Calling a censor a censor — censored!

Posted: Dec 09, 2007 12:00 AM
Calling a censor a censor — censored!

Canada does not have our First Amendment. It does not have as strong a protection for free speech as we do here in the U. S. of A.

I can say this even as America’s free speech rights have been eroded by McCain-Feingold and other meddling regulations. We’re in bad shape, but Canada’s worse.

So what does that mean, practically?

Canadians are less free to call people they do not like nasty names. That would be a “hate crime,” and that’s against the law.

Now, this is not exactly new. Americans have known about “hate speech” laws for some time. We’ve had our own battles about them. Some people believe that saying nasty things about other people is always wrong. And always worth suppressing.

This is an extreme minority position, though. Even hate-speech law advocates believe in speaking maliciously about people who engage in hate speech. What seems to be the case in all this hate speech regulation is that we are not allowed to hurl horrid phrases at certain people in certain groups.

In America, we’re a little more used to the idea of defending speech we don’t approve of than are Canadians. So Canadians have the hate speech code intact, and Americans have only “flirted” with such codes.

Now, as a matter of what I endorse and condemn, and what my family prohibits, and what my friends excoriate, I am pretty firm. I really do hate hateful speech. But my private condemnations — and my neighbors’ — provide no ground for having our government suppress everything we condemn.

Besides, as an American, the right to say nasty things about people seems part of the whole point of being free. And if that sounds weird, just read the jottings of our Founding Fathers . . . about each other. Mainly about their enemies, but about each other, too. The Federalist/anti-Federalist fight, as it grew into the Federalist/Republican Party debates, often got quite vicious. Very American, very un-Canadian. Downright hateful.

Like our Founding Fathers, I prefer to choose my targets very carefully. Maybe that’s why about the only time I say derogatory things about anyone is when that person is abridging a freedom.

But that’s only half the story. Things get much worse, in Canada.

Canadians who do not like their hate-speech policy, it turns out, are not free to call censors unflattering things.

Let me rephrase. Canadians are not free to call censors “enemies of free speech.” Even if, by the clear meaning of the English language (as well as by American standards) that’s what hate-speech censors are, just because they’re censors: Enemies of free speech.

Take the case of a “particularly nasty piece of work,” Richard Warman. He’s a lawyer — an “award-winning lawyer,” according to Wikipedia — who was employed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to root out hate speech, particularly on the Web. Oh, I’m sure he’s a pillar of decency. It’s easy to despise the speech of neo-Nazis and other “hate groups.” I know I do. But it’s one thing to hate the hateful. It’s another thing to persecute them, to deny their rights to speak.

What did Warman do? He filed numerous complaints against “hate speech” websites, and the government took many of those sites down.

So, as decent as Warman no doubt is in private life, as fun-loving and above-board, in public life he’s just, well, unjust. His very job with the misnamed “human rights” commission was an ongoing series of injustices.

So you’d expect his work to receive criticism.

And it did. Paul Fromm, a free-speech activist and founder of Canadians Associated for Free Expression — a group defending the worst “hate sites,” and thus said to “have links” with them (how deep those ties are I do not know; the matter irrelevant for my purposes, anyway) — has repeatedly called Warman an “enemy of free speech.” And similar things.

And so what did Warman do?

He sued.

For libel.

And won.

And was awarded $30,000.

Why? The judge ruled that a government official working from duly enacted government policy cannot be an enemy of free speech. That’s just unthinkable!

Yes, in Canada you may not speak the truth about free speech to its official enemies. In Canada, the reason why we must defend even the most vile speech and writing becomes clear: because suppression of it eventually leads to the inability to criticize government.

You know you’ve lost your freedom when you cannot call a censor a censor.

But here in the United States, we can. Well, at least for now.