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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

B.C. Civil Liberties Association criticises decision to prevent anti-gay group from entering Canada

"[T]he Canada Border Services Agency should not be in the business of screening what viewpoints are presented to Canadians in Canada." That’s the judgement of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association:

Preventing an American anti-gay group from entering Canada in order to protest outside the performance of the Laramie Project, a play about the murder in 1998 of Matthew Shepard, a gay student in Wyoming, would do just that. The notorious Westboro Baptist Church routinely pickets any production of “The Laramie Project”. The BCCLA opposes the use of the border to block political speech, no matter how repulsive the ideas of the demonstrators.

BCCLA President Rob Holmes said:

“The BC Civil Liberties Association has a long history standing up for freedom of expression and for the rights of gay, lesbian, transgendered and other persons. One example of that arises from our action as a party in the Little Sisters cases opposing the use of the customs authorities to screen out the importation of books and materials by a gay and lesbian bookstore. Another arose in the context of books regarding same-sex parents being banned from schools in Surrey, B.C.  In the present situation, the concern is with words of rabid homophobia. While those words and thoughts are repugnant, we say that they are and should remain constitutionally protected. The Laramie Project play itself negatively portrays the leader of this Westboro group through having an actor on stage recite some of his outrageous statements. That is obviously protected speech too, and not just because it is presented in the context of a play that has as its lesson and moral a message that condemns bigotry and violence.

We trust Canadians will make the right assessment of such thoughts, whether they are offered up by an actor on stage or are espoused by those who originally spoke them. We must all learn from history. The Vancouver Public Library and other libraries across the country have Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf and similar books on their shelves. They are there so the public may freely educate itself about bad ideas and learn to distinguish the bad from the good. So too here, we should not use government law enforcement agents at borders to filter what is said and heard in this country and to exercise a paternalistic judgment of what is fit for us to hear. Going down that path would be dangerous.

If only speech that the government of the day or some border agent likes us to hear is allowed to enter the country, one of our most precious freedoms will be impaired. We are a strong and resilient enough people to know how to judge the character and quality of the ideas that enter the public forum, even those that are wrong and distasteful. That is the essence of our democracy.”

Well said.

Posted by Matthew Johnston on November 12, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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The BCCLA does not just talk the talk about freedom, they walk the walk. Which is why they also were an intervenor on behalf of Robin Sharpe when he was tried for possession of fictional stories he wrote about having sado-masochistic sex with little boys. Defending freedom means defending the speech you most strogly dislike, be it from the mouths of rabid homophobes like the Westboro Baptist Church or from disgusting child molesters like Sharpe.

There are lots of people who claim to be pro-free speech when defending speech they like or speech they don't mind so much, but the true test of whether or not you are a free speecher is what you say about the worst of the worst. I have nothing good to say about the content of the speech of the WBC or of Sharpe, but I support the BCCLA's position on both. There is no other position an advocate of freedom can take.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-11-13 8:16:31 AM

This is a tough one for me. On the one hand I agree in spirit that it's very problematic that an agency of the federal government can deny entry to the country for individuals who have no criminal record on the basis of very little information about their intentions while in the country. On the other hand, I do not agree that "freedom of expression" should extend to protests of PRIVATE functions, which blur the line between 'expression' and 'hassassment'. But (going back to my first hand) how can Canada Border Services show that it has the expertise or capacity to make that decision about an entrant at the border, BEFORE they have actually committed any crimes, based solely on their church affiliation? Then again (going back to my second hand) it is NOT the responsibility of the federal government to defend freedom of expression for foreign nationals BEFORE they have set foot on Canadian soil. For foreign nationals who have NOT YET crossed the border, I believe that the federal government should have very wide powers to restrict entry, even when the justification may seem contrary to common opinions regarding rights and freedoms.

Posted by: Anonymous | 2008-11-13 3:10:43 PM

Has this decision actually been made, or is there just talk of it? I haven't been able to find a link to any such decision. I don't think it would be legal to exclude on that basis anyway. Of course, if a few good citizens wanted to wait just inside the border with a couple hundred eggs...

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-11-13 3:56:40 PM

i agree with a lot of what westboro baptists say and i want to join their protest on the drive. the thought police have no business depriving me of my right to free speech. if you don't agree god hates fags then have your own counterprotest. you thought police have no business taking away my right to free speech and my right to join the westboro baptists political protest.

Posted by: mike | 2008-11-19 4:46:03 AM

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