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THOMAS CRANMER: Violent Suppression of Free Speech: NZ Transgender Activists Assault Kellie-Jay Keen

An unruly mob in Albert Park has catapulted New Zealand into the global headlines with ugly images that may become iconic in the debate about the dangers of transgenderism.


Bravo Kellie-Jay. You did the job that needed to be done.


For all the talk in the days preceding Keen’s arrival in New Zealand of countering free speech with ‘more free speech’, that was never going to happen. We don’t have The Oxford Union or Speaker’s Corner. That’s not how we debate ideas down under.


The die was cast from the moment our Immigration Minister, Michael Wood, announced that Keen would be permitted to enter the country despite, in his words, her “inflammatory, vile and incorrect world views”. The Minister declared that he would prefer it if Keen “never set foot in New Zealand” and added, “I find many of her views repugnant, and am concerned by the way in which she courts some of the most vile people and groups around including white supremacists.”


The message had been sent - by all means, come to New Zealand, but you’ll be on your own. Keen’s hotel cancelled her booking as she was mid-flight to New Zealand, and her security arrangements were also cancelled without explanation.


When Keen arrived at Albert Park on Saturday morning she was met by an unruly mob of activists hellbent on preventing her from speaking. Exactly who they were, it’s difficult to tell. Amongst the transgender rights activists were at least five Members of Parliament, mixing with autogynophiles, fetishists, so-called ‘allies’ and thugs spoiling for a fight.


No sooner had Keen walked into the Band Rotunda in the corner of Albert Park, than she was doused in tomato soup. Within minutes the barriers were thrown aside as the mob encircled the Rotunda in ugly scenes that have now made their way around the globe on social media. It was an increasingly volatile situation.


Keen had no chance of speaking. Her mere presence in the Rotunda was enough to enrage the mob. But her point had been made. The same groups demanding recognition as women for the purpose of such things as sport and healthcare as well as access to women’s-only spaces were the same angry mob violently assaulting a relatively small group of women in a usually quiet park in central Auckland.

The police loitered by the perimeter of the park, staring at their boots or their phones as the chaos unfolded meters away from them. But then again their job was not to keep the two groups apart, or keep the peace. They weren’t going to interfere with the mob justice that was being meted out in the park. Instead, they were no more than taxi-drivers, waiting for Keen to force her way out of the angry crowd and onto Princes Street where the police obliged with a lift to her hotel and then the airport.


New Zealand’s governing parties and media could not have been more closely aligned with the thugs. Reminiscent, in fact, of Mussolini’s Italy.


It was shocking to watch and images of those fifteen minutes have now been viewed many millions of times and have been commented on by international media and personalities with audiences many times the population of New Zealand.


We have indeed contributed to the global debate about transgender rights - but only by showcasing how intolerant this group is, and how violently they react to ideas that challenge the perceived orthodoxy in our South Pacific hermit kingdom. It has cast a spotlight not only on the violent undertones that exist within parts of the transgender movement; but also on New Zealand’s own appalling record of violence, particularly with regard to domestic violence.


Let’s not kid ourselves. Yes, there is free speech in New Zealand, but there is very little robust debate about difficult or controversial topics. Discussion is routinely closed down by slurs, stigmatizing language and official complaints. Local media often avoids politically or socially sensitive topics.

For instance, when seven academics wrote a letter to the Listener in June 2021 to question some elements of mātauranga Māori they were subject to much unwarranted criticism and a number of official complaints. However, after the controversy generated international attention, the University of Auckland and the Royal Society tried to diffuse the situation. In early 2022 it was announced that Auckland University would hold a symposium in the first quarter of 2022 to debate mātauranga Māori in “a more respectful, open-minded, fact-based exchange of views”. Did it happen? Of course not.


Last month, the British biologist and public academic Richard Dawkins was back in New Zealand for a series of talks and he again discussed the topic of mātauranga Māori. But rather than take the opportunity to debate Dawkins and explain mātauranga Māori to a broader audience, New Zealand academics waited until he had left the country before embarking on days of expletive-ridden social media posts.


Ask Dawkins or Keen about free speech in New Zealand. Ask them how intellectually curious we are. Now, thanks to an unruly mob in Albert Park, many millions of people around the globe have seen how tolerant New Zealand is when it comes to engaging in public discussion.


At the very least, if politicians and leaders of institutions don’t want to pick sides in social issues, they should provide the space in which proper debate can be had by those willing to discuss these issues - whether in a lecture theater or a park.





Thomas Cranmer is a pseudonym. He is a lawyer with over 25 years experience in some of the world's biggest law firms. He divides his time between the UK and NZ. You can read and support Cranmer's Substack here

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