Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Free Speech in Canada (or the General Lack Thereof): An American Viewpoint

Bruce Ramsay, who blogs for/at the Seattle Times, casts a baleful glance at how his northern neighbours have mucked up the linchpin of freedom:
The Supreme Court of Canada is scheduled to issue a ruling Feb. 26 on a big “hate speech” case, reports The National Post. Based on the oral argument, which took place in 2011, Canada’s high court is expected to narrow the definition of “hate speech” and widen the territory of freedom—which to this American sounds all to the good. 
Canada has no First Amendment, and “hate speech” is a legal offense there. But what is hate speech? For the law, it is like defining obscenity: it is speech that gives people a certain feeling. Or, as Canada’s law says, provokes “unusually strong and deep-felt emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification.” 
A feeling in one person? A hundred persons? A million persons? And how do you measure the feelings? 
The case at hand is about William Whatcott, an anti-gay pamphleteer from Saskatchewan. He was arrested for passing out pamphlets in 2000 and 2001 that referred to gays as sodomites and child molesters. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal found him guilty in 2005 and ordered him to pay $17,500 to the people who complained. 
He appealed and made it all the way to Canada’s supreme court.
What do you do with a sleazeball like that? My answer is: let him pass out his pamphlets. Take his pamphlet and toss it. Don’t make a federal case out of him; you only make him famous. Ignore him. 
Instead the Canadian state has made Whatcott a national figure: a bad idea.
A man like that should be denounced. Shunned. But dragging him into court goes against the tradition of English law that is the ancestor of both the U.S. and Canadian systems...
Tradition? We here in Canada spit on your tradition, for, tender-hearted souls that we are, we cannot bear the idea of anyone having to suffer the indignity, the enormity, of hurt feelings. To quote my 14-year-old son's teacher once again: "We have free speech in Canada--unless it impinges on the rights of others." And, typical "progressive" that he is, that's fine with him.

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