The Death of Free Speech
Recently I posted a very general blog about how free speech has come under attack and I also referenced a video from the US House of Representatives where, one of several people of standing, was giving his testimony. I have since been challenged to provide proof. I cited some local examples and a few others, only to be challenged again to provide even more detail, with a rebuttal saying that we live in time where we have the most freedom to speak. So here is my rebuttal and answer to this, complete with examples and links, with facts and figures. I will use data and articles for last 5 years, so going back to 2012 and working forward.
The Great White North (AKA Canada)
There are those that say we live in an age where we have the freest speech we have ever had, there are others who believe that free speech is dying. Which is the truth? Who is to blame. Is this a societal shift or and institutional one? Let us find out. To be fair and open, my personal view is that our free speech is being curtailed in an effort to appease the minority for the sins and perceived sins of the majority’s fore-fathers. Or is it? Who is the majority, who is the minority? Is there really any such thing anymore? Let’s start looking.
A quick Google search of “Free Speech” and the years 2012-2016 individually, pops up a treasure trove of links to articles and blogs. From individuals (yes I know it’s 2008 but it makes a good point and even has links and actual facts to back it up) on the right and left of the political spectrum to articles from National Level Mainstream Media such as The Globe and Mail and the National Post. Then there is the annual reports from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms which ranks how well our Universities are handling free speech. Most get a blatant fail and few are mediocre and a very small number are passing. You can find those reports, here. Oh and here as an article from Macleans, Universities are rated on their policies and how well they implement them, as well as how their Student Unions are dealing with the issue. The over all picture is not good.
Criminal Law vs Human Rights Laws
Continuing here on the home front we have a duplication of our hate crime laws and punishments. According to our criminal code hate speech is punishable by up to 2 years in prison. Seems easy enough, there is even an actual definition or two in there (Sec 319 RSC 1985 C-46). Seems pretty straight forward and reasonable, if you publicly promote hate and/or violence toward any group of people, you can be charged and if found guilty, punished. There are, however, several Provinces that have their own tribunals. Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, just to name some.
These quasi courts can impose fines in the tens of thousands of dollars and the burden of proof and conviction is not the same. Nor is there the same oversight and appeals process as our criminal courts. Why do we need two systems? I get that there are issues these tribunals deal with that have absolutely nothing to do with hate speech, such as workplace and other types of discrimination so I have no problem with that. Just why are there two systems? Why does the Province of Quebec pretty much get to ignore most of these National Level Laws with regards to free speech and language?
Here is a good one, a prominent and very successful female lawyer was stopped from speaking to class on the difficulties of being a woman in her profession. Because she did her job and represented her client, it just so happens she won too. It also just so happens that her client Jian Ghomeshi. This has vilified her and prevented her from speaking. You can read about it here, another article written for the Guelph Mercury can be found here. It speaks about motion M103. This is the motion that will most likely result in the introduction of an anti-islamophobia bill. (if it already hasn’t). Need another Canadian wake up call. How about Dr. Jorden Peterson from the University of Toronto.
The United States of What the heck is going on down there?
You do not even have to do a google search of free speech referencing our neighbours to the south to get some good articles. All you have to do is watch the daily news, you can even pick your political parties and spectrum. From the far right blocking the far left and vis versa. Everyday, there are reports of rioters blocking speakers (to be fair mostly conservative ones). This year alone has seen several riots and protests in an effort to block not just speakers but comedians. All because a certain subset of the population is offended at the topic. Do not get me wrong, they can be offended all they want, that does not however, give them the right to prevent someone from speaking and it certainly does not give them the right to riot. Peaceful protest? Knock yourself out you have that right as much as anyone else.
Peaceful Protest or Violent Riots
There is a difference though between peacefully protesting and physically stopping someone from entering a building or burning cars. If you do not believe me check out here, here oh and here too and she’s a former Secretary of State. Oh and let us not forget the Chief of the International Monetary Fund Christina Lagarde, who pulled out of a commencement speech as well. Two very successful and very prominent women who have risen to such high accolades. Forced to walk away from speaking to our future leaders. What a loss.
Ok, so the source is not exactly 100% foolproof here. After all this is the Huffington Post BUT it is worth reading. We have watch the newest President of the US struggle to grasp the concept of handling the media over controlling the media. He has not been able to do either. Just today his most recent Communications Director was ousted, replaced, quit pick one at your leisure after only 10 days on the job. Now that says a lot.
Merry Ol’ England and the rest of Europe
England and the UK
This problem is not just here on our side of the Atlantic, over in the United Kingdom they are seeing the same pattern of restriction on University and College Campus’. We also have strong indications that not everyone is equal under the law, as opined in this article here. Dubbed the great “gay cake” controversy, this case highlighted a problem with equality under the law. Some are more equal than others. A fact that anyone who had the unfortunate problem of being dragged before the Canadian Human Rights Commission can attest to. According to that article a very scary thing happened, the UK Government made a blatant and overt grab for control of the media;
With minimal debate and little thought, Parliament rushed through a pernicious new law intended to force the industry to sign up to a state-backed regulator. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 would see libel costs awarded against any newspaper which is not a member of a government-approved regulator, even where it has successfully defended the claim.
The amendment is still awaiting enactment, and hopefully will remain that way forever, for if the UK can get away with it, what will happen elsewhere in the Democratic world?
La Belle France
Ahh France, once a Bastian of free press and free speech. A product of her multiple revolutions against the monarchy. Now? A huge surveillance state, big brother is definitely watching, and not only that. Big brother is arresting, trying and convicting people. Some for the simple crime of wearing a t-shirt that does not even promote violence or actually support violence in any way. Where on one day millions marched in support of a comic artist. Now the people cower, afraid to speak their minds openly. Click here to find out more.
As you can see from the above image there are some pretty standard and reasonable things. Defamation, slander, promoting hatred, where it gets a bit hazy is “Disputing crimes against humanity”. So, just for saying that you believe something like Rwanda or the Genocide did not happen, or were not Crimes against humanity you can be prosecuted? I mean, sure this makes you a bit of a nutter and probably not going to be on very many Christmas card lists, but are you not still entitled to an opinion? I guess not. But here is the kicker, there is another image just below this one.
In France, do not even get caught talking to you pillow or your dog or God forbid your Priest, Rabbi, Imam or other confident. You could still get into a lot of trouble. Remember big brother is watching.
The Rest of What’s left of Europe
So how is the rest of Europe doing with free speech? I would abysmally. The European Union and as individual countries have moved to restrict free speech and freedom of the press. In some cases making it illegal to challenge history or even political groups and governments’. There are several instances, especially in Germany where the sitting government has strengthened hate laws so much that one might not even be safe talking to oneself. Take this article for instance. It talks about how Germany is going after social media sites for not disabling access or removing “Hate Speech” within 24 hours of being notified. But there is no definition of “Hate Speech”. Facebook, Google and twitter will soon be on the hook for millions of Euros each, for something that it out of their control and which would be illegal over here on our side of the pond. Even more here and here referencing the downward spiral of hate speech. Mostly being used by those who wish to control, not only the medium. But the message and therefore the masses. The ideal is fine. A place without hate, where we all live happy productive lives. Sound familiar anyone? Let me see. 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Equilibrium. Take your pick of many more, just do not tell anyone you read them.
It is certainly my opinion and my observation that free speech is being curtailed around the world and as such democracy as we know it and as it should be, is at risk. Countries like China, Iran, North Korea, Syria, India. These are the countries that have free speech problems. These are the countries that Ban Google searches, that ban free press. It is in these countries that the use of Tor and other “Dark Web” networks is used to circumvent these controls. We should not be needing them here. According to the Tor Project. The US makes up just under 20% of the Tor Users at just over 433 thousand per day. That says a lot right there. This is a discussion that needs to be happening everywhere. In order to stop this, we must be willing to step up and shout that we will not go away and most emphatically not quietly. If your Government is telling you not to worry, that usually the time to worry.