Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SHANOFF: Freedom of expression makes gains in 2009


Year-End Review 2009: Part 2

Here's the second half of my year-end review of the top legal stories/developments for 2009.

Winnipeg Sun | December 27, 2009

1. Chalk 2009 up as another good year for freedom of expression in Canada.

Last Tuesday the Supreme Court of Canada gave the media a new defence with which to defend defamation lawsuits. It's called the "responsible communication" defence and allows the media to defend itself even if some of the facts reported can't be proven to be truthful. It won't allow the media to run roughshod over reputations but it should encourage more investigative reporting.

2. A Canadian Human Rights Tribunal did the unthinkable. It declared that Section 13, the hate speech section, of the Canadian Human Rights Code, violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Let's hold our applause for the decision as it's been appealed to the Federal Court of Canada and we still have a patchwork of 11 human rights codes in Canada leading to the strange situation where the same complaint may be filed in multiple jurisdictions. Section 13 is currently under review by Parliament's Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

You can catch Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant, both previous subjects of unsuccessful hate speech complaints, making their submissions to this Committee earlier this year on YouTube.  [YouTube videos are at:   Part 1 | Part 2]

While there's reason for optimism that we will be rid of Section 13 one day, there is still a large movement to have the United Nations impose a ban on defamation of religion. That's scary stuff.

Defamation laws are there to protect people, not ideas or beliefs. Our rights will be diminished if we have to contend with defamation of religion laws. But then, section 13 comes pretty close to having homegrown defamation of religion laws.


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