Back in January, I produced a televised discussion on “free speech, hate speech and human rights commission” (and blogged about the issue here. The show (and the blog entry) dealt with a couple of cases of magazines being brought before human rights commissions for publishing material found offensive by some.
The program included an interview with Ezra Levant, one of the publishers facing charges before such a commission. He complained on the program that his case had not received a fair share of attention from the mainstream Canadian media.
Tonight I am co-producing something of a follow-up discussion. Whether or not the media was slow to notice the story of free speech and human rights commissions, it did not take too long for the issue to appear in the House of Commons.
On the last day of January, Liberal MP Keith Martin filed a private member’s motion designed to strip human rights commissions of the ability to investigate alleged hate speeech (Martin’s motion would have no affect on the ability of the police to launch criminal investigations into such speech).
The motion was praised by Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who was instrumental in helping to set up such commissions 30 years ago to protect minorities against discrimination, but now feels they have overstepped their boundaries in investigating speech.
It was also praised, more dubiously, by members of a neo-Nazi website, amazed that their anti-hate-speech-law stand was being championed by a member of a visible minority (Martin) and a Jew (Levant).
Maybe because of this, Martin’s motion has caused divisions within his own party. The spokesperson for Liberal leader Stéphane Dion said the party “will not entertain changes” to the Human Rights Act, such as the one Martin proposed.
Meanwhile, another issue involving freedom of expression is now before the Canadian Parliament. Bill C-10, an omnibus tax bill now before the senate, would give the government the right to deny tax credits to film and TV shows it considers offensive.
Critics have decried the bill as censorship.
Is the debate over free speech vs. hate speech analagous to the debate over art vs. smut?
In the Globe and Mail last weekend, columnist Margaret Wente argued it was:
“Section 13.1 (of the Human Rights Act) is pretty much like Bill C-10. It’s a way for people to justify censoring something they don’t like by claiming it’s immoral or illegal… Wickedness and immorality still rule the world. But exactly what is wicked is in the eye of the beholder”.
For more on this debate, tune in tonight or online after tonight here.
The debate over the limits of free speech – always bubbling under the surface in any democratic country – seems to have grown much more prominent in this country lately.