Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Should we let the bigots rant?

The right to free speech is a right that should not be denied to the citizens of any nation but one is forced to ask this rhetorical question; “Is there a limit of the right to exercise one’s right to free speech?”

Actually there is a limit. For example, in Canada and other countries, you cannot advocate genocide. Further, you cannot advocate the violent overthrow of your government. Admittedly there have been instances when it has been done in some countries and rightly so. Libya is an example where the overthrow of Gaddafi’s government was the correct and necessary thing to do.

One person who’s right to free speech was a Nazi lover called Ernst Zundel. His right to maintain that the Nazis didn’t kill as many as six million Jews was curtailed by the courts up to the Supreme Court of Canada. Zündel had previously undergone two criminal trials in 1985 and 1988. The charge against Zündel alleged that he "did publish a statement or tale, namely, "Did Six Million Really Die?" that he knows is false and that is likely to cause mischief to the public interest in social and racial tolerance, contrary to the Criminal Code." After a much publicized trial in 1985, Zündel was found guilty. After his conviction, Zündel was able to have it overturned in an appeal on a legal technicality, leading to a second trial in 1988, in which he was again convicted. Zündel was originally found guilty by two juries but was finally acquitted upon appeal by the Supreme Court of Canada which held in 1992 that section 181 (formerly known as section 177) was a violation of the guarantees of freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Section 181 states that "every one who willfully publishes a statement, tale or news that he knows is false and causes or is likely to cause injury or mischief to a public interest is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment.”

The pertinent aspect of that law is that to convict anyone of publishing a statement that is false the prosecution has to prove that the accused knew that what he said was false. Zundel always maintained that he really believed that six million Jews weren’t killed by the Nazis during the Second World War. The prosecution simply couldn’t prove that he didn’t believe that six million Jews had been murdered by the Nazis and yet, he was still convicted at his trials.

The issue before the Supreme Court was not whether or not he believed in what he was saying but rather whether or not he had the right to say it even if he believed that it was false and if he didn’t believe that what he was saying was true, then was section 181 of the Code still infringing his "the guarantee of freedom of expression as stated in section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, if so, whether s. 181 is justifiable under section 1 of the Charter."

Justice McLachlin, writing for the Court, found that Zundel did violate section 181. The book was examined, and the court concluded that it "misrepresented the work of historians, misquoted witnesses, fabricated evidence, and cited non-existent authorities." However, section 181 violated section 2(b) of the Charter. She noted that section 2(b) protects all expression of a non-violent form, and as such, the content itself is irrelevant (section 2(b) is content neutral. The protection provided by the Charter includes expression of minority beliefs even where the majority may find it false. For this reason, the imposition of imprisonment for one’s expression and views has a severely limiting effect on freedom that is beyond reason.

McLachlin further found that it could not be justified under section 1 of the Canadian Charter as the restriction on all expressions "likely to cause injury or mischief to a public interest" was far too broad.

Let me say from the onset that I agree with that ruling. I don’t agree with Zundel’s belief that six million Jews were not murdered by the Nazis. They were. But if some nut case wants to make stupid statements, even statements that infuriates people, it is his right to do so. There are people who still maintain that the earth is flat but we can hardly imprison them for making such a ridiculous statement.

William Whatcott is a Canadian who thinks that homosexuals are sodomites, that they should be kept out of the public schools and that the Bible teaches that the gay lifestyle is one of “sin and depravity. Canadian pastor Stephen Boissoin compares gay activists to pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps. Both of these men are obviously stupid. But should the state shut them up?

In Canada, apparently they can be shut up. For example, Whatcott has been fined $17,500 after four people complained that they were offended by his words and actions (he stuffs mail boxes with pamphlets). Boissoin was fined $5,000 and made to write a letter of apology to a University of Calgary professor who complained that Boisson’s words offended him.

First of all, Whatcott wasn’t wrong to state that homosexuals are sodomites. He was implying that all homosexuals are sodomites. A sodomite is someone who indulges in oral or anal sex. It is quite conceivable that homosexuals have oral and/or anal sex together. So what? The late prime minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau said that the government had no right to be in the bedrooms of its citizens so sodomy was struck out of the Criminal Code of Canada

For Boisson to comparing gay activists to pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps was not only wrong, it was outrageous. Maybe some are but that is like saying that all Canadians are thieves because some are. That too would be outrageous.

Whatcott wasn’t charged under the Criminal Code, he was charged under the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, Section 3 of that Act states in part;

3. The objects of this Act are:

(a) to promote recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal inalienable
rights of all members of the human family; and
(b) to further public policy in Saskatchewan that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights and to discourage and eliminate discrimination.
At the same time, sections 4 and 5 state;
4. Every person and every class of persons shall enjoy the right to freedom of
conscience, opinion and belief and freedom of religious association, teaching, practice and worship.
5. Every person and every class of persons shall, under the law, enjoy the right to
freedom of expression through all means of communication, including, without
limiting the generality of the foregoing, the arts, speech, the press or radio, television or any other broadcasting device.

If Whatcott had the right to express his opinion by all means, then why was he charged under the Act and found guilty? The matter went before the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal and it overturned the Tribunal’s decision.

This issue is now going before the Supreme Court of Canada. The issues are as follows;

Issue 1: Does s. 14(1)(b) of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, S.S. 1979, c. S-24.1 infringe s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Issue 2: If so, is the infringement a reasonable limit prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society under s. 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Issue 3: Does s. 14(1)(b) of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, S.S. 1979, c. S-24.1 infringe s. 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Issue 4: If so, is the infringement a reasonable limit prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society under s. 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Issue 5: Did the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal Err in finding no violation of s. 14(1)(b) of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code?

The evil of hate propaganda is beyond doubt. Hate expression causes real harm to real people. Hate speech demeans, denigrates and dehumanizes its targets. Through hate speech, individuals are told that they are entitled to less than other Canadians simply because of characteristics they possess.

According to the Factum submitted to the Supreme Court;

The choice of public sanction, enforced by government, is an important one. The absence of sanctions sends the message about the relative value of different human lives. A legal response to hateful speech is a statement that victims of hateful speech are valued members of Canadian society. unquote

There is no doubt in my mind that hateful speech can hurt innocent victims of such speech. For example, there may be some uneducated people who actually believe Whatcott’s statement that all homosexuals are sodomites even though such a statement is not necessarily factually true. Some men can have feelings for one another and live together and yet be celibate although admittedly, that would be rare.

William Whatcott published and distributed four flyers in towns and cities in Saskatchewan in 2001 and 2002. Four individuals filed complaints with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission the appellant that is now appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada. Each complainant claimed that one of the flyers promoted hatred against individuals based on sexual orientation and therefore violated s. 14(1)(b) of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code which reads:

14(1) No person shall publish or display, or cause or permit to be published or displayed, on any lands or premises or in a newspaper, through a television or radio broadcasting station or any other broadcasting device, or in any printed matter or publication or by means of any other medium that the person owns, controls, distributes or sells, any representation, including any notice, sign, symbol, emblem, article, statement or other representation:

(b) that exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground.

But doesn’t section 14 conflict with sections 4 and 5 which states that everyone has the right to an opinion and can express one’s self on the radio, television, the arts or by speech? Yes it does but it appears that you simply cannot print a flyer that you intend to deliver to a person’s home. I suppose that includes publishing your opinion in a newspaper. Somehow, that doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Schedule D4 is a flyer from the Christian Truth Activists. The following extracts from the flyer were relied on by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal and referred to by Hunter J.A. in the Court of Appeal:

“children…learning how wonderful it is for two men to sodomize each other”;
Sodomy is generally oral or anal sex between two human beings.

“Now the homosexuals want to share their filth and propaganda with Saskatchewan’s children”;

“degenerated into a filthy session where gay and lesbian teachers used dirty language to describe lesbian sex and sodomy to their teenage audience”;

“ex-Sodomites and other types of sex addicts who have been able to break free of their sexual bondage and develop wholesome and healthy relationships”;

“sodomites and lesbians who want to remain in their lifestyle and proselytize vulnerable young people that civil law should discriminate against them”;

“Our children will pay the price in disease, death, abuse…if we do not say no to the sodomite desire to socialize your children into accepting something that is clearly wrong.

“Sodomites are 430 times more likely to acquire Aids and 3 times more likely to sexually abuse children!”

I don’t know where he got those statistics but it is true that people who commit sodomy (anal sex only) are at risk at getting AIDS but I know of no statistics that show that people who commit sodomy are 3 times more likely to sexually abuse children.

He also stated;

“The Bible is clear that homosexuality is an abomination.”

The Bible does say that in so many words but nowadays, society in general doesn’t look upon men sodomizing one another as an abomination and more than they believe that working on the Sabbath should be punishable by death.

He also said in his flyer;

“If Saskatchewan’s sodomites have their way, your school board will be celebrating buggery too!”

Such a statement is so stupid, it doesn’t even rate a response.

“Our acceptance of homosexuality and our toleration of its promotion in our school system will lead to the early death and morbidity of many children.”

It is beyond my understanding as to how this twerp can presume that children who later become homosexuals will automatically face an early death. It is true that many homosexuals get AIDS but so do non homosexuals. Further, many homosexual relationships between men and lesbian relationships between women are no different than men and women who are married. They generally have sex only with their partner and for this reason; there is less risk of them getting AIDS.

The tribunal found that all four flyers exposed homosexuals to hatred and ridicule. No doubt such flyers did. But so what? Newspaper articles are always exposing certain kinds of people to hatred and ridicule and you don’t see them being charged under the Human Rights Code.

Now obviously gay men would find such statements offensive and they are offensive. But is it illegal to make offensive statements, even if in reality, they are not necessarily all true?

William Whatcott’s views on the gay life are unquestionably misguided but that being said, does he really not have the right to make his views known? Where do we as a society draw the line?

We as a society can ridicule church doctrine. We can ridicule people who belong to cults. We can even ridicule people who put rings in their noses even though in some African tribes, it is a normal practice.

Obviously Canada has a very different attitude to that of the United States when it comes to freedom of speech. Neither country will let you yell “fire” in a crowded cinema when there is no fire, but in the United States you can say and do some very offensive things and remain within the law.

In Canada, you cannot do all sorts of things, although I am not sure how far the limits extend.

The difference between our two countries reflects the fact that the United States is far more individualistic whereas Canada is more communitarian. The former stresses the rights of the individual whereas the latter stresses the needs of the group.
Personally, I agree that we have obligations as a group to our members, especially those in need of help or protection.

But I detest laws that restrict freedom of speech. Apart from anything else, like banning drugs they only exacerbate the problem. For many years, until he was finally deported to his native Germany (which is even more restrictive than Canada), there was that vile individual by the name of Ernst Zundel who got huge amounts of coverage for his anti-Semitism. He’d have reached a far smaller audience if he’d simply been ignored. Canadians could have shown their contempt by saying nothing and simply ignoring him.

The First Amendment is one of the greatest attributes in the United States. I know it is easy for me to say all of this because I am not gay, nor black, nor Jewish, nor female. But I would say that the Amendment is for gays and blacks and Jews and women and the handicapped because it shows Americans are above the scumbags who denigrate. And once you start restricting speech in one area, where does it end? Will a change in administration or culture decide that I will not be allowed to speak in favour of abortion or homosexuals or any other cause that I may be or may not be in favour of?

At the moment, the free speech issue is up before the Supreme Court of Canada. I hope the ruling is in the direction of the American practice and that Canada shows that it is sufficiently self-confident to let the foul bigots say what they want while the rest of the world goes about its business.

Hate speech harms vulnerable people, but I am not convinced that it should be banned by human rights legislation. After many years — and tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs — the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that Whatcott had not violated the human rights law prohibiting speech which “exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons.” The commission appealed to the Supreme Court, which will rule on Whatcott’s guilt or innocence, as well as the constitutional validity of this restriction on free speech.

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada wrapped up its hearings on the William Whatcott matter. The case asked whether the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission should have the power to prosecute anti-gay pamphleteer Whatcott for homophobic speech. Now, the judges have to decide between two subtly different views on the Charter of Rights. The first says that gay rights under the Charter are entwined with free speech, and that one requires the other. The second says that the court’s duty to protect gay equality binds it to censor hate.

There is an irony in this. Censorship is the historic and present enemy of gay freedom. Without free speech, there would be no gay rights.

All religions present themselves to the world as religions of love and peace. But in practice, religions of love are also religions of hatred: The very act of embracing an established faith means accepting its dogmas about who and what God finds abhorrent. Throughout history, such dogmas have led to countless massacres of “infidels” and “heretics” (a phenomenon that persists to this day in many Muslim nations). While the era when Christians could be put to death for espousing the wrong theory about Christ’s divinity are long gone, at least one hatred does remain central to fundamentalist Christian teachings — the hatred of gay sexuality, and sodomy in particular.

The Biblical injunction against gay sex is explicit. In Genesis, after the wicked men of Sodom attempt a homosexual rape of two divine messengers, their city is annihilated. Later on, Leviticus instructs us that “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.” While Jesus never commented directly on homosexuality, Paul did, in 1 Corinthians, listing it as an activity that disqualifies Christians from the kingdom of God.

Liberal churches have tried to put a modern spin on such words. And even conservative churches have emphasized the approach of hating the sin, but loving the sinner. Yet there is no getting around the fact the Bible treats gay sex as an abomination. Under “Christian law” — if it existed — unrepentant gay sex would be a capital offence, much as it is under the Hanafi interpretation of shariah.

Given all this, it is somewhat surprising that there have not been more prosecutions of religious Christians under Canadian human-rights and hate-speech laws, which all have been interpreted to include gay men and women as protected classes. Taken at face value, the Bible itself is technically a “homophobic” document, and a preacher could theoretically be prosecuted for the act of reading it aloud to a congregation. Even the citation of Biblical verses by number could be considered hateful speech.

More than theoretically, in fact: In 1997, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ruled that a newspaper ad that merely cited relevant anti-gay passages from Romans, Leviticus and 1 Corinthians, alongside a struck-through image of two male stick figures holding hands, was prohibited speech. Canadian Christian activists are not far off the mark when they say that human rights laws is verging on criminalizing Christianity. At the very least, there is a massive legal conflict between the promise of religious freedom contained in our Charter of Rights, and the effective ban on promulgating a central religious dogma — opposition to homosexuality — that has become part of our human-rights culture.

I believe that the Supreme Court of Canada will uphold the appellate court’s judgment.

We live, thankfully, in an age when gay sexuality is treated by mainstream Canadians as what it is: a biologically rooted fact of life, which carries no moral stigma. But there are millions of religious Canadians who reject that attitude. We may not agree with them but they are free to express their opinions. And bloggers (including me) have the editorial right to ignore or refute their doctrines. But unless we are prepared to declare all religious faiths illegal, we should uphold their fundamentalist’ right to articulate core elements of their belief, however politically incorrect they appear in this enlightened day and age.

We should be mindful of what is happening in other countries where free speech is forbidden under the pain of death. Do we want Canada to eventually be no different than those countries? If we do, then as the years come and go, we will not be able to give our opinions about any subject without being arrested and punished. And when that happens, the news media will be governed by the thought police; the word ‘sex’ will be removed from our dictionaries and our prayers will be forever forbidden to be spoken aloud.

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