Free Speech Roundup.
Mr. Bumble's gun registry
The minute anyone talks or writes about free speech, some twit is sure to pop up and say that there's no absolute freedom of speech. They usually can't resist adding that no one is free to shout "Fire!" in a crowded movie theatre.
They're quite right. The only thing wrong with those who keep insisting there are no absolutes is they do it to restrict some particulars that irk them.
Everyone knows free speech isn't "absolute." If it were, it would be legal to defame people, counsel murder, or impersonate a police officer. No one disputes that being free to use hand gestures doesn't entitle anyone to signal a truck to back over a toddler. Our freedom to gesticulate isn't "absolute." It's enough, though, to give censors the finger.
Now that I got this off my chest, let me turn to a different topic. Well -- maybe not entirely different. It is another facet of the complex syndrome that prompted Charles Dickens to have Mr. Bumble call the law an "ass."
Saluting our embattled freedom to read
Freedom to read, including freedom of expression and freedom to read what we choose, is a fundamental right of all Canadians that's constantly under attack.
Schools are at the mercy of parents who not only want to choose what their children may read, but also what other children may read.
Libraries are at the mercy of censors who believe they have the right to decide what others should read. The list of books that have been banned, challenged or placed under restriction by schools and libraries could fill this column, from To Kill a Mockingbird to A Clockwork Orange.
While the Supreme Court of Canada has broadened defamation defences, publishers still face huge burdens with the cost of litigation.
The cost of defending a defamation action can easily exceed the profits in publishing most books. Libel chill and self-censorship remain common due to complexities and uncertainties of the law and the high cost of litigation.
Human rights bodies stubbornly refuse to recognize freedom of expression as worthy of protection.
And strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP suits, are inconsistent with free expression. Quebec has anti-SLAPP law, and Ontario's NDP has introduced a private member's bill trying to remedy the problem.
Trying to uphold freedom to read is like playing Whac-A-Mole. So I give a mighty thanks to the organizers of Freedom to Read Week for their efforts.
For more information go to freedomtoread.ca.
Protect free speech, even if offensive
How does a liberal society deal with a case such as that of Salman Hossain, who posted vile, incendiary messages in public against Jews and others he detests and wishes harm?
It keeps this individual under surveillance and indicts him under the country’s Criminal Code — in Canada it would be section 319 — if he is found to contravene it.
But a liberal society that takes freedom of speech for its anchor will not censor, or indict, this individual on the ground his speech is offensive to some or all people.
This temptation should be resisted at all times and freedom of speech should be defended unconditionally, especially when some abuse this freedom by deliberately riling others through malicious speech.
The argument that free speech must also be responsible speech is just another approach for censoring free speech or indicting an unpleasant individual. Any limit placed on free speech other than what the Criminal Code provides for tarnishes the fundamental characteristic of that liberal society.
It is only in a liberal society that an individual as a minority of one can mock, ridicule and vilify the majority, and his right to do so is protected on the transparently simple — yet revolutionary — calculus that if the majority is not constrained from abridging the right of any one person to speak freely it might do the same of many.
Thanks very much to Mark Steyn’s who posted these three columns in the following post:
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MARK STEYN - Saturday, 06 March 2010
I've been under the weather in recent weeks, and, at such times, am prone to get a little disheartened by the long campaign to restore free speech to Canada. This is a fairly typical weekend: There are at least three robust columns on liberty by consistent champions of freedom of expression - George Jonas, Alan Shanoff and Salim Mansur.
Read Mark Steyn’s article at: http://www.steynonline.com/content/view/3006/128/