Friday, June 28, 2013

A blow for free expression

On Thursday, the Senate gave third and final reading to Conservative MP Brian Storseth’s private member’s Bill C-304 to repeal Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, striking a much appreciated blow in favour of freedom of expression.

I believe most Canadians, like myself, understand that in a modern democracy we must all accept limits to rights such as free speech. The example most frequently used here is that one can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. Most, though, would accept as I believe, that any such limits must be reasonable and—as stated in our constitution—“can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

To me, limits imposed on Canadians by Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act were not reasonable—especially as they were being interpreted by some human rights commissions and tribunals—for mere hurt feeling were being used to justify hash penalties. This was made all the more egregious by virtue of the fact that under Section 13.1, “intent” is not a requirement, and “truth” is not a defence. All that is required is that a human rights tribunal finds that one has expressed “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” and that the person be a member of certain specified groups.

It’s worth noting that repeal of Section 13 doesn’t give a free rein to hate mongers haunting the Internet, for as Sun News’ David Akin reminds us:

With elimination of Section 13, producing and disseminating hate speech continues to be a Criminal Code violation but police and the courts will adjudicate rather than human rights tribunals.” [emphasis mine]

Once Bill C-304 receives royal assent, we can only hope provinces with similar legislation will follow suit, spelling the end of the practice of un-democratic, free-speech deniers using such legislation to overreach in their campaigns to enforce political correctness or to advance other agendas.


  1. I have to disagree totally with your belief that in a modern democracy we must accept limits to free speech. That idea is exactly what brought us to the mess we found ourselves in. There were, and are, already laws against libel, threatening violence or death. Anyone accused of breaking such laws was entitled to due process; not these kangaroo tribunals. As for shouting fire in a crowded cinema or theatre, if it is done falsely and causes harm or death, again the person could be charged under long existing laws.

  2. A "limit" to a "right" implies that you do not have that "right". There is no such thing as a limit to a right. You either have it,and it is protected, or you don't. If, as you say, most Canadians "understand" limits to "rights" then most Canadians don't understand the concept of rights. Rather, they have come to accept authoritarian government and usurpation of individual rights. In other words, the majority of Canadians are Progressive.

    The reason you can't yell "fire" in a theatre is because you are in a private establishment and there is an implied contract that you are there to watch a movie, not create mischief. You are still free to yell "fire" but you will have to pay the consequences if you do.

  3. Remember Alain and John that it is not I who set limits on Canadian's rights. It is section 1 of our constitution, which states: "The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." Go argue with your MPs or with the Supreme Court, not with me.

  4. Russ, my comment was in relation to the first sentence of the second paragraph. That certainly left me with the impression that you do not have a problem with limits on free speech, and it was with that I disagreed.

    1. My point is most Canadians support the Charter and it places the limits so we have to understand that limits exist and live with that, but guard against the most egregious limits such as existed with Section 13 of the CHRA. I'm for free speech all the way.