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.”
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.
I’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, 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.”
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.
When 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.”
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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