Glenn Greenwald, who I do like, has his panties in a twist over Canada’s hate speech laws:
I’ve written many times before about the evils of “hate speech” laws that are prevalent in Canada and Europe — people being fined, prosecuted and hauled before official tribunals for expressing political opinions which the State has prohibited and criminalized. I won’t rehash those arguments here, but I do want to note a particularly creepy illustration of how these laws manifest. The far-right hatemonger Ann Coulter was invited by a campus conservative group to speak at the University of Ottawa, and the Vice Provost of that college sent Coulter a letter warning her that she may be subject to criminal prosecution if the views she expresses fall into the realm of prohibited viewpoints:
Dear Ms. Coulter,
I understand that you have been invited by University of Ottawa Campus Conservatives to speak at the University of Ottawa this coming Tuesday. . . .
I would, however, like to inform you, or perhaps remind you, that our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or “free speech”) in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States. I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here.
You will realize that Canadian law puts reasonable limits on the freedom of expression. For example, promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges. Outside of the criminal realm, Canadian defamation laws also limit freedom of expression and may differ somewhat from those to which you are accustomed. I therefore ask you, while you are a guest on our campus, to weigh your words with respect and civility in mind. . . .
Hopefully, you will understand and agree that what may, at first glance, seem like unnecessary restrictions to freedom of expression do, in fact, lead not only to a more civilized discussion, but to a more meaningful, reasoned and intelligent one as well.
I hope you will enjoy your stay in our beautiful country, city and campus.
Vice-President Academic and Provost, University of Ottawa
Personally, I think threatening someone with criminal prosecution for the political views they might express is quite “hateful.” So, too, is anointing oneself the arbiter of what is and is not sufficiently “civilized discussion” to the point of using the force of criminal law to enforce it. If I were administering Canada’s intrinsically subjective “hate speech” laws (and I never would), I’d consider prosecuting Provost Houle for this letter. The hubris required to believe that you can declare certain views so objectively hateful that they should be criminalized is astronomical; in so many eras, views that were most scorned by majorities ended up emerging as truth.
For as long as I’ll live, I’ll never understand how people want to vest in the Government the power to criminalize particular viewpoints it dislikes, will never understand the view that it’s better to try to suppress adverse beliefs than to air them, and will especially never understand people’s failure to realize that endorsing this power will, one day, very likely result in their own views being criminalized when their political enemies (rather than allies) are empowered. Who would ever want to empower officious technocrats to issue warnings along the lines of: be forewarned: if you express certain political views, you may be committing a crime; guide and restrict yourself accordingly? I obviously devote a substantial amount of my time and energy to critiquing the actions of the U.S. Government, but the robust free speech protection guaranteed by the First Amendment and largely protected by American courts continues to be one of the best features of American political culture.
I have NO problem with Canada’s hate speech laws. I think the letter the Provost sent to Ann Coulter is perfectly reasonable. I don’t see why Greenwald’s so worked up. This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Our government has largely done a better job protecting civil rights and human rights than the US government (though we ain’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination). Our public discourse might be boring, but it’s pretty civil. I would say that it’s certainly a result of the laws that we have in place to protect civility. Sure, you have MORE freedom of speech in the U.S. but you also have idiots like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter dominating the public discourse, promoting ignorance and hatred, (and whipping up a whole lot of racist nutbags in the process). A lot of Canadians, maybe a majority, are sickened and shocked by the crap that comes out of their mouths. THIS IS A GOOD THING.
I don’t see anything wrong with warning Ann Coulter that you aren’t allowed to promote hatred against an identifiable group in this country. That’s one of the few things in this country I’m proud of. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh could not exist here, and they certainly wouldn’t be paid hundreds of millions of dollars to hate people on the air. Plus, Canada isn’t the country that’s looking more and more Orwellian by the day. I believe that’s our neighbour to the south. “We’re tough on terrorism thus we’re scared to try them in our courts?” “We’re defending our constitution by saying we should destroy its institutions in the name of fighting terror?” “We want to scare the people so badly that they’re willing to let us create an all powerful police state that can detain and torture people without just cause?” And yet Canada is the country with less freedom? I don’t fucking think so.
So Ann Coulter? Liz and Dick Cheney? John Yoo? Bill O’Reilly etc etc? Fox News? You guys can have ’em.