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Faceoff: Watch Your Mouth

Should freedom of speech extend to those who spread hatred?

Michael Coren and Karen Selick - September 17, 2007

From: Michael Coren
To: Karen Selick
Date: July 30, 2007 9:32 AM
Subject: Is hate speech still free speech?

Bobby James Wilkinson, the creator of the Canadian Nazi Party website, has been fined $4,000 by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and ordered to cease and desist spreading hateful messages. Seems about right to me. No jail time but a reasonable financial punishment for a man who lives in his grandpa's basement. The main thing is a site that made dishonest and insulting comments about blacks, Jews, gays, Asians and most other identifiable groups should disappear. Messages on it also called for violence against these groups, which crosses any reasonable line concerning the right to freedom. Actually, I'm a little tired of the free speech fetish. We have laws of libel and slander so why not laws against lying about a larger group? The fear, of course, is limitations on speech will be turned against people other than Nazis and nuts. True, Christians and conservatives are already being targeted. So change rather than destroy the law.

From: Karen Selick
To: Michael Coren
Date: July 30, 2007 10:43 AM
Subject: re: Is hate speech still free speech?

"Tired of the free speech fetish"? Seems to me you're tired of trying to think in principles. There is no way to re-write the law to suit your requirement that Christians and conservatives have free speech while Nazis and "nuts" be restricted. Even if the law said exactly that, Nazis and nuts would quickly re-label themselves. Many such wackos already lurk in Christian and conservative circles. So who can we trust to decide whether someone is a real Christian or conservative, versus a mere masquerading nut? And how do we prevent the censors themselves from being corrupted by exposure to the material they are censoring? After all, censorship is generally rationalized on the basis that those exposed to offensive speech will be persuaded by it. No, disgusting as Wilkinson may be, we must nevertheless take a principled stand in favour of protecting all speech, even his. Prosecuting these creeps merely gives their noxious views additional publicity.

From: Michael Coren
To: Karen Selick
Date: July 30, 2007 2:52 PM
Subject: re: Is hate speech still free speech?

Actually, the notion that censorship of the far right only gives them oxygen is inaccurate and usually rests on the mishandled Zundel case. During the Weimar Republic, the early Nazis found it almost impossible to mobilize when their speech was curtailed. It was only after the laws were liberalized that they prospered. But at a deeper level, I'm not really sure what you're arguing. Anything to be said any time? Accusing an innocent person of rape, demanding blacks be lynched? Most civilized people want limits on speech, it is merely where we draw that line that causes debate. I used specifics as examples but you seem to have turned them into absolutes. My point is the limits should be at the far corners of discourse, where lives are put in genuine danger. As someone who works in the front-line of all this, I know a good balance can be achieved.

From: Karen Selick
To: Michael Coren
Date: July 30, 2007 4:17 PM
Subject: re: Is hate speech still free speech?

Zundel clearly wasn't the only neo-Nazi to garner abundant publicity from his prosecution. You and I wouldn't be discussing Bobby James Wilkinson here in the Western Standard if not for his prosecution. The error and the disgrace of the Weimar courts was not that they allowed Nazis to speak, but that they allowed Nazis who were clearly guilty of violent crimes--lynchings, beatings, murders--to walk free. This is where the line must be drawn. Speech is tolerable but physical violence is not. There's a clear distinction between the two, so there's no chance that boundary-creep will ensnare innocent people who merely mouth off in offensive language. As for a good balance being achieved--there's surely not a good balance in Canada today. A person can't say bugger-all in this country any more. The "human rights" codes, federal and provincial, were wrong from inception. It was easy to see where they would lead. We should repeal them promptly.

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