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Chilling Free Speech in the Great White North
by Terry Heinrichs
Americans aware of journalists Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn are likely also aware that these two were hauled before Canadian "Human Rights Commissions" for supposed speech-crimes. Levant was pursued because he published the Mohammed cartoons, and Steyn, for, well, casting some Muslims in a bad light. Both men had their cases dropped, probably because they were articulate, famous, and had relatively deep pockets. Others who have been charged have not been so lucky. While such commissions stand as a serious threat to an open public discourse, they are not the only menace "controversial" speech faces in Canada.
Speech in the U.S. is subject to many types of restrictions, but there is no law that criminalizes "hate speech" as such. Canada has such a law. It punishes citizens for up to two years in the slammer for "communicating statements, other than in private conversation" that "willfully promote hatred against an identifiable group." This law, passed in 1970, has not been widely used. It has been deployed about 15 times since 1993, all but twice against impecunious white Canadians.
However, the Canadian government is currently considering a bill which would amend the hate speech section of the Criminal Code in ways that expand the reach of the Act and give the government greater power over the content of what Canadians may say. One amendment would add "national origin" to the list of "identifiable groups" which would then read: "any section of the public distinguished by color, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation." Another proposal would change the wording of "communicating" from "communicating by telephone, broadcasting or other audible or visible means" to "communicating by any means and includes making available [the objectionable speech]."
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