Wednesday, 4 February 2015

FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Are we losing it? 

Freedom of speech is the political right to communicate one's opinions and ideas to others either by voice or in writing. It is a very basic right for everyone in Westernized nations. While freedom of speech gives us the right to verbally and in writing express how we feel, it doesn’t  give us the right to curse and orally abuse other people.

However, there are restrictions on that right. For example you can’t state that a certain person is a thief unless you can prove that he is. If you can’t, you could be subjected to being sued for defamation of character. You can’t yell out FIRE! in a crowded theatre if there is no fire in the theatre because many lives could be lost in the resulting stampede. You can’t advocate sedition or the murder of someone or even threatening to injure or kill someone. You also can’t advocate genocide towards any ethnic or religious group of people. These crimes are against most criminal codes in Westernized nations.

There is also copyright work as well as trade secrets, hate speech, non-disclosure agreements, and child pornography that are restricted from being publicized. The latter in Canada is also forbidden even if you even have it only for your own use.  I personally have no problem with these restrictions.

However, there are some restrictions that I am not convinced are necessarily needed in Westernized nations. What follows is one of them.

The Existence of the Holocaust

I will say from the start that I really believe that millions of Jews along with Roma (Gypsies) Russians and disabled people were murdered by the Nazis. That terrible holocaust really existed.

But some people don’t believe that many people were murdered by the Nazis in that period in history. In 2006, Austria sentenced historian, David Irving to prison for three years for publicly denying the existence of the holocaust. Irving has contended in the past that most of the people who died in concentration camps such as Auschwitz were not murdered but rather they had succumbed to typhus and other diseases. Irving pleaded guilty to denying the Holocaust in two speeches he made on a visit to Austria in 1989, but he said at his trial that he had later changed his views. He had revised his opinion because after seeing the personal files of Adolf Eichmann, he was convinced his original views had been wrong. Speaking in German, he told the court he finally accepted the fact that the Nazis had killed millions of Jews. Austria has the world's stiffest laws against denying the Holocaust and Irving could have faced a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Freedom of speech in Canada is protected as a fundamental freedom by virtue of Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That section is extremely inclusive. It states;

“Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.”

 Does this mean that people in Canada can deny the existence of the Holocaust?


Canada has no specific laws regarding Holocaust deniers, but, it does have laws against hate speech. Sections 318, 319, and 320 of the Canadian Criminal Code forbid hate “propaganda.” The penalties are up to 5 years in jail for someone advocating genocide, and up to 2 years for inciting hatred against a specific group of people.

In 1977, Zündel founded a small press publishing house called Samisdat Publishers which issued such neo-Nazi pamphlets as The Hitler We Loved and Why and Did Six Million Really Die?both were prominent documents of the Holocaust denial movement.

The charge he had actually faced was under Section 181 of the Canadian Criminal Code that states; “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.”        

Now that section was more directed to people who publish either in written form or in oral form a statement that causes people to fear for their lives, such as yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre when there is no fire or publishing in a newspaper that war has been declared by another country and rockets are on their way carrying nuclear bombs when in fact that person knows that isn’t true. After Zündel was deported to Germany, he was sentenced to prison for five years—the maximum for such a denial in Germany. 

But should it be against the law to deny the existence of the Holocaust that occurred in Poland and elsewhere under the auspices of the Nazis?  The Supreme Court of Canada said that it shouldn’t. Justice Beverley McLachlin, writing for the Court, found that Zundel did violate section 181 after his book was examined and the court concluded that it “misrepresented the work of historians, misquoted witnesses, fabricated evidence, and cited non-existent authorities.” However, the court agreed that section 181 violated section 2(b) of the Charter.

Many people world-wide blame Turkey for the Armenian Genocide in which it is estimated that as many as 1 and 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks soon after World War 1. Now if anyone in Canada had denied the existence of the genocide of the Armenians, they never would have been charged with anything so it follows that charging anyone denying the existence of the Nazi holocaust was obviously unfair and unjust.

The protection provided by the Charter includes expressions of minority beliefs even where the majority may find then to be false.  This is very important with respect to the right to speak your mind. Of course, you have to believe what you are saying or writing to enjoy the benefit of Section 2(b) of the Charter.  The imposition of imprisonment for an expression of your belief that in your honest opinion is correct, has a severely limiting effect on one’s freedom of speech and in my opinion; that is certainly beyond reason.      

Here is irony for you. Jyllands-Posten, the Danish daily that commissioned the Prophet Muhammad cartoons in 2006, rejected caricatures of Jesus Christ a year earlier saying that they were offensive and “will provoke an outcry.” In 2008, the magazine Charlie Hebdo fired one of their journalist/cartoonists. Maurice Sinet, because he suggested that Jean Sarkozy, the son of the then president, was converting to Judaism for money.   The editor who did the firing was Phillipe Val who had republished the Danish cartoons.  Kiamough Ramezani, an editor of Charlie Hebdo and one of the staff who wasn’t killed, said that the cartoons went too far. I agree. As I suggested in an earlier article, don’t insult Muhammad, Moses, or Jesus. They are revered by most of the main religions of the world and insulting them is not only disrespectful, it is dangerous as we have just seen. President Obama administration said earlier two years ago that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. Now there is an understatement.  France has decided to clamp down on hate speech and anti-Semitism. This means that the Muslims ae not to be written about in a disparaging manner. This doesn’t mean that Islamic extremists can’t be written about in a disparaging manner.

I have on occasion, made fun of the Islamic extremists by saying that when they are killed in battle, I hope that the 72 virgins they are expecting to be waiting for them are all over ninety years of age.

Critics of Israel are hounded. Various universities denied tenure to professors who made public statements that were critical of Israel.  Brendan Eich was fired as Mozilla’s chief executive because he once donated money to a campaign that opposes same-sex marriages. These kinds of acts which are varying degrees of restriction to free speech and activity are an affront to our democratic way of life.

It is quite obvious that there are people who have no sense of humor. They take offence at any statement that they think will offend someone else.

In the early 1970s, I brought entertainers into prisons, both federal and provincial and on one occasion, I brought a group of comedians into a provincial prison to entertain the prisoners. When the homosexuals were later brought into the chapel and seated after the other prisoners had left,  one of the comedians made a statement based on a commercial that says, “It is the beers that made Milwaukee famous.” by saying instead, “It is the queers who made Milwaukee famous.” The homosexuals laughed uproariously. The head of the prison later chastised me for permitting that statement to be said in the show. He told me that if it happens again, my entertainers won’t be invited back. I decided to never bring any entertainers back again. Unfortunately, the prisoners suffered because of the stupidity of that head of the prison.

Comics such as Bill Maher and John Stewart poke fun at some of the most powerful people and institutions in the US such as the president of the United States and the Catholic Church. No one really takes offence at their jokes when they do this. I have a very good friend who is a black man and whenever I see him, I jokingly remark, “I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age.” He knows that I respect him and he doesn’t take offence when I say that to him when I have  a big smile on my face.

Of course we have to be very careful when talking with some people who come from countries that are not fully acquainted with the Western forms of humor.  


In Canada, it is against the law to blaspheme however the law is discriminatory in that it only covers attacks on Christianity and Church of England tenets. That means that you can’t be charged with blasphemy if you insult the Hebrew religion or that of Hindus or Muslims etc. It is obviously a silly law. The last successful prosecution under what is now section 296 took place 80 years ago although charges were laid in the 1980s regarding the Monty Python movie, Life of Brian. It was alleged scenes in the movie blasphemed Christ and Christians. The charges were later dropped.

Canada's blasphemy law can still be found in the Criminal Code. It is asleep but not dead. However it is superseded by freedom of expression guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms so the offence is really is superfluous. There is serious talk about removing that law from the Canadian Criminal Code.

A British Columbia man filed a human-rights complaint alleging religious discrimination after a TV personality flew a plane pulling a “Jesus sucks” banner over Toronto.

Under Ireland’s legislation that was to take effect October, 2009 states that a person commits blasphemy if he or she takes the Lord's name in vain or publishes or utters anything that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion could set you back a cool 25,000 euros (about $39,000). The law; which has been approved by the Irish parliament, needed only the signature of Justice Minister Dermot Ahern. As I see it, the passing of such a law amounts to turning Ireland into a Fundamentalist State.

Ireland isn't the only country to invoke blasphemy laws. Many western nations view their own blasphemy provisions as archaic and in contravention of freedom of speech rights. England abolished its blasphemy laws in 2008.

In May, 2014, Raif Badawi, a father of three, was sentenced to five years in prison, and is to receive 1,000 lashes to be administered in public. The whipping sentence began in January of this year with fifty lashes and will continue over the following 20 weeks. A seven-foot bamboo cane that is the width of a man's little finger is to be used. His misdeed: he admitted on Facebook that he is an atheist, a supporter of women's rights, and said: “The combination of the sword and the Quran are more dangerous than a nuclear bomb.” Publically speaking your mind in Saudi Arabia is more dangerous that a nuclear bomb. At the time of this writing, he hasn't been lashed a second time. 

It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia has no real concept of human rights and the freedom of speech in that country is a nonentity.  Many other countries have severe restrictions on certain types of speech. Most Muslim countries, for example, do not tolerate speech demeaning Islam. Malaysia does not permit the denigration of any religion.

Rimsha Masih was arrested in August 2014 in Islamabad, Pakistan after a Muslim cleric accused her of burning the Quran. The cleric was later accused of fabricating evidence so the girl was acquitted. She coluld have been hanged had she been convicted.

Pope Francis while visiting Asia’s largest Catholic nation, the Philippines, said that people’s faith and religion shouldn’t be ridiculed. I agree. In my respectful opinion, this doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t take issue with some of what is in the holy books. For example, in the Old Testament it states that anyone who works on the Sabbath is to be put to death.  No one is put to death for that infraction these days. I also take issue with a tenet of the Quran which states in Chapter Al-Baqarah, verse 178; “Oh you who believe! Al-Qisas (the Law of Equality in punishment) is prescribed for you in case of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But if the killer is forgiven by the brother (or the relatives, etc.) of the killed against blood money, then adhering to it with fairness and payment of the blood money, to the heir should be made in fairness. This is alleviation and a mercy from your Lord.”  

In Westernized nations, murderers are put on trial and if found guilty, the state decides the punishment although the victim’s family gets the opportunity to voice their feelings about the death of their loved ones.  We do not set a murderer free simply because a family receives money from the murderer or his family. It certainly would be unfair if the murderer has no money or a family to pay out the money. For this reason, I take issue with that particular tenet of the Quran.

I would however be remiss if I didn’t mention that after reading the Quran, I find a great deal of wisdom in that holy book and in my respectful opinion, it offers wise advice on how to live amongst other human beings.

 In Conclusion

It is most unfortunate that many counties prefer to restrict what its citizens can say in public or what they can write in their blogs, newspapers or books. This restriction obviously holds back advancement of any nation that shackles the rights of that nation’s citizens and invariably leads that nation backwards in the direction of the Dark Ages.  

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