Friday, September 18, 2009

Left and Right Advocates for Freedom of Speech in Canada

Freedom of speech is the inherent human right to voice one's opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment, no matter who is doing the speaking. "Speech" is not limited to oral or public speaking and is generally taken to include other forms of expression, including diverse forms of media.

Freedom of speech is considered fundamental to democratic citizenship, and therefore, along with other fundamental freedoms, it is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, along with freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and of other media of communication, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.

While I completed my Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees with an eye on inspiring generations of high school students in my English classroom, I developed a passionate interest in issues of censorship and punishment with regard to my curriculum (i.e., I believe it is evil to burn books, ban books, and deny our heritage). As I developed my research program in educational technology as a Master of Science, and then as a Doctor of Philosophy graduate student, I began to delve further into the relationship between media, networks, open access and freedom of speech and expression (i.e., anyone, anywhere, anytime access to people & their opinions, and anyone, anywhere, anytime ability to publish ideas broadly). My first "free speech" crime was circumventing the Canadian media publication ban by obtaining press reports and articles from the United States media on the Karla Homolka trial using lynx and gopher and email. Okay, RCMP, come and get me.

For the past two years, I have been monitoring the tensions between fervent advocates of free speech and those in the human rights industry who preach "responsible speech" in the context of digital media and the internet. A question I ask reflects my stance on protecting freedom of speech, "What happens to academic and political debate and decision-making if the diverse perspectives published online, some of which may be regarded as unpopular or unsavoury, are silenced?" For more about my inquiry and perspectives on the "idea of a participatory social, academic and political Web 2.0", please see my editorial in CJLT.

Recent developments indicate that the tensions between online free speechers, citizen bloggers and journalists, and advocates of the human rights industry in Canada are coming to a head. Those who share my interest in maintaining freedom of speech in the Web 2.0 era will be interested in a recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision, a citizen journalist's blog, the National Post and Ottawa Citizen editorials, a recent Maclean's column, and UPDATE: a Maclean's editorial.

1. On Sept 2, Athanasios Hadjis issued a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling on the Lemire-Warman case that denounces the Canadian Human Rights Commission, its aggressive stance and its punitive powers [see Craine's summary].

2. Ezra Levant's blog post analysis of Hadjis' ruling: "Tribunal: the CHRC has been breaking the law for years" and his National Post letter

3. Editorial in the National Post, "End the witch hunts for good", with this statement: "As of yesterday, it's no longer illegal to write politically incorrect things on the Internet. Now it's illegal to prosecute someone for it."

4. Editorial in the Ottawa Citizen, "Unjustified Infringement" that states, "When even the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is saying that the hate-speech provisions in the Canadian Human Rights Act are unconstitutional, surely reform of the act cannot be delayed much longer"

5. Mark Steyn's Sept 17 column in Macleans: "It took a while but Section 13 is dead". A quote near the end, "To survive as a free people, Canadians need the rough and tumble of honest public discourse. Instead, its “human rights” regime has, quite consciously, attempted to upgrade unfashionable opinions into illegal ones. When government bureaucrats forget they are not our rulers but our servants, that’s always a bigger problem than whatever “crisis” they purport to be addressing."

6. Editorial, Macleans: "Harper must act now to protect free speech: the Prime Minister admits there's a problem. And he says he doesn't have a clue how to fix it". A great summary of the events that have exposed the problems with Section 13 of the Human Rights Act. "It is an issue of crucial importance to this country and our strongly held traditions of freedom of speech and freedom of the press."

More on these developments can be found by Jay Currie here, David Warren here, Rob Breckenridge here and Deborah Gyapong here.


rabbit said...

It is the pretense of many that it's only conservatives who speak out for freedom of speech, and then only so that they can continue spewing their racist, bigoted, oppressive bile.

It's all nonsense (including the extreme caricature of conservatives). Those who have even a smattering of history can see that freedom of expression is the door through which all other freedoms enter. We slam it shut at our peril.

I don't recall seeing so much polarization between political factions as I do today. And yet I often see a degree of respect between rivals who can agree that both sides have the right to be speak - that there is something greater involved than issues of politics.

GirlProf said...

Thanks for the link-back: