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Should We Separate Hate Speech From Freedom of Speech?

If a Canadian magazine publishes an article about the threat Islam places on Western values in a mocking or biting tone — but not any different from what people read on the Internet — is the reaction any different in Canada than it is in the US? Yes. The magazine that published the critical article is now facing trial to decide if it violated a provincial hate-speech law.

The battle between what is hate speech and what is free is complicated in Canada.
In the US the debate has been settled. The First Amendment allows the media to say anything about minority groups and religions — even false, provocative, or hateful things — without legal consequences.

Speech laws in Canada stem from a desire to promote societal harmony. A Canadian human rights commissioner said of the article, "in Canada, the right to freedom of expression is not absolute, nor should it be. By portraying Muslims as all sharing the same negative characteristics, including being a threat to "the West," this explicit expression of Islamophobia further perpetuates and promotes prejudice toward Muslims and others."

One of the article's authors says, "what we're learning here is really the bedrock difference between the United States and the countries that are in a broad sense its legal cousins. Western governments are becoming increasingly comfortable with the regulation of opinion. The First Amendment really does distinguish the US, not just from Canada but from the rest of the Western world."

Is regulation for the sake of harmony a good idea? Should there be a line drawn between hate speech and free speech?


Join The Conversation
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 9 years
yet people are outraged at Fox news. Freedom to those who agree with us!!! :oy:
flutterpie flutterpie 9 years
whenever my boyfriend complains we are turning towards socialism i remind that as long as we have free speech and free press, we will never be truly socialist. the first amendment is the bedrock of our society, without it we would no longer be the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
If anyone believes that restricting speech will guarantee social harmony, they're sadly mistaken. The only way to ensure harmony is to let bullies do whatever they please--and every society has some kind of bullies. Also, the best way to discredit someone whose speech is inappropriate is to let them keep talking. Sooner or later it becomes obvious how crazy they are. You know that old saying: "It is better to keep quiet and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
H*ll No, then I wouldn't be able to hear the KKK rallies - they would go underground. I learn a lot from them.
velodownlarue velodownlarue 9 years
there is a significant difference between words that incite violence and words that ridicule or offend. The latter should be accepted the first clearly avoided--think mille colline's radio in Rwanda that played a large role in the genocide i should be able to offend anyone with my right to freedom of expression but the context has to be right. it is not something that should be misused or diluted in the 21st pc century. but it also should not be automatically placed within the gamut of freedom of expression. there are many more offensive things in the world than the dialogue people are trying to free up, from in canada to denmark.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
They could also look at it as something that threatens public safety. Issues of public safety in this country have gradually curtailed other freedoms (not speech) in this country. Public safety is always the trump card when it comes to certain freedoms.
annebreal annebreal 9 years
I think hate speech is an awful thing but not practical or probably even possible to regulate. It would become government sponsored censorship, and fast.
Meike Meike 9 years
I'm torn on the issue. Hate speech is something I personally cannot tolerate but at the same time, if a government were to successfully restrict their citizens' freedom of speech, it would pave way for limiting more freedoms little by little. After all, governments like to introduce small change, call it a one time thing, and a few years later, implement another minor but related change. Rinse and repeat until what was a basic freedom is completely altered from what it was decades ago.
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 9 years
This goes under the same catagory of voting restriction for me. Freedom is freedom. As long as your rights don't infringe on mine, we are all good. What is that old saying, Sticks and stones may break my bones...... And congrats Cine!
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
First of all, Yeay Cine turned platnum! :woohoo: My sisters (the evil democrats :) ) and I argue over this often. I think when regular citizens saying certain things shouldn't be said, parents, etc. is different than the gov't saying certain things should not be allowed.
CtrlAltDefeat CtrlAltDefeat 9 years
To pit social harmony against free speech is to postulate a false choice. To wit, arguing for freedom as virtue greater than social harmony, necessarily destroys both. Where is freedom located in a state of mutual fear?
Kimpossible Kimpossible 9 years
yayy Cine! This is one of those times where the responsibility of having a freedom is knowing when to exercise it and when not to. I've often said that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from common sense or common courtesy, nor does it mean freedom from compassion for others. Words are so powerful they can build someone up or knock them down in an instant. All that being said, I like Hyno's idea. I do think it's important to keep the integrity of the written word. It's important to keep the integrity of the spoken word as well, but unless we can have an automatic hand that comes up so we can cover our mouths (or the mouths of others) when necessary, it's harder to control what people spew from their mouths. But that is where our own responsibilty and integrity comes into play, how we respond to other people's words.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
I turned Platinum!!! :dance:
onabanana onabanana 9 years
Also, I think the minimal regulation of inciting harm such as screaming fire in a crowded theater is acceptable. But far beyond that, then it feels like the wrong path. Slander laws are interesting, I'm still debating about that.
onabanana onabanana 9 years
Freedom of speech is protected in the first amendment IMO because it is the most important. When all else is taken away, you should be able to at least speak out against the tyranny that binds you. It's not perfect and a lot of the stuff we hear can be offensive, but you have a right to speak out against it. If you don't trust the populace to be free to think and take in information then what is the point of living in a democracy? Even when people say things we feel are wrong, that act has its value in that it gives us the opportunity to reassess what we believe and to better articulate our own beliefs and values. To regulate what a person can say and think is a dis-service to them and to ourselves regardless of what is being said.
Bookish Bookish 9 years
I think that as long as there is not a threat being made, or slander about a particular person (complying with existing laws), then free speech shouldn't be constrained.
jennifer76 jennifer76 9 years
There are several bloggers in Canada up for trial based on these hate speech issues, as well. As soon as you start trying to shut down speech - but just the speech you don't like - you're heading down the wrong path. Who knows who doesn't like what you want to say?
jessielynn657 jessielynn657 9 years
I like to hear what people say. If a person wants to define themselves by their hate speech, then I would like to know them for that. For some reason people feel that by using hate speech, even in it's simplest sliest forms, that they are witty and getting a joke over on someone. The truth is the rest of the truth seeking informed world is laughing at you, hoping you'll be slapped out of your senses one day by the truth. Ignorance, to me, is a better tool to learn from when it is out in the open. Where we can teach our children that everyone has their own opinions, but some opinions are based on fears, misjudgment, or outright falsities that we can all learn from. Today I saw a man with a bumper sticker stating "piss the liberals off: own a gun". I can just imagine how proud of himself he must have been sticking that to his bumper. I'm a liberal, his gun does not piss me off. His ignorance to the fact that things are so simply and set out that it can fit on a two line bumper sticker.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
For me it's also a matter of what they mean by regulation. How much? It's clearly not a ban but what words are they regulating? Keep in mind also we're talking about hate language which is not simply words of disagreement in an honest debate but outlandish incendiary comments which have the ability plant seeds of chaotic misinformation into a nations collective conscious.
AKirstin AKirstin 9 years
NO. As long as we continue to educate ourselves and our children, intelligence will prevail. We absolutely cannot squelch free speech in ANY WAY.
NYFashionista NYFashionista 9 years
Lilkimbo- perhaps I wasn't clear. I didn't mean to imply that hate speech ALONE have ever sparked a genocide but there have been cases (such as in Rwanda) where hate speeches have been what sparked the mass violence. Hate speeches were being played over and over on the radios and by community leaders. But yes, of course there are other factors involved!
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Well the Social Democrat in me says I personally would have no problem with regulating hate speech in print and print only. As for free speech in person or over the air waves that should be left free.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
I agree with janneth. I also agree with NYF's point that it would be difficult to really say what constitutes "hate speech." It could change from day to day and be a very slippery slope. Would we be allowed to say incendiary things about overweight people? Would someone be thrown in jail for using "the n word?" I understand that situations are different in different countries, but for us, the Constitution trumps the fact that some may feel uncomfortable. As to NYF's point about the genocides, I don't know of a single genocide that was caused by hate speech alone.
sarah_bellum sarah_bellum 9 years
ladychaos, I'm curious what you mean by this: "Its a sad notion to know that American society has thrived from racial slurs and hatred for different groups of people."
janneth janneth 9 years
from the previous article: In the 5-4 ruling, the majority held that "the laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times." no matter what--free speech. even though some things are seemingly indefensible.
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