridge professor a communist, for asking him a legitimate question at a forum. Now, we see John Carpay’s foolish comments. I also had a school libraian who was from Poland and was interned in a concentration camp with her mother, during WW 2. She was in a local newspaper, many years ago, and said the Holocaust is not a joke. I also had an uncle who was born near the Polish/Ukrainian border and who was captured by the Nazis as a teenager, during WW 2, and was forced to join their army. He was slighty injured, but survived that. However, before he left Eastern Europe, he was in rough shape, and lived on some type of wild plant to survive. He told me that plant (saccharin) helped save his life, while others around him perished from hunger. Many other people have had similar experiences. Why are these people in the UCP, not being kept under more control and scrutiny? Doug Ford is also not being respectful to the citizens. He has done revenge moves on the city of Toronto, based on how he and his younger brother Rob were treated. The Notwithstanding Clause was not created to undermine democracy. Next, we see Maxime Bernier and his platform for his new political party. This is another politician that people must be wary of. I heard that he wants is less restrictions on things people say. That is scary. What we say can and should have consequences, if it is the wrong things. We were taught this at a very early age. Yet, there are people who endorse Maxime Bernier, despite his carelessness recklessness in the CPC. It is doubtful, that the UCP, Doug Ford and Maxime Bernier have cut ties with The Rebel and their “journalists”, past and present, including Faith Goldy, a failed mayoral candidate for Toronto. It’s also sad how there were people who wanted her as mayor of Toronto, despite her being a racist, and hanging out with racist groups. Thankfully, she did not become mayor of Toronto. She (and her blind supporters) think it was undemocratic for her to be denied a seat at election debates. Proven racists deserve no seat at election debates. She wants to sue Bell Media and others for this. When people vote, they need to vote wisely and very carefully. They did it with Faith Goldy, now they have to do it with the UCP, Doug Ford (in the next Ontario provincial election), and with Maxime Bernier. Ralph Klein’s bad antics, from what he said and did, finally sunk his political career. The Wildrose suffered defeat by what their candidates said and did. Let’s see what happens to the UCP, Doug Ford and Maxime Bernier. What they are doing is not acceptable or any good.

    • Dwayne, thank you for these incredible examples of the reality of living under a dictatorship, they highlight why it was so wrong for Carpay to link the rainbow flag, a symbol of freedom, with a Nazi or communist flag, symbols of oppression.
      You raised a very interesting point when you said the Wildrose lost when their candidates were exposed as racists and homophobes. Seems to me, people are giving Kenney the benefit of the doubt, (lord knows why) but it’s going to cost him in the long run because he’ll lose control of the party, just like the Republicans lost control to the Tea Party.
      It was only a few months ago that Kenney refused to accept a UCP policy resolution requiring schools to out kids who joined GSAs because he “holds the pen” when it comes to drafting the platform. Now Kenney tut tuts Carpay’s comment but won’t yank Carpay’s membership. Seems to me Kenney’s pen has run dry and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep his base happy.

  3. J.E. Molnar says:

    Jason Kenney presents a number of worrisome problems for Albertans comfortable with a new and changing progressive province.

    Fear of health care privatization, increases to funding for private schools, axing consumer protections and climate mitigation measures, brutal cuts to public services, a rollback on labour legislation, jeopardizing LGBTQ rights and freezing minimum wage increases are just a few of the regressive steps Kenney and his party have floated as trial balloons.

    Add to that Kenney’s dark money sources of leadership funding, plus friends and allies like John Carpay, Ezra Levant and Stephen Harper and you get a pretty good indication of what severely normal Albertans will be voting against in 2019 to defeat this demagogic megalomaniac. Let’s hope all Albertans are paying attention.

    • J.E. you’ve done a masterful job of summarizing the UCP agenda, I especially love your characterization of Kenney. People say he’s a shrewd politician but I don’t think that’s true. He did okay under Harper because Harper called the shots. It’s easy to be a good #2 when you’ve got a strong leader, but he’s a poor #1 now that he has to think for himself. In fact all he can do is rehash the same old conservative ideology (low taxes, less red tape, and push coal and oil sands into a world that’s transitioning away from it). There’s nothing new or original there.
      But back to leadership here’s a case in point: Harper led a national party, the merged Alliance/Reform/PC, and managed to keep bozo eruptions to a minimum for decades. Kenney is leading a much smaller provincial party which has already splintered twice in 18 months (the Filldebrandt party and WR 2.0) and is beholden to the far right who have become more bold in telling him what he can and cannot do.
      Not a good look for the man who’s trying to convince us he can do a better job than Rachel Notley (who has leadership skills most CEOs would kill for).

    • GoinFawr says:

      My understanding is that “increases funding for private schools” effectively saves the taxpayer money, while providing a more diversified educational environment for parents and students.

      eg. those parents who can barely afford to put their kids in a private school now, would be forced to put them in the public system should the funding for private schools end, and then the taxpayer would be held to covering 100% of their education, rather than a fraction of that….

      according to AISCA, despite this funding private schools have saved the taxpayer $750 million in the last five years alone.

      And these institutions still are obligated to cover the approved curriculum, regardless of ‘ethos’

      So, rather than ‘taking’ from the public system, private schools add resources to it.

      When it comes to education, public or private, it’s money well spent regardless, IMO.

      • GoinFawr says:

        susan, entirely off-topic, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the Dennis Oland conviction by jury, I mean the overturning ‘could have been lying about the jacket’ appeal, I mean retrial by jury, I mean mistrial, I mean retrial by judge alone….?

      • GoinFawr, I haven’t followed the Dennis Oland trial close enough to render an opinion. It sounds like a bit of a mess. Let me take a look at the coverage and get back to you. 🙂

      • Fred Brook says:

        The best school system in the world is in Finland where they have NO private schools. If prosperous parents have their children in the public system they will do the their best to make it a good system. When they are allowed to pull their children out they then can ignore all the problems that arrive and the public system starves. If they are allowed to remove their children from the public system then they can at least pay for it themselves.

      • Fred and GoinFawr: The debate over whether Alberta private schools save the tax payer money is an interesting one. It can be viewed from two perspectives (1) it’s a cost savings (private students get 70% of the budget per child and the remaining 30% is put back into the public system), or (2) it’s a subsidy. Private schools can cost up to $20,000 a year in tuition, not surprisingly this buys the privileged few a very good education, but the only way many of the privileged few can afford it is by way of a significant subsidy from the public purse (70% of what it would cost to educate their kid in the public system). I wonder how many parents would send their kids to private school if they had to pay the entire cost themselves. It’s similar to the argument for private healthcare. People are in favour of private healthcare as long as it is publicly funded and they just have to pay a top-up, not the entire cost. They’d have a different view if they had to pay for the whole thing themselves. In fact they may be prepared to pay higher taxes to ensure that they had access to high quality public healthcare and public education.
        I’m with Fred on this one.

  4. Sam Gunsch says:

    The return of the freedom to discriminate is the actual ‘freedom’ that Carpay and his followers are advocating for. A reality-based election slogan maybe: ‘Elect UCP/Kenney and you too can once again be free to discriminate, especially according to your religious views.’

    • You’ve nailed it Sam. That’s exactly what the freedom from “self-censorship” stands for. It’s usually accompanied by a disdain for “political correctness”. However, in my experience when someone says, “this may not be politically correct, but blah, blah, blah” The “blah blah” is usually a racist, homophobic, sexist or xenophobic comment.
      There’s a reason why hate crimes are up 31% in the US since Trump started his presidential bid.

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    Anyone that has had a conversation, even if short, with John Carpay, like I did, knows that he meant what he said and he knows it.
    I know that we live in a country with freedom of speech but a lawyer with John’s beliefs is dangerous and for the life of me, understand how that is possible.
    Jason Kenney did not act because he is not much different and he also knows that it would have serious consequences to his objectives in Alberta.
    I hope he does expel John but I do not believe he is that courageous.

    • Bob Raynard says:

      Carlos, I don’t know if you also follow David Climhaga’s ‘Alberta Poltics’ blog, but it is also very much worth looking at. In today’s column David writes about how the social conservatives are rallying their troops to defend John Carpay. David also provides a link to a Don Braid column in which Braid argues it was the anti abortion lobby that got Kenney elected UCP leader over Brian Jean.


      Reading about this whole issue just leaves me baffled at Kenney’s short-sightedness. To gain leadership of the party he courted a segment of the population that will become, or has already become, a real political liability.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Bob Thank you for the information – I do occasionally read David Climenhaga but I think that a blog without much discussion and where the writer does not bother with what is posted is someone preaching to me and I have had enough of that for many years. Susan has a great blog here and she takes the time to respond and give some feedback to the people that care about her posts. That is what we need more than anything today. People are tired of being told what is right. Politics are completely outdated. We are using methods that served well in a time where the social framework was completely different.
        As a result I believe that we have a wrong perception of reality because we really barely talk to each other and the political class moves along with their bad habits and have distorted our democracy and are fundamentally unable to make any meaningful change.
        People are open to try anything to get out of this rut. The NDP, although obviously better than anything we have had recently, failed miserably in understanding that change. It is no longer just required, it is urgent if we are not going to have more Donald Trumps chewing us out for dinner.
        If Jason Kenney takes over in the next election then we will basically be done for a full generation and probably out of a more creative type of society for a long time.

        I sent a message earlier but for some reason went nowhere. Susan if you by any chance got it please deleted because it would be more or less the same as this one.

      • Thank you Carlos for your kind comments about this blog. I think you make a very important point about people barely talking to each other. I’d add that when we do talk we tend to fly off in a rage pretty quickly because we’ve been conditioned to talk to each other in headlines (memes) and we’ve forgotten how to listen and dig a little deeper to figure out what the other guy is really saying.
        Dave Gordon wrote an interesting piece on this for the Globe and Mail. He said political discussion has turned into a blood sport where the few rational voices are drowned out by the screamers. You see this in Question Period, on TV talk shows, and on main stream and social media. Eventually people get frustrated and refuse to participate. That’s why I love the comments I get on this blog. They’re thoughtful and backed up with evidence when appropriate. One of my law school profs told me he likes to read the comments because he always learns something.
        Here’s the link to the Globe article https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-reality-of-modern-american-political-discussion/

        Also I didn’t see your earlier message Carlos, I’ve been having a few problems with WordPress lately. Sometimes it eats things for no reason at all. If one of your messages gets stuck please feel free to resend it, If it turns out to be a duplicate I can delete it.

        Thanks for your continued support Carlos!

      • Carlos and Bob I agree with you that Kenney is intentionally courting a segment of the population that many of us view with horror. I’m becoming increasingly alarmed that in the past, politicians who sided with religious right, anti-abortion, anti-LBGTQ+, white supremacist groups suffered in the polls (Danielle Smith lost the election to Alison Redford because she would’t disavow over the “lake of fire” candidate), but now Kenney is getting away with simply brushing aside the public’s concerns without actually getting rid of people like Carpay. That tells me prejudice is alive and well in Alberta and after a steady diet of Trumpism, Albertans (and opportunistic politicians) think it’s okay to express hateful views in the guise of freedom of expression.
        As Carlos points out Carpay said what he meant and meant what he said. Carpay was a director of the Canadian Tax Federation, he ran for the federal Reform Party and the Wildrose Party, and his charity, The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, receives significant donations from Peter Munk’s charitable foundation which also funds conservative institutions like The Fraser Institute and the CD Howe Institute, the JCCF takes on odious cases in the name of freedom of expression.
        Unless we fight this we will become as divided and polarized as the USA.

  6. jerrymacgp says:

    Swastika-wearing Nazis herded LGBTQ Germans and other Europeans into concentration camps with pink triangles sewn onto their ragged clothing. Hammer & sickle-waving Soviet Communists sent LGBTQ Russians and other Soviet citizens to the gulags. Carpay’s comparing the Pride flag to those two symbols of evil is a hateful affront to basic human decency and deserves to be denounced in the strongest possible terms.

    As for Jason Kenney, if he isn’t fully against Carpay and his ilk on this matter, he must then be assumed to be with them.

  7. GoinFawr says:

    @ Fred Brook, re: “The best school system in the world is in Finland where they have NO private schools.”

    I agree the Finns really do have an excellent handle on education. Maybe you should take a closer look…

    • GoinFawr says:

      Re: “The debate over whether Alberta private schools save the tax payer money is an interesting one. It can be viewed from two perspectives (1) it’s a cost savings (private students get 70% of the budget per child and the remaining 30% is put back into the public system), or (2) it’s a subsidy. ”

      I’m in definitely in camp (1), since in lieu of access to anything else those same students would have to have 100% of the price of their educations covered by the taxpayer, rather than 70%. So if it is a “subsidy”, it’s still less of a ‘subsidy’ than the one every public student receives. And as I have noted private schools are just as responsible for covering gov’t mandated curriculum as are public schools. For that matter, regarding the example of a system we all seem to be able to agree is “the best”, private schools in Finland are granted the SAME government funds per student as public schools, and are required to use the same admissions standards and provide the same services as public schools; this seems to work for them.

      “I wonder how many parents would send their kids to private school if they had to pay the entire cost themselves”

      Obviously a lot less, especially since in that case “the entire cost” would be in addition to taxes they pay toward a system their kids would receive no benefits from; or did you mean those families using private schools would be exempt from contributing altogether to the public education system through their taxes? If that is the case I think the number would be much less clear. Though that is the wrong way to go about it, in my opinion, since not ‘having any skin in the game’ would make it more difficult for the public to justify mandating important curricular goals in private schools.

      Your analogy to health care is interesting, but I feel like you are comparing apples and oranges.

  8. Dave says:

    My first thought about what Carpay said, is that was sure a strange and poor comparison to make between the hammer and sickle, the swastika and the rainbow flag and I think not one that many people would make. My second thought is that this was not accidental or unintentional at all. Carpay is a lawyer with a long history of political activism and commentary on the very social conservative side of politics, not someone’s uncle who just had too much to drink at the Christmas party and misspoke. My third thought was I bet Kenney and the UCP will do nothing about it.

    I think Carpay actually speaks for a core social conservative group that makes up a significant part of the UCP and Kenney’s base, so I don’t think Kenney can discipline or expel him without upsetting a number of his own key supporters. Given some of the things Kenney has said over the years, I wouldn’t be surprised he secretly agrees with Carpay to some degree and the brief outrage he displayed for the TV cameras was mostly just for show. After all, actions speak even louder than words.

    • Well said Dave. Your prediction that Kenney and the UCP won’t do anything about Carpay has been proven correct–it’s yesterday’s news and Kenney is busy distracting the public with other misinformation. Carpay is not going anywhere for the reasons you set out.
      I find it bizarre that the far right continue to associate the NDP and minorities like the LBGTQ+ community with Nazis. Remember George Clark’s rally to topple the NDP government. It was going to be a “kudatah” and included at least one large cardboard sign bearing a swastika to indicate what…that the NDP government was a totalitarian dictatorship? Who knows, these guys haven’t a clue.

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