Friday, March 5, 2010

Here's the Deal: You Can Either Have Free Speech OR the "Human Right" to Not Be Offended. You Cannot Have Both

A Saskatchewan court (a real one, not a "quasi-judicial" one) quashed rulings by that province's "human rights" authorities who had slammed an anti-gay activist who was wont to rant about gays being "Sodomites." George Jonas says he's affronted by the court's decision--not because he disagrees with the notion of people being able to express "offensive" ideas; he wholeheartedly disagrees with legal restrictions on free expressions. No, the basis of Jonas's complaint is that the anti-Sodomist was clearly in breach of the law as written, and the court chose to ignore that violation. Which goes to show that A) the law is an ass, and B) we do not need the state to monitor our speech; indeed, the very concept of "the right to not be offended" as a fundamental "human right" imperils a free and open society. An op-ed piece in the Calgary Herald by attorney John Capray (who was involved in the Saskatchewan court case) concurs with at least the first half of that assesssment:

...Restrictions on free speech in "human rights" legislation frequently generate conflict between gays and social conservatives. But these conflicts are merely one example of endless possibilities.

Write a letter to the editor calling for more frequent driver's testing for seniors and you may be charged with exposing people to hatred or contempt on the basis of age. Express your opinion about integrating fundamentalist Muslims into Canadian society, or limiting immigration from certain countries, and your comments might be found "hateful" on the basis of religion or place of origin.

Canada's federal and provincial politicians keep laws on the books which force courts to determine the legality of speech by using the problematic standard set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1990 in Taylor vs. Canada (Human Rights Commission). The majority of the court in Taylor ruled that to be valid under the charter, laws can only restrict speech involving "feelings of an ardent and extreme nature," and "strong emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification." With this test in place, the majority declared confidently, "there is little danger that subjective opinion as to offensiveness will supplant the proper meaning" of laws restricting free speech. But it turns out that Justice Beverley McLachlin's dissent in Taylor was correct: there was -- and is -- a lot of danger.

Maclean's magazine was prosecuted for running excerpts of Mark Steyn's book America Alone, and social conservatives like Whatcott [the anti-Sodomite dude from Saskatchewan] are prosecuted for expressing their views on marriage and sexuality. Even though Whatcott was ultimately cleared of all charges, the spectacle of his eight-year ordeal is bound to have a chilling effect on others wanting to participate in public debate.

The Taylor test might sound like a clear standard until one considers that extremism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Merely 41 years ago, sodomy was a Criminal Code offence and gay marriage would have been viewed as "extreme" by almost everyone. Today, gay marriage is legal, and the idea of criminalizing sodomy would be viewed as "extreme" by most Canadians. A court's determination of what is "extreme" is bound to be arbitrary and subjective.

If the case of Warman vs. Lemire, now before the Federal Court, eventually ends up in the Supreme Court of Canada, the court will have a chance to revisit and (one hopes) overrule its Taylor decision, striking down once and for all the so-called "human rights codes" that violate freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, nothing stops our federal and provincial politicians from repealing bad laws.

As long as these laws stay on the books, courts will continue to be asked to balance the constitutional rights of religious freedom and freedom of expression with a new "human right" to be free from hurt feelings.
Exactly. But it's not enough to repeal "bad laws". We need to repeal a bad "human rights" system, too.

It boils down to this: the "remedy" for "hate speech" is far more dangerous to our society than is the "hate speech" itself which, in any case, is a slipperly beast that cannot be properly defined, is largely in the eye of the beholder, and can be misused by ideologues as a means of exerting and widening their power and control. To be an inhibitant of a free society, you need to develop an epidermis with the thickness and consistency of rhinocerous hide. Otherwise, you might be tempted to give away your freedom to higher-ups in the hopes that they will protect frail, thin-skinned you from the slings and arrows of the outrageous. And then before you know it, it's hello, Soviet-style "human rights" commissars and ta-ta to Western-style liberty.

Update: This one goes out to all the foolish, delusional, thin-skinned souls who think you can "balance" free speech with "hate speech" (sing it, Smokey):

Maybe you think free speech is not so great
Espec'lly when there are folks around who hate.
And maybe you think state censorship's the cure
And "hate speech" leads to genocide for sure.

Oh, little fool, in that case I don't want no part.
I do believe that that is effed up from the very start.
Oh, if you feel like "clearing up"
Society's "confusion,"
Can't second that delusion.
If you dig "diversity"
And blarney 'bout "inclusion,"
Can't second that delusion.

Maybe you think that freedom can survive
If you don't strive to keep free speech alive.
Maybe you think free thought is just for fools
So commissars must now enforce "the rules."

Oh, little fool, in that case I don't want no part
I do believe that that's effed up right from the very start.
Oh, if you feel like "clearing up"
Society's "confusion,"
Can't second that delusion.
If you dig "diversity" and hogwash 'bout "inclusion,"
Can't second that delusion.

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