Swallow your rights and shut your mouth

You can speak your mind, as long as we like what you have to say.


 

ShhI haven’t felt such institutional and political wariness since Jack Layton vowed to eliminate poverty in Canada in 12 years.

Get this—a law to be passed in Ireland will make it illegal to utter blasphemous words.

Swear to ***, I’m not lying.

According to a CBC report, blasphemers could be fined up to 25,000 euros for abusive or insulting statements that are proven to cause violent reactions or intend to cause outrage.

Think that’s bad?

Pakistan’s president Asif Zadari has outlawed humour! That’s right, under the country’s new Cyber Crimes Act, Pakistanis who send jokes about Zardari by text message, email or blog can be imprisoned for up to 14 years.

Why so serious, guys?

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “That’s Ireland and Pakistan. We don’t have the same types censorship here in free-speech-loving Canada.”

Sorry, Canada’s no Eden. (Oops, too soon?)

Cunningly subtle and charmingly PC, Canada, in my opinion, harbours a type of selective censorship.

The perfect example:

In 2006, an Alberta Human Rights Commission complaint was brought against Ezra Levant, publisher of the (now defunct) Western Standard magazine. The complaint was filed by Syed Soharwardy after the magazine reprinted the controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammad.

Disgusted with the complaint, Levant stuck it to the Commission at his January 2008 hearing. (Levant refers to it as his “interrogation.”) He called the proceedings a “joke” and labeled it an attack on his constitutional rights.

I won’t try to paraphrase further; I couldn’t do it justice. You can check out the video here.

Amidst some ranting, Levant makes a very important point:

Simply put, there is no such thing as the right to not be offended.

But sadly, a simple scour of section 13 cases (re: hate messages) filed with various provincial Human Rights Commissions proves otherwise. It seems that not only is this “right to not be offended” entertained, but it is also selectively applied. Tough luck for you white males.

Here’s another example. Consider the statement made by US Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. She publicly stated that she would hope a “wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Now, just imagine the inverse:

“A wise white man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn’t lived that life.”

It reads as disgustingly bigoted coming from a white man. So why is it permissible for Sotomayor to say it? (Click here for more of my Sotomayor argument.)

I don’t claim to be well-versed in the ins and outs of censorship law. But I do know about social discourse taboos, especially on a university campus:

Tell us your opinion, as long as we agree with it.

Taboos I’m OK with–it’s their evolution into law that upsets my stomach.

The bottom line: It doesn’t matter if we don’t like what we hear. Censorship is a delicate mechanism. If not handled properly, it can erode our rights.

So, how many priest jokes told in Ireland, texted to a friend in Pakistan, forwarded to a relative in Canada along with a Zadari cartoon does it take for you to be sued, imprisoned or defamed?

– Photo by Esther G


 
Filed under:

Swallow your rights and shut your mouth

  1. It’s nice to know that the new cadre of bloggers won’t be shaking things up around here.

  2. No right not to be offended? Sounds good, but I’m not sure this is the case (as you point out).

    Here’s the Dept of National Defence’s take on harassment:

    “Harassment is: any unwelcome and improper conduct by an individual that is directed at and offensive to another person or persons in the workplace and which the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause *offence* or harm. It comprises any objectionable act, comment or display that demeans, belittles or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment, or any act of intimidation or threat. It includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act.” (http://www.cfpsa.com/en/corporate/Services/hrservices/HumanRights/index.asp)

    And here’s a post-secondary case where Canadian PC meets Inconsistency: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalist_Piglet

  3. Don’t forget – truth isn’t a valid defense in front of our Human Rights Commissions. And they are petitioning the federal government to remove truth as a legal defense for hate speech in the criminal code, too.

    All in the name of “human rights” – apparently they forgot about freedom of speech.

  4. Hey Dean, since it’s so easy to make scandalous unbacked claims on the Internet, why don’t you bother to give at least some source for these allegations?

  5. @Anonymous for anybody who has been following the HRC’s this is pretty common knowledge, but I’ve dug up a couple of links for you. This isn’t an allegation, it’s the truth (not that it matters these days!)

    Here is section 13, the “censorship” provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which many people have demanded be repealed, including several MP’s
    http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/proactive_initiatives/hoi_hsi/qa_qr/page1-en.asp

    And here is one of Ezra Levant’s (dozens of) posts talking about the lack of truth as a defense, and indeed a memo sent by the CHRC suggesting the removal of truth as a criminal code defense.
    http://ezralevant.com/2009/06/canadian-human-rights-commissi.html

    If you aren’t familiar with Ezra Levant, he isn’t just some random blogger. He has faced persecution by the CHRC under section 13 provisions and has been campaigning against this kangaroo court ever since. His work has been reproduced in dozens of newspapers across the country, and his book “Shakedown” has been a best-seller since it was released.

  6. I checked your source. The CHRC is not the one making this suggestion. They are quoting the “Moon report” which is the one suggesting to remove the defense of truth (by the way, how can the defense of truth even be used in cases of hate speech? is there something “true” or “false” about hate?).

    And the funny thing is that the Moon report is the one that Ezra Levant was supporting!

  7. Anonymous, perhaps if you would take some time and read the article you might have read this:

    “So in its new report, the CHRC suggests that the defence of truth be removed from the Criminal Code.”

    And the new report Levant refers to is not the Moon Report, it is the second report that was commissioned after the CHRC rejected the findings of the Moon Report (which suggested scrapping section 13 altogether).

    As for what can qualify as hate speech these days – you would be surprised! Look at what they tried to do to best-selling and widely respected author Mark Steyn (also a Maclean’s columnist).

  8. Anonymous wrote: “by the way, how can the defense of truth even be used in cases of hate speech? is there something “true” or “false” about hate?”

    If I used the verifiable truth of German conduct in the Second World War, and used that to promote hatred of Germans, I would would be able to use truth as a defense. I would cite more contentious examples, but I don’t really feel like being called a racist today.

    There is a similar defense in libel law. If I write something that damages someone’s reputation, wilfully or not, but the opinion was based on truth I would have a defense.

    To suggest truth should not be a defense is, to borrow an admittedly overused cliche, like arguing 2+2=5.

  9. “Anonymous, perhaps if you would take some time and read the article you might have read this:

    “So in its new report, the CHRC suggests that the defence of truth be removed from the Criminal Code.”

    And the new report Levant refers to is not the Moon Report, it is the second report that was commissioned after the CHRC rejected the findings of the Moon Report (which suggested scrapping section 13 altogether).”

    Well, if you took the time to read the CHRC report that Levant quote, rather than just quoting Levant, you would see that the idea of removing the defense of truth is a direct quote from the Moon Report, that the CHRC report simply mentions.

    I suggest you start reading primary sources rather than blogs, and maybe your own blog posts will improve.

  10. Carson:

    I understand the principle of libel law and the fact that truth is a defense there, since by definition a comment should be false to be libelous.

    Yet I don’t think your exemple of truth as a defence for hate crimes is a very good one. I’ll take your exact exemple: if people, during Second World War, used the actions of Nazi Germany as an excuse to call for violence against Canadians citizens who were of German origin, that would be just as bad from the point of view of incitation to hatred, and just as a threat to the safety of those German-Canadians.

    A hate crime is incitation to violence against people of a specific group, whether ethnic, racial, religious, etc. simply because there are part of that group. It is fundamentally an ethical question, not a question of facts.

  11. @Anonymous

    Actually, I did read the source. Perhaps you should re-read my post and the report before you start mudslinging. If you want to have an actual debate, you might want to avoid the personal attacks.

    The details of the Moon Report, included in the second report, can be found here: http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/publications/srp_2009_rsp/page9-en.asp

    It is quite clear: “1. The first recommendation is that section 13 of the CHRA be repealed”

    as well,

    “2. The second part of my recommendations concerns changes that should be made to section 13 of the CHRA if it is not repealed. These changes would reshape section 13 so that it more closely resembles a criminal restriction on hate speech.”

    Now you are correct in saying that the second report does refer to the Moon Report on the issue of truth as a defense under the criminal code. But the second report agrees with that recommendation. Nothing I said was false, as the CHRC did reject the vast majority of the changes proposed by the Moon Report.

  12. @ Anonymous

    Incitement to violence against a group is indeed hate speech. It is covered under section 319-1 of the criminal code.

    But section 319-2 refers to the “wilful” promotion of hatred. No violence need be advocated. It is this section that the truth defense applies, and it is this section to which my example is directed. Maybe you should read the law.

  13. “Now you are correct in saying that the second report does refer to the Moon Report on the issue of truth as a defense under the criminal code.”

    Yes, and Ezra Levant attributed a quote from the Moon Report as if it was a recommendation of the CHRC. I don’t care about the rest.

    And if I wanted a real debate, I wouldn’t post anonymously. However this is not a serious enough website for that.