The Ottawa Citizen
We have a right to free speech
The dubious idea that human rights commissions should be able to tell Canadians what they can and cannot say is now subject to two important challenges.
One is the case before the Supreme Court involving William Whatcott, who distributed odious anti-gay flyers in Saskatchewan nearly a decade ago. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission fined him $17,500; that decision was overturned by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, and the case has now made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Whatcott's flyers, T-shirts and posters are offensive, disgusting and wrong.
But the right to free speech is meaningless if it only applies to inoffensive statements, politely expressed. It is the clash of wrong ideas against right ones - not their suppression - that improves our civilization and our democracy. Canadians must be free to disagree on every subject. There is a right to free speech in this country; there is no right not to be offended, and there never should be.
Laws against inciting violence - like laws against conspiracy or libel - are reasonable, tightly defined limits to speech, in cases where the speech itself creates a demonstrable harm.
By contrast, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code prohibits any publication "that exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground."
And Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits telecommunication of "any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination."
In practice, and thanks to some clarification from the courts, the application of these vague prohibitions has been tightened somewhat. But the fundamental problem remains, that quasi-judicial panels are able to chill any form of expression they deem hateful.
There is a bill before the House of Commons now that would make several changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act, including the repeal of Section 13. It is a private member's bill, but the member in question is Brian Storseth, an Alberta Conservative, and there is reason to hope that he will be able to convince a majority of MPs to support it.
The arguments of homophobes are easy enough to demolish in the open, using facts and sense. There's no need to drive such arguments underground. Expose them to the light and they wither.
See the full article at: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/have+right+free+speech/5541510/story.html
[NOTE: Section 13 itself faces multiple challenges. On the legal side, Section 13 was found to be unconstitutional by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The Fanatical CHRC are appealing the case, which is set to be heard in December, 2011. On the political side, there is the bill by Brian Storseth.]