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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Jesse Kline: Soldiers of expression: Hate speech, censorship and ethics

Western Standard contributor and current reason intern Jesse Kline has put together an outstanding analysis of various ways in which our freedom of expression can be limited, and the ethics of journalism. Kline categorizes the various possible infringements on freedom of expression, and then marks a division between acceptable and unacceptable divisions. Our readers shouldn't be surprised by where Kline draws the line...

Here's an excerpt from "Soldiers of Expression":

...the reason that Canadian governments can use hate speech laws as a means of censorship is due to the fact that Section 1 of the Charter puts limits on our fundamental freedoms. In his justification for upholding Canada's hate speech laws, Supreme Court Chief Justice Dickson claimed the "emotional damage caused by words may [have] grave psychological and social consequences." Furthermore, the "threat to the self-dignity of target group members is thus matched by the possibility that prejudiced messages will gain some credence." I suppose the Supreme Court has never heard the old schoolyard saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

The court also took a dim view on the intelligence of Canadians by supporting the idea that if we were free to hear a diversity of opinions, we would not be able to separate fact from fiction, prejudice from fair comment.

If no one is being physically hurt, or threatened with violence, then the government has no right curtailing our freedoms. A few soccer moms and religious nuts with hurt feelings is a small price to pay for the right to freely speak our minds. The answer to hate speech is not less speech, the answer is more speech. True hate speech is easy to counteract with a well reasoned argument. Call me old fashioned, but I like to think my fellow countrymen are smart enough to reason for themselves without us having to worry that they'll be corrupted by a few hate mongers.

The situation is quite different in the United States, where hate speech is legal, unless it is used as a direct threat against a person or group of people, or if it can be considered an incitement to violence. "Most such limitations, then, must be voluntary" that is, they must be rooted in ethics rather than law. In reality, that means the rest of us generally have to put up with online hate speech" or, better, avoid it altogether," wrote Cecilia Friend and Jane Singer in their book Online Journalism Ethics

What a radical idea that is. Treat people as rational individuals and give them the choice to avoid the speech they find offencive. The big problem with hate speech laws are that they are entirely subjective. The determination of what is considered hate speech is put in the hands of judges and government bureaucrats, who often try to figure out the intent of the person who made the claims. This amounts to nothing more than a ban on thought. "The laws are designed to place emphasis on intent, ergo criminalize thoughts in the process.… When you criminalize thought through hate crime legislation, you can ultimately criminalize speech based on the premise that the words are reflective of hateful thoughts," wrote Steven Crowder, a political pundit.

Does Ann Coulter's imbroglio with Allan Rock and the University of Ottawa make an appearance in Kline's piece? Yes, of course. Does Kline cover Ezra Levant's battles with the HRC/Ts? Yes, yes he does.

So go ahead and click here to read the rest of Kline's piece.

Speaking of Levant and Coulter, here are a couple of books Justice Dickson would probably prefer you didn't read:


Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 6, 2010 in Freedom of expression | Permalink


"In a 1992 case, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a municipal law banning the display of symbols with racist connotations, including swastikas and burning crosses."

Yes, but in 2003 it upheld the Virginia ban.

"The protections afforded by the First Amendment ... are not absolute," O'Connor wrote for herself and four other justices.

"The essence of this ruling is that cross-burning is different from other forms of symbolic speech," said CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "The way it has been used in American history puts it almost uniquely into a category that allows the government to punish people who choose to communicate a message in this fashion."

In Canada, on the other hand, a 1990 decision used Section 1 to uphold the hate speech provisions in the Criminal Code, which prevent people from "communicating statements [that] wilfully promotes hatred against an identifiable group." An "identifiable group" is defined as "any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin."

Aye, there's the rub as Mill suggested. Free institutions cannot exist in a multi-racial environment. Clearly, as Canada and the US embraced the heterogeneous, the freedom of the citizens in these societies has retreated.

Posted by: DJ | 2010-07-06 4:10:24 PM

Logically, freedom does not require racial homogeneity. So your attempt to assert that racial homogeneity is a necessary condition for freedom makes no sense, and fails.

Posted by: Bradley | 2010-07-06 9:12:07 PM

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