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Fighting The Free Speech Paradox

“It is a paradox that every dictator has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. Immediately on attaining power each dictator has suppressed all free speech except his own.”
-Herbert Hoover

There were two columns in the National Post today which at first glance seem to be unrelated but to my mind were very much connected.

The first was a detailed and reasoned commentary, by Andrew Coyne, on the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in its ruling on Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott; a case in which the Human Rights Commission was appealing a lower court’s ruling that found for Mr. Whatcott in a hate speech case.

NoFreeSpeechI’m not going to get into the details of the case, which was about Mr. Whatcott disseminating highly inflammatory rhetoric about homosexuality. There is ample information about it all over the Internet but suffice it to say that the lower court got it right. While Mr. Whatcott’s mutterings and musings are just plain offensive for most reasonable people, we live in a country where citizens have the right to say stupid and even repugnant things.

Just spend a few minutes on the social media of your choice to see a few examples of just how stupid and repugnant some people can be.

That is the essence of free speech, however, and it isn’t up to the individual to prove that they should not be allowed to voice those opinions; it is up to government and the courts to prove that there is justifiable reason to limit them. That is clearly stated in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a Human Rights Tribunal shouldn’t have the authority to undermine what is so clearly set out in that document.

The Court ruled that, “It is not necessary, that is, to show the material in question actually exposes anyone to hatred — only that it might.” In other words, the court has moved from actual harm to the possibility that just maybe there might be.

“Free speech is meant to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech, by definition, needs no protection.” -Neal Boortz

Our system of justice wasn’t established to deal with ‘what ifs’ but rather with ‘what is’.

In other words, the Supreme Court of Canada has drifted into the same attitude of Human Rights Tribunals which seek to ensure the rights of some by restricting the rights of all. This is becoming all too common and we are rapidly becoming a society that is less interested in the right to free speech than we are in the right to correct speech as defined by one group or another. We are throwing away our right to free voice our opinions in favour of our desire not to be offended by a few who abuse the right.

The second article was about our good friend Dr. David Suzuki, Canada’s leading global warming crusader, television personality and sanctimonious cult leader.

As reported, by Josh Visser, Dr. Suzuki refused to allow a journalist from Sun News Media to cover what was otherwise a public event at which he was only one of two participants.  This was, no doubt, due to the fact that Sun News has been somewhat critical of the good environmental guru in recent weeks and there is no love lost between Dr. Suzuki and the news organization.

The arrogance is palpable; the lack of respect for freedom of speech and freedom of the press indefensible.

“David Suzuki didn’t just refuse to speak to us. He refused to appear altogether, sending a handful of hostile event organizers to remove us from the premises.” – Jessica Hume, Sun News Media

Even the intervention of Green Party Leader, Elizabeth May, was insufficient to bring some semblance of common sense back from the brink on the edge of self-absorbed petulance.

This is the same David Suzuki who continuously tells young people to question everything, especially those in authority but apparently he only meant the authority of those he dislikes or with whom he disagrees. No one is permitted to challenge or question the Great Leader’s authority or pronouncements it seems.

It isn’t all that surprising. Free speech is under attack in Canada and less by government by us, the great unwashed.

We create the climate which makes it possible for others, including Human Rights Tribunals, student groups, activists and even now,fs2 our courts to limit what we can or cannot say. Quite frankly, it isn’t all that big a step to go from restricting free speech to limiting what we are and are not permitted to think; something we see happening more frequently on our university campuses.

That isn’t conservative paranoia nor is it some half-baked conspiracy theory. Look around. Free speech has been under attack for years by the same time Canadians who are all over social media demanding – well – free speech.

University campuses have become incredibly restrictive in what is or is not permitted in terms of free speech and not by university administrations but by students themselves. Students groups routinely block speech by those with whom they disagree including recently, an appearance at Ottawa University, by Israel’s Prime Minister.

At another university, a free speech wall, where students could write their opinions, was torn down by a gay activist because he didn’t agree with one of the comments. In other words, his feelings trumped the rights of all to freely express their opinions.

It is nothing less than one group or individual deciding what everyone else should be permitted to hear or that an individual or group should be permitted to speak. However the narrow minded wish to justify their actions, it is anything but respect for free speech.

“Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.”
-Salman Rushdie

Pro-abortion, anti-Israel and other groups are permitted to form clubs and organizations on campuses across the country to express their point of view. Pro-life, pro Israel and even, in some cases, Christian groups are routinely prevented from doing the same by those same students who are exercising ‘their’ right to free speech.

To understand the level of discrimination behind that thinking simply substitute the word ‘black’ or ‘Muslim’ for ‘Israel’ or ‘life’.

The irony is that many of the same people who speak out against bullying are themselves bullies and thugs when it comes to trampling the free speech rights of those with whom they disagree.

It’s the same thing online.

Voice an opinion that is not politically correct and within minutes you will be overwhelmed with attacks on everything from what you wrote to your character, your intellect and the colour of your hair. It is bullying at its worst designed to try and intimidate the offender into silence. Sometimes, when that doesn’t work, complaints are filed with the site administrators in an attempt to have the offending person’s account closed.

I see a significant amount of offensive comment online every day but it would never occur to me to try and silence the commenter. I can self-censor by simply unfollowing or ignoring stupidity and hateful speech.

And that’s the point in a free society. We all have the ability to censor what we deem wrong or offensive simply by ignoring it.

fs1When we move to censor those with whom we disagree to the point that we try to prevent them from speaking at all, it underscores how weak our confidence is in our own opinions and beliefs. It also drives the most dangerous ideas underground where they cannot be exposed by reasonable people for what they are – stupidity and hate speech.

When we block others from expressing their opinions, we set ourselves up to have our own freedom of speech denied to us at some point.

There is a lot of anger and hate around these days and that has led too many to the belief that the best way to address it is to suppress fundamental rights, especially the rights of those we deem to be wrong.

That isn’t how free speech works and it isn’t how a free and open society works either.

Nobody has a monopoly on the truth or more accurately, no one group’s interpretation of the truth should be the standard to which all are required to adhere. Nobody has a monopoly on the truth or more accurately, no one group’s interpretation of the truth should be the standard to which all are required to adhere. We have the right not only to think for ourselves and to form our own opinions but to voice those opinions however and wherever we choose – no matter how unpopular or politically incorrect they may be.

The fact that many these days form their opinions based on what’s trending, who’s popular or their own bias and prejudice doesn’t change that fundamental right nor is it a justification for undermining the right of free speech guaranteed to all in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Free speech isn’t just a right – it’s a responsibility and the responsibility falls to each of us to protect the right of free speech for all, especially those with whom we disagree. You cannot be a free people by limiting the freedom of some within your society. You cannot protect the rights of some by denying the same rights to others.

Human Rights Tribunals are a corruption of our legal system because they undermine the right of due process with a ‘presumed guilty unless and until proved otherwise’ approach. They should be abolished.

No student group should be permitted to prevent others from speaking on a university campus simply because they don’t agree with what will be said nor should they be able to prevent groups from forming with which they disagree. That is fascism.

“To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”
-Frederick Douglass

No activist group should be permitted to disrupt and prevent the meetings and assembly of those groups to which they are opposed. That is anarchy.

And no one, especially not a superficial, self-aggrandizing television personality with an over-inflated self-concept have the right to block selective news media from covering a public event simply because he is throwing an adolescent hissy-fit.

This is Canada where citizens are guaranteed the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. It is time for those who believe that those rights should only apply to them and those who think like them to give their heads a shake or in the alternative consider moving to a society that thinks more as they do.

North Korea, Iran and countries like them might be more to their liking. Those countries have a similar lack of respect for the rights of others as do the sanctimonious purveyors of truth who walk among us.

Free speech is the foundation on which all of our other rights and freedoms are built. When we undermine our right to speak freely, we erode the essence of our democracy and all of the rights it provides.

“When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.” - Christopher Dodd

 

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  • monkey

    If one reads the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I don’t think the decision was unreasonable. The reality is Canada has always generally put collective rights ahead of individual rights unlike in the United States. I may not like this, but the SCC deals with the law on the books, not what their personal opinions are. The problem is changing in is very difficult as Canadians in general have a far more collectivist rather than individualist mindset, otherwise group rights trump individual rights. That being said there is nothing to say the government cannot change these laws, but I am not sure how popular it would be.

    Also the ruling did in fact toss two of the four human rights complaints out. Our charter is not absolute, section 1 states there are reasonable limits, so it is more a matter of where they are. I think the best solution is to re-write hate laws to say only those that advocate violence, harassment, or intimidation or involve harassing another will be illegal. Simply expressing a dislike for a certain group is not enough.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads;

      “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
      (a) freedom of conscience and religion;
      (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
      (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
      (d) freedom of association.”

      You will note that it does not state that the individual only has those rights that are not offensive to others. These rights are guaranteed to evveryone. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal got it right. The newly reconstituted Supreme Court of Canada did not. I would remind you that this is the same court that recently set aside recent conviction of attempted murder by a woman who tried to hire a hit man to kill her husband. The court ruled that she was guilty but decided that extenuating circumstances were such that not only was her conviction set aside, the crown was issued an order preventing them from retrying her. The circumstances were unproven allegations of abuse by her spouse which the court decided without any evidence before it or in the original trial transcript, to accept as the primary reason for its decision.

      It is this lack of respect for our law and our Charter of Rights that is leading us down a very dangerous path. When those who are appointed to protect our laws are in fact, it’s greatest threat – we have no law, only random discretionary decisions.

      • monkey

        It is true this violated section 2, but section 1 allows for charter violations if a reasonable limit in a free and democratic society, thus in this case section 1 saved the law. The Oakes test is used whereby proportionality is applied so in this case the fact two of the four charges were thrown out, but two held seems like the decision was made based on the law. Lets remember unlike the US constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not absolute, all rights have limits. That does not prevent parliament from legalizing hate speech, it simply means the court cannot strike down such laws.

        • http://abearsrant.com thebear

          The charter is absolute. It’s the interpretation of it that is turning out not to be and too often that is being influenced by political correctness rather than a true balancing of conflicting rights.

    • Alain

      No Monkey, that is false that Canada has always generally put collective rights ahead of individual rights. Prior to Trudeau that was most certainly not the case. He is the one that changed it from individual rights dating back to the Magna Carta and beyond to collective (group) rights.

      • monkey

        Canada if you read its history may have not been based on group rights, but was always skeptical of individual rights. The Loyalists in the 1770s who came to Canada resented the American Republican ideals and much of Canada’s founding was on the idea of peace, order, and good government, not life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness like in the US. In Many ways Canada was founded on the idea that common good trumped individual interest. Obviously rights have changed over time, but Canadians have always been more deferential to authority than Americans.

        • http://abearsrant.com thebear

          As I mentioned in an earlier comment, all of that precedent changed with the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What used to be based on British Common Law and the BNA suddenly was based o new and very specific document that details the rights of the individual in a way that had not been done historically before.

  • dmorris

    Yes, another bad decision from the SCC, led by resident genius Beverly McLachlin,who holds us all in contempt.

    BUT,the problem of the HTC’s is not going to go away,and petitioning our politicians won’t work either. Pols are well aware the HRC’s are a powerful weapon to be used against anyone they fear. I’ve spoken to my MP about the HRC’s,and got the same impression as when I mentioned the threat from radical Muslims,a blank stare and change of subject.

    Politicians have said,and I get the feeling they believe,that Canadians hold their Human Rights very precious,and thus the tribunals that are supposed to uphold those rights are equally valued.

    Politicians wouldn’t even take on the Wheat Board until Harper came along,and the CWB’s lobbying power compared to the HRC industry is insignificant. Pols generally lack the courage to do anything that doesn’t have a very apparent net benefit to them.

    The only way to get rid of the HRC’s or have their authority curbed,is to use them against persons in political positions,such as the current HRC case in Saskatoon against the City Council.

    If enough pols are brought up on HR charges,perhaps then they’ll see the monster they allowed to roam in our midst.

    God,what a mess Trudeau created when he dreamed up this travesty. I assume he knew where it would lead,and approved of that ultimately,or maybe he was just a progressive trying to make a better world.

    He’s dead,so can’t explain his idea. No sense asking his boy.

  • Bert

    I really don’t know what to say in response to the decision by the SCC. It seems to me that the destruction of Canada is building momentum. First, we have the demise of the RCMP as an organization of integrity and justice with its members lying to obtain convictions, etc. Today’s RCMP is a far cry from what it was when I was a teenager and it is very sad to see that decline. Now, we have the Supreme Court playing politics. They are now officially a disgrace to anything judicial.

    May God have mercy on our country.

  • Alain

    Thank you for the excellent summary of the sad situation in which we find ourselves. This latest ruling by the “supremes” makes a mockery of justice and our long historical right to freedom of speech. Whatever one thinks of Mr. Whatcott and his ideas, the only important fact to consider is whether he was inciting violence against homosexuals and the answer is a big NO. In the ten years since he distributed his flyers there has not been a single incident of violence against homosexuals due to him or his flyers. That is the only restriction needed on free speech and it is already well covered in the criminal code.

    No only has PM Harper failed in the appointment of judges, he and his government has failed to end race based law enforcement and laws to return the country to the traditional rule of law. Furthermore people should be aware of all the various types of “sensitivity” training that judges undergo in order to ensure that they are “progressive” rather than competent judges. I disagree that what we need are more conservative judges, since I argue that what we need are judges doing their job of interpreting laws passed by Parliament and not legislating for Parliament.

  • Garrett

    Hi Bear
    You and a number of other writers in national papers as well the civil liberties orgs are correct. As much as this guy is a morally repugnant hypocrit he should have the right to voice his BS. His writings and beliefs are his own and he should be entitled to them. He hides behind some twisted form of Christian beliefs and Christian organizations would do well to counter his rhetoric with their own. I’m rather sure, or at least I hope, this guy makes other Christians put their head in their hands and think, “Oh my God!”.

    Is he spewing hatred? I would suggest his beliefs border on hatred but hating shouldn’t be illegal, and as much as he is a repugnant human he should be entitled to free speech.

    Free speech is a double edged sword and the courts ruling isore in line with political correctness than our freedoms. This was a poor ruling.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      I think people like this become more dangerous when we don’t know what they’re thinking ans saying. Driving repugnant ideas underground only strengthens them. Bringing them out in the open where they can refuted and even mocked is not only the true test of a free society, it is it’s greatest strength and protection from hate.

      • Garrett

        Yes, I strongly agree. Some would view mocking these people as bullying but people like this really need to be “told” in a public manner. This is where internet cmmunication is also a double edged sword. This guy is getting a lot of fame from this as well and as a society we need to turn people like him off, he’s reveling in his 15 minutes right now and that is a travesty as we are giving him his pulpit.

        Have a great day Bear.

  • RunningWithTheWolves

    Good Morning- David Sazuki has sure seemed to loose credibility, although I do have great respect for some of his work.

    Patrick Moore-who is Co-founder of GreenPeace has left the organization he had cofounded many years ago. He says his reasons for departer where that GreenPeace has become radical and desctructive and strayed from its original intention.

    He also stated that among the 5 International Directors he himself was the only one with any formal sience education.
    He has written a book called ,”Confessions of a GreenPeace Dropout. The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist.” He stated he could no longer support lack of morals and judgement of the Greenpeace Organization. He is a voice of sanity in the environmental movement.

    Also Al Gore has become a multimillionaire using the environmental angle, and hidng from most dicussion to prove his theories. But the money is in his bank account so he doesn’t feel the need……

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      The original global warming critic has also come out and reversed his position on climate change and even sustainable energy. There is no question that the earth’s climate is constantly changing. It is absurd to think it is caused by humanity and sheer lunacy to believe that we can do something to reverse it. We should be focusing our time, money and efforts on learning how to adapt and live with ever present climate change rather than the stupidity of trying to stop it.