How important is free speech? This may seem like a loaded question; who would not agree that this is a fundamental human right? But the Criminal Code in Canada prohibits hate propaganda, discrimination on various grounds, and the posting of hateful messages on the Internet. All humans should have the right to live without discrimination or hatred . But how can these two rights exist at the same time? How can we promote free speech while prohibiting people from saying certain things?
In early October, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the case of William Whatcott through the Saskatchwan Human Rights Comission again. In 2002, the Rights Comission ruled that Whatcott was spreading hatred by publishing four anti-gay flyers in Saskatchewan between 2001-2002. He used words such as “propaganda”, “sodomy”, and “filth” to describe same-sex relationships and equality.
The laws in Saskatchewan prohibit publishing anything which “exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles, or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or case of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground.” This law exists on the basis that preventing hatred is more important than ensuring true freedom of expression in creating a safe, truly free, society.
The Saskatchewan Court of Appeals overturned the Right’s Commissions decision. The Right’s Commission then appealed to the Supreme Court. That court has not yet reached a decision; the justices seem to be divided in their opinions, but all questioned the definition of what should be considered hatred. Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, who has spoken out in favour of complete freedom of expression in the past, said that the law should change so that ordinary citizens, like Mr Whatcott, could read the act and immediately know what they could and could not say, whereas Justice Thomas Cromwell questioned Mr. Whatcotts right to say that the same-sex sexual acts should be considered criminal with “what if someone were to say that being black was a crime?”
Should laws against publishing hatred be eliminated or changed to allow true freedom of expression? Personally, I don’ t think so. Our society is becoming more and more accepting every year, but hate still exists. The only way to create true equality is to ensure that everyone is allowed to live in a hate-free environment.
Within North Toronto, there are rules and consequences to promoting hatred, and from what I have seen, this creates a relatively safe environment for all students. Of course, racism and homophobia do exist, as they do in the outside world, but these views are not generally expressed, as students know the consequences of doing this. It is important that everyone is on equal ground, socially and economically.Rules against discrimination and hatred are a good way to achieve this.
A hate-free world may seem like an ideal that can never be achieved in society, but that doesn’t mean that we, as Canadians, should not shoot for it.