Sunday, June 08, 2008

Free Speech - What's it all about?

"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it".
Attributed (arguably) to François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire).

I'm a fan of free speech. I don't see how you can have freedom, or say you are free, without freedom of expression in it's various forms.

In Canada at the moment, that freedom is being tested, and the outcome of that test is important for Canada, the Commonwealth countries, and western liberal democratic values in general.

What happened? Well, Mark Steyn wrote a book, and an article a Canadian Newsmagazine published, and some people took exception to it.

From the Wikipedia entry on Steyn;
"...In 2007, a complaint was filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission"The Future Belongs to Islam", [34] written by Mark Steyn, published in Maclean's magazine. The complainants alleged that the article and Maclean’s refusal to provide space for a rebuttal violated their human rights. Further complaints were filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. The Ontario Human Rights Commission refused in April 2008 to proceed, saying it lacked jurisdiction to deal with magazine content. However, the Commission stated that it, “strongly condemns the Islamophobic portrayal of Muslims . . .. . . . Media has a responsibility to engage in fair and unbiased journalism.” [35] Critics of the Commission claimed that Maclean's and Steyn had been found guilty without a hearing. John Martin of The Province wrote, "There was no hearing, no evidence presented and no opportunity to offer a defence -- just a pronouncement of wrongdoing."
Now, in these PC times, there will be many who condemn that article, and the writer, without even reading it. Perhaps without even knowing it's general thrust. For them, it will be enough that those who share their politics and ideology have condemned it.

I believe robust debate on contentious topics is absolutely necessary in a free society. That is how problems are identified, and the fix to those problems found. More to the point, the body politic has ownership of the process of identifying, discussing, and fixing problems. Not only is a mistake in resolution then less likely to happen, but if it is a mistake, it's a collective one, rather than an individual one that many pay for.
Put another way, if you don't talk about a serious issue now (no matter how rigorous the debate) you may end up fighting about it later (and by that I mean fighting and dying about it later).

So, think about your views on Freedom of Speech. Read the article. Form an opinion for yourself as to if it's 'hateful' then follow the trial, and the discourse on this issue and test.

Collect the information available, inform yourself, decide for yourself.
There are those who would deny you the basic information to be able to make up your own mind. They would be quite happy, however, to rid you of those irksome first steps, and helpfully decide what you should think on your behalf.

More on the trial here, here, and here.

"Sticks and stones can break my bones - but words can never harm me"
(Children's schoolyard chant c.1960s Australia).

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hear, hear. I wrote about this very topic on my own blog as I find it very troubling.

Free speech is the human right, it guarantees all other rights. Those that seek to limit it do so based on a particular agenda. None of this can be good, and all of it should be condemned.

Monday, June 09, 2008 3:04:00 am  

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