The War of Freedom of Expression


The War of Freedom of Expression
"Taking on anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers in the sanctified courtroom environment is like responding to someone who calls your mother a prostitute. By defending you raise the question that maybe she really was"
Anonymous source drawn
from Weiman and Win, 1986.

The right to freedom of expression can be described as a war. It is a war that has lasted for centuries and may last for centuries more. It is a war between freedom of expression and social intolerance. In this war there are many battles. The battle on which this brief essay centers itself is the battle between freedom of speech and laws limiting that freedom; more specifically the ability to spread hate propaganda and the "hate laws". Included in the essay is a brief outline of one skirmish that has taken place (Keegstra ). Those who fight on the side supporting freedom of speech do so for several reasons. Braun declares that it is a basic democratic right to voice your own opinion . Douglas Christie has gained notoriety for his vigorous representation of high-profile, controversial clients, charged under the hate laws. He advocates freedom of speech for two main reasons: a) he finds it abhorrent that the state can legislate thoughts and words, and b) he often agrees with the views held by his clients. Others such as Noam Chomsky, a brilliant intellectual, argue not for the views expressed, but the ability to express them. Lining up on the other side of the battle you have: Derek Raymaker, David Kilgour, Victor Ramraj, and Bruce Elman. They argue that there is definitely a moral place for laws regarding hate speech, whether they are criminal or not. There was recently a new development in the Canadian war for freedom of expression. Introduced in April 1982 was a new and important strategic battleground.
With the Charter of Rights and Freedoms the war could be won or lost by either side. It was not long before the Charter saw battle.
In 1984, Jim Keegstra was charged with violating section 281 of the Criminal Code of Canada (now covered under section 318-320). Keegstra was a respected school teacher and mayor of the small town of Eckville, Alberta. This was no borderline fanatic; this was an elected official charged with promoting hate. However by the time Keegstra\'s trial rolled around he was no longer the mayor Eckville and his teaching license, revoked. The problem was, the very nature of s. 281 lent itself to legal debate under section 2 of the relatively new Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The defense counsel Doug Christie lost no time in challenging the legislation\'s constitutionality. In response, Crown prosecutor, Bruce Fraser, stated that Keegstra was being charged with promoting hatred; not expressing it. The Crown also stated that freedom of speech is not an absolute right . On November 5, 1984, Mr. Justice Quigley of the Alberta Queen\'s Bench wrote an eighty page decision upholding the constitutionality of section 281. In his decision he stated "It is my opinion that s. 281.2(2) cannot be rationally considered to be an infringement which limits \'freedom of expression\' but on the contrary it is a safeguard which promotes it."
When the issue finally rose to the Supreme Court of Canada, the advocates of hate laws had won a very shallow victory. The split of the court was 4-3, leaving uncertainty as to who had actually won.
It is too subjective to view the problem of freedom of expression as "good" versus "evil". The debate raises the main issue of whether or not the people of Canada want the government to be passing any laws limiting our rights to think and speak. While it is nearly unanimous that violently acting on these views is illegal; the debate on laws against speech of any sort draws not only racists, but simple liberals who believe in the freedom of speech.
Braun outlines the argument against any criminal limitations on freedom of speech. First, he states that one of the basic premises of democracy is that: "A self-governing people that have the right and ability to decide for themselves whom to believe must surely have the right and ability to decide what to act on." Another point made by