Every few months I have a sudden urge to hightail it out of this country and back down to the USA, which (although it doesn’t have free health care), does provide controversial types a stable freedom of expression.

This time, the urge came as a result of studying the recent ruling on Saskatchewan (Human Rights) vs. Whatcott, otherwise known as the Political Correct vs. a fat, white, sodomite-hater, and general homophobe.

Now I think Whatcott is a disgusting individual and I’m not exactly regretting the fact that he can no longer distribute his amateur and discriminatory literature. I’m just a little scared of what the Supreme Court of Canada did to convict him.

You see, in the USA the courts wouldn’t have had a hope in hell of getting to Whatcott, the free speech laws don’t even allow them to get at Westboro! But in Canada, well, in Canada things are crazy.

Here in the north we have our free speech laws guaranteed in a document called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but we also have provincial human rights codes which prevent things like “hate speech”.

It turns out that in Saskatchewan the Charter and the Code conflict (duh), and therefore the Supreme Court was left to figure out exactly where Whatcott’s rights to freedom of expression and religion end, and where the rights of the LGBTQ community begin.

Sound easy, right?

Well the court certainly thought so. They simply redefined ‘hate’ to mean any action that was “likely” to intentionally or unintentionally expose a person a persons to “vilification” or “detestation” on a prohibited ground (like, say, sexual orientation). Then they mixed this with the Saskatchewan Code which restricts material that “exposes or tends to expose to hatred” any group on a prohibited ground, to concoct an unholy brew which can provide a ‘hate speech’ conviction for:

  1. A statement the defendant did not realize was ‘hateful’
  2. A statement that was hateful but never actually caused tangible harm to the vulnerable party.
  3. A statement that is ‘likely’ to or could ‘tend’ to cause hatred at some future time.

In addition, the court also ruled that ‘truth’ is no longer a defense against the accusation of a ‘hate crime’ since “truth can be used for widely disparate ends”. Belief is also now an unacceptable defense, as is (obviously) the argument that the statement in question never caused actual harm. In fact, the ruling admits that there no longer is an actual defense against hate speech.

All one has to do is prove, under the new and expanded definition, that a statement is “hate speech”, and the case is essentially over. And all one has to do, to prove “hate speech”, is show potential harm to a person or group based upon one of the prohibited grounds.

Not that every subsequent hate speech case will be a walkover. Ambiguous definitions can be a double-edged sword, and I suspect at least some of the precedents set in Whatcott will be overturned. Even so… this would never have happened in the good ol’ USA.

My favourite ruling by far is that which removes truth as a defense, and states that “not all truthful statements must be free from restriction.” The idea that I could be charged for offending someone by telling the truth is laughable, but in the interest of charity I’m willing to consider it.

There are ‘true’ statements that carry weight and meaning beyond the denotation of the statement itself. If I were to run through the streets screaming “the Jews killed Jesus!” that statement, while technically true, could probably be reasonably interpreted as encouraging vilification and detestation. Correlation doesn’t prove causation, the Jews didn’t kill Jesus simply because they were Jewish, but the way I’ve stated the truth could encourage listeners to reach that conclusion.

But then again, can Canada afford to prevent me from stating the truth because it could cause listeners to reach their own conclusions? Is that kind of censorship justifiable in a democratic country which claims to embody Mill’s ‘marketplace of ideas”? Should the government have the ability to silence certain groups and protect others at the expense of the whole?

As John Kerry said a few weeks ago, “in America you have a right to be stupid.” I’m beginning to realize how important that right is, and how stupid it is to attempt to prevent someone from being stupid by wielding the bludgeon of the Supreme Court of Canada.

As I said, I’m tempted to start packing.

-Nobody Important

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I'm a graduate student at Laurier University in Ontario. I used to be a journalist, and I moonlight as a writer / tennis player / LOTR nerd.

2 Comment on “Muzzled: Why Whatcott Proves Free Speech Isn’t Important In Canada

  1. Pingback: We Are Young (And Journalism Is a Battlefield)! | eucatastrophic

  2. Pingback: TWU Law School Part 2: The Court Case | eucatastrophic

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