12 February 2009

Freedom to hate?

Here in Canada, the Tories are proposing removing the 'hate speech' provisions of the Human Rights Code. Hate speech is also a crime pursuant to the criminal code. The double legislation is not redundant: crimes are offences against Her Majesty, punished by the state by penalties including incarceration; the Human rights Code provides a civil avenue for individual victims to seek redress. Virtually all crimes also give rise to civil actions.

More interestingly, the British are in the midst of a diplomatic row with the Dutch over the choice by a visiting Dutch MP to preview a very provocative film highlighting violence caused by Islamic terrorists along with verses from the Koran.

I hate to say this, both because I feel strongly about protecting Human Rights and because in particular I think that there are far too many douchebags out there spreading this kind of garbage... I hate to say it, but not more than I hate attacks on free speech.

Free speech is not just one on a menu of human rights. It might be in some societies, but not in a democratic society. Freedom of conscience is a joke: what matter if you can believe as you please, but not do or say anything in relation to those beliefs? Freedom of assembly? For losers. Who cares how many people you can assemble if you can't discuss with them your beliefs and the purpose of your assembly? Freedom of religion? Just try it without religious speech in the form of books, sermons, etc. How about Democracy itself? Nothing but a flaming bag of shit on your doorstep if you do not have free speech.

Free speech is not a principle of democracy, it is a pre-condition for it. There is no higher right in a democracy: it is the right on which all other democratic rights depend.

This is not just high-minded BS - I think a free market of ideas works. The way to deal with a guy like Ernst Zundel (e.g.) is just to show everyone what a disgusting liar he is, not to make a martyr of him or to try to sweep offensive comments from the field. Rebutting hate speech is the best way to deal with hate speech, not just as a philosophical but as a practical matter.

Let them spew their filth and drown in it.


Blogger Scott Tribe said...

Sorry.. but there are limits to free speech. No one can say "FIRE" in a crowded theatre.. so freedom of speech is not absolute in that regard.

And you must be kidding me when you say you'd have preferred to ridicule Zundel.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Gavin Magrath said...

Not at all joking on either count. I'm glad you begin with 'sorry', since I am too, but your view is altogether to common in our politically correct world.

The point about yelling 'fire' is trite but often raised, as is the point about my freedom of hand waving ending when it hits your face.

The true point of the illustration, sadly lost in translation, is that there is actually a point at which the right stops - not an imaginary point, or one that we get to refer to in an off-handed way as you did without further consideration. It is exactly the point at which the wrongful act causes damage. If through your misrepresentation of existence of a dangerous fire you cause damage to your neighbour, you can be held responsible. It has nothing to do with curtailing free speech, it has only to do with connecting wrongful acts with quantifiable damage. There would be no action if you yelled fire but no one cared, nor would there be an action if you yelled 'fire' and caused a stampede when there was in fact a fire. We need wrongful acts that cause damage.

Form a civil perspective, are you really going to try to assess the subjective quality of hate inside the secret hearts of men, and then attempt to quantify the 'damage' done by that feeling of hatred, and assign responsibility for compensating that imaginary damage not to the people who are hating, but to the people who 'caused' them to feel that hatred?

From a criminal perspective, are you really suggesting that the police, courts, and jails are the appropriate forum for identifying and shaming those who espouse beliefs we find offensive, even when the statements they make are otherwise unconnected to any other actionable or criminal act and cause no damage to the Queen's subjects except their subjective feelings of offence?

To borrow a phrase: you must be kidding me.

February 12, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At any time, any Canadian citizen can be forced to sit in a court room, be questioned by a person who is not a judge or even a lawyer, and, be convicted by this person. No basic rules of law apply to this format. How any one can think that this is a good idea is beyond me. Show me any place in history where fake court rooms with fake judges was a good idea?
Liberalism can be proud of many things in this country, being convicted outside a court of law without a chance to cross examine sure as hell isnt one of them.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Johnny said...

Hi Gavin,

Where did you hear this bit of news? From Harper's recent Maclean's interview:

Q: Will the government amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to prevent unwarranted interferences in free expression by human rights commissions?

A: The government has no plans to do so. We’re certainly aware of the issue. My understanding—we’ve been monitoring this closely—I think you’ll actually see there’s been some modification of behaviour on the part of the Canadian human rights commissions. The most egregious cases right now are mostly at the provincial level. And it is a very tricky issue of public policy because obviously, as we’ve seen, some of these powers can be abused. But they do exist for valid reasons, which is obviously to prevent public airwaves from being used to disseminate hate against vulnerable members of our society. That’s a valid objective. It’s probably the case that we haven’t got the balance right, but I’m not sure the government today has any answer on what an appropriate balance would be.

Granted it has been one whole month since this interview...

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Gavin Magrath said...

Hey, play nice John!

First, sorry I'm so out-of-date: it's why I used the much more timely and interesting UK story as the reason for my post, which was just happening in the last 24 hours. Admitted it right up there in the first paragraph, but provided the Canadian background because my blog isn't called "Politics by the BBC".

Also, thank you for posting Mr. Harper's statements in context. It's nice to know that the 'egregious abuses' he doesn't name happen at the provincial level... where the vast preponderance of claims are brought. No need to fix that problem!

And it's great to hear his heartfelt belief that "we haven’t got the balance right." Thank goodness he has the humility to admit that he hasn't got "any answer on what an appropriate balance would be." Nothing like creating a problem for which you have no answer.

Or wait - maybe he DOES have the answer, and it's just not the one he wanted you to hear in that quotable quotation along with all his prime ministerial humility. Reading between the lines is for losers. I'm sure it's just a mistake that the Moon report recommending the repeal of s.13 is posted as official policy on the CHRC site.

Keep on readin', and I will try to make my posts more timely!


February 13, 2009  
Blogger Johnny said...

So months later I come by to see your reply, but the "one whole month" comment was directed at Harper and his penchant for flip-flopping, not you. :)

April 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do feel much better about that! Drop me an email or look me up on Facebook!

April 18, 2009  

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