Some people believe that freedom of speech should be a fundamental human right. The ability to freely and openly express oneself, without fear of persecution based on opinions, is invaluable for any healthy society.
However, what happens when freedom of speech is being abused, to cause fear and suffering? Do we stand by the idea that anyone should be free to openly express themselves? Or do we rally behind laws that police hate speech? Would policing free speech end hate speech? Would limiting free speech protect more people than it harms? Or would we be suppressing a fundamental human right?
Freedom of speech has become a heated topic in Canada. Though our legal charter upholds the freedoms of expression and belief, we simultaneously and almost paradoxically have laws that criminalize hate speech. This has led to controversy over the limits of free speech in Canada, especially within its colleges and universities. Students and professors alike have debated over whether critical thinking skills can truly be developed without exposure to controversial ideas, and how much protection young thinkers really need. Some argue that hate speech is akin to verbal assault, bullying that must prevented for the safety of others, while others believe that policing free speech will do more harm than good.
In this podcast, I’ll be exploring the debate over free speech. We’ll be learning about the legal differences between free speech and hate speech, how effective criminalizing hate speech truly is, the ups and downs of limitless free speech, and answer why some of Canada’s citizens rally against its government’s attempts to curb hate speech.
Annotated List of Episode-Related Readings
Abedi, Maham. "Andrew Scheer: Laurier university controversy highlights larger issue of 'stifling' free speech." Global News, 21 Nov. 2017.
https://globalnews.ca/news/3872432/andrew-scheer-laurier-university-free-speech/. Accessed 20 Feb. 2018.
Abedi's popular article secondarily reports on Andrew Scheer's opinion over the Laurier University controversy. Andrew Scheer is the current leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, who has made the protection of free speech a notable part of his political platform. The article details how he supports Lindsay Shepherd in the Laurier University controversy, since her reprimanding demonstrates the importance of protecting free speech in post-secondary academia. Abedi's article connects to the article by Blatchford about the Laurier University controversy, while additionally tying it to a political context. This article demonstrates how the debate over free speech, particularly within universities, is very much relevant to modern Canadian politics on a high level.
Blatchford, Christie. "Thought police strike again as Wilfrid Laurier grad student is chastised for showing Jordan Peterson video." The National Post, 10 Nov. 2017.
http://nationalpost.com/opinion/christie-blatchford-thought-police-strike-again-as-wilfrid-laurier-grad-student-is-chastised-for-showing-jordan-peterson-video. Accessed Feb 12. 2018.
Blatchford's popular article discusses the reprimanding of teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd at Wilfrid Laurier University, for having shown as video debate involving Jordan Peterson to her class. Jordan Peterson( himself a professor at the University of Toronto) is a controversial figure due to his opposition to Bill C-16, which Peterson believes will stifle free speech in Canada. Blatchford gives background for the controversy, then secondarily describes the argument had between Shepherd and the university's senior staff in a way that clearly favors the former. The reprimanding of Lindsay Shepherd is relevant to free speech in Canadian academia, both in regards to a greater context and specifically in relation to the controversy surrounding Jordan Peterson. The article also comes from the perspective of someone favoring the pro-free speech camp, which offers insight into why some people are opposed to constricting speech in Canada.
Brean, Joseph. "Lindsay Shepherd sues Wilfrid Laurier, claiming 'attacks' have 'rendered her unemployable in academia'." The National Post, 12 Jun. 2018. http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/lindsay-shepherd-files-lawsuit-against-wilfrid-laurier-university-claiming-attacks-have-rendered-her-unemployable-in-academia. Accessed 13 Jun. 2018.
Brean's popular article relays how Lindsay Shepherd, the teaching assistant who found herself at the center of a free speech controversy at Wilfrid Laurier University, has decided to sue said university. Shepherd believes that the reprimanding she received from several University staff and the subsequent controversy has made it obscenely difficult for her to find work in the academic field. Shepherd further claims that these staff members violated school policy by limiting academic freedom and creating a toxic work environment. This is a significant development in the Wilfrid Laurier controversy, showing that it is both still relevant and demonstrates how big of an impact such free speech controversies can have on a person's life in Canadian Academia. If Shepherd is to be believed, than being labelled as an advocate for hate speech has a damaging effect on one's academic career. Should Shepherd succeed in her lawsuit, this would also help set a precedent for future legal defenses of free speech at universities.
Brean, Joseph. "'Weaponization' of free speech prompts talk of new hate law." The National Post, 8 Feb. 2018.
http://nationalpost.com/news/weaponization-of-free-speech-prompts-talk-of-a-new-hate-law. Accessed 10 Feb. 2018.
Brean's popular article exploring the changing climate of free speech issues in Canada offers an interesting perspective. The bulk of the article presents the secondary argument of a journalist known as Omar Mouallem, who believes that far-right groups have co-opted the free speech debate in Canada. Despite additionally being a member of PEN Canada (a group focused on protecting freedom of expression against censorship), Omar argues that open public discourse is failing to dissuade extremist ideas, prompting the need for a new hate speech law. While Canada's free speech debate seems generally focused on whether or not to repeal laws that constrict free speech, this article displays a different perspective; Omar's argument is focused on the belief that there needs to be more laws to prevent hate speech. The fact that Omar is part of a group that claims to protect freedom of expression makes the piece even more interesting.
Ferguson, Elliot. "Queen's defends choice of speaker." The Kingston Whig-Standard, 28 Feb. 2018.
http://www.thewhig.com/2018/02/28/queens-defends-choice-of-speaker. Accessed 1 Mar. 2018.
Ferguson's popular article secondarily reports on how the controversial Jordan Peterson has been granted permission to lecture at Queen's University. News of this permission has been met with disapproval from certain students and faculty alike at Queens, with a protest even being planned prior to the lecture. A notable amount of people perceive Peterson's arguments against the government Bill C-16 as being trans-phobic and hate speech. Despite these protests, Queen's University is standing by its plan. Ferguson's article furthers cements how central Jordan Peterson has become in modern arguments over free speech and hate speech in Canada. It also shows how some universities are willing to allow controversial figures to speak openly; which can be contrasted with the Laurier University staff who reprimanded Lindsay Shepherd for neutrally presenting the same controversial figure.
Jackson, James. "Laurier senate approves freedom of expression statement." The Record.com, 30 May 2018. https://www.therecord.com/news-story/8638724-laurier-senate-approves-freedom-of-expression-statement/. Accessed 1 Jun. 2018.
Jackson's popular article reports on how senators at Wilfrid Laurier University green-lighted an official statement that the university is committed to protecting the free speech of students and not censoring controversial opinions. This is a statement that follows several months in the wake of the controversy where former teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd was reprimanded by several staff members at Wilfrid Laurier for showing a video debate involving Jordan Peterson. This also follows in the wake of a speaker known as Faith Goldy had an anti-immigration talk on the university's campus interrupted and postponed until eventually being cancelled due to protesting. The significance of this development is that Wilfrid Laurier has clearly taken a stronger stance in protecting free speech in the wake of these controversies. This also sets a potential precedent for other Canadian universities to follow, as many remain on the fence or continue to debate how much freedom of speech should be granted on campus grounds.
Levy, Sheldon. "Why I defended freedom of speech on campus." The Toronto Star, 26 Jan. 2018. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/01/26/why-i-defended-freedom-of-speech-on-campus.html. Accessed 4 Feb. 2018.
Levy's opinion piece explaining his defense of free speech back when he served as Ryerson University's president is an insightful read. He speaks about his personal experience with permitting polarizing figures to speak on campus, the controversy and unfair labeling beget by such decisions, the value of free speech being used in an intellectual environment, and the ineffectiveness of suppressing problematic ideologies by preventing people from talking about them. The argument over the values of protecting free speech is a relevant and important topic, especially in regards to Canadian academia. As I'm interested in potentially doing a podcast about the debate over free speech in Canada, this opinion piece gives valuable insight from the perspective of someone with lengthy and personal experience.
Milliken, Mary C.; Gibson, Kerri; O'Donnell, Susan. "User-generated video and the online public sphere : Will YouTube facilitate digital freedom of expression in Atlantic Canada?" American Communication Journal, vol. 10, no. 3, 2008, http://nparc.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/nparc/eng/view/object/?id=166e29ad-fd5a-429e-a414-54b520c0bf14. Accessed 3 Mar. 2018.
This scholarly journal by Milliken, Gibson, and O'Donnell offers an exploration of free expression through online/digital mediums such as YouTube videos. They state that this medium offers a great contribution to the online public sphere, since anyone with an adequate computer and internet access can make use of it for personal expression or sharing views on social issues. The journal focuses on user-generated online videos in Atlantic Canada specifically, where it was found that most users did not use the medium for partaking in public discourse regarding local social issues. This journal outlines many of the benefits that online/digital mediums have to offer society, giving an easy means for people to express their opinions to a broad audience. This is relevant to the free speech debate in Canada since the rise of online/digital mediums has given a broad-reaching voice for many people, some of whom spread controversial ideas. This fluidity of ideas and ease of public expression means that controversial ideas can spread more rapidly than in the past.
Moon, Richard, Report to the Canadian Human Rights Commission concerning section 13 of the Canadian human rights act and the regulation of hate speech on the internet. [Ottawa, Ont.] : Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2008.
This government report was composed by Richard Moon on commission by the CHRC, in order to analyze the hate speech component of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act was a now-repealed law that addressed issues of hate speech, but faced backlash from free speech advocates who believed the law was so flawed that it would endanger expression rights. Moon came to the conclusion in his report that the government should only censor hate speech in cases of advocation for violence, since attempting to police hate speech in a broader manner would be difficult. He believed that less extreme hate speech was so pervasive within the public discourse, that attempting to censor it all would be overwhelming. Despite focusing on a now-repealed law, this report shows that the free speech debate has been alive and well in Canada for many years. It also shows how previous attempts to regulate hate speech have encountered issues in the past.
Sedler, Robert A. "The Constitutional Protection of Freedom of Religion, Expression, and Association in Canada and the United States: A Comparative Analysis." Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, vol. 20, no. 2, 1988, https://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/jil/vol20/iss2/7/. Accessed 2 Mar. 2018.
Sedler's scholarly journal compares and contrasts the protections allocated to certain freedoms and rights within Canada to those of the United States. Selder notes that since both countries share similar legal traditions and are democratic, there are more similarities than differences. Nonetheless he finds that the United States' freedom of speech protections are slightly stricter than those of Canada's freedom of expression protections, the latter of which have given way to anti-hate speech legislation. Sedler's journal is an older piece, but still has relevant and valuable information in its comparison between Canada and the United States' protections offered to free expression. In order to better understand the debate over free speech in Canada, it is important to also understand how other similar countries regard the issue.
Smith, Marie-Danielle. "Take away federal funding if universities don't protect free speech on campus, Andrew Scheer says." The National Post, 19 Apr. 2017 http://nationalpost.com/news/politics/take-away-federal-funding-if-universities-dont-protect-free-speech-on-campus-andrew-scheer-says. Accessed 4 Mar. 2018.
Smith's popular article focuses on the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Andrew Scheer, and how he plans to enforce free speech in post-secondary academia. The article says that many events and lectures in universities can been shut down by protestors, preventing controversial voices from being heard. Scheer claims that this is troubling behaviour and that universities that fail to protect free speech should lose their federal funding. This secondary source gives more insight into the current politic climate surrounding free speech, specifically in universities. It demonstrates how the issue has become politicized, to the point where federal party leaders are entertaining the idea of getting personally involved with the function of these provincial institutions.
Statistics Canada. "Police-reported hate crime, 2016." Statistics Canada, 28 Nov. 2017. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/171128/dq171128d-eng.htm. Accessed 1 Mar. 2018.
This statistical report from Statistics Canada offers the latest annually-accumulated information about hate crimes in Canada. The statistics show that there has been a 3% increase in hate crimes since 2015 that can be mostly attributed to attacks against South Asian, West Asian, and Arabic ethnicities. It also shows that while hate crimes against Muslims have declined, there have been more hate crimes based on sexual orientation and have become notably more violent. These statistics are relevant to the debate about hate speech laws, since it shows how prominent hate crimes actually are in Canada. As the report shows that 0.1% of the total crimes in Canada are hate crimes, with slight changes over the years, it gives the impression that Canada does not have a climate where hate speech has prominent social influence.
Wente, Margaret. "Universities can’t have it both ways on free speech." The Globe and Mail, 27 Oct. 2017. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/universities-cant-have-it-both-ways-on-free-speech/article36749219/. Accessed 5 May 2018.
Wente's opinion piece discusses how Dalhousie University faced a controversial free speech issue, following the online comments of a student known as Masuma Khan. On facebook, Khan posted inflammatory remarks that another Dalhousie student perceieved as racist and discriminatory towards white people. This led to many left-leaning staff and students at Dalhousie attempting to defend free speech. This article is significant because it demonstrates that free speech is not innately a virtue of right-wind politics, despite often being associated as such in modern times. The willingness of many university students and staff to change their stance on censoring speech when they realize such rules can be used against them shows there is a more complicated layer to this debate. Wente has a clearly strong stance against the culture of safe spaces and speech codes that many universities employ, and believes that these attempts to control speech should be done away with entirely in post-secondary institutions.