I have been fighting the urge not to write a letter to the editor of the city newspaper lately. Really fighting it. Well, the urge has finally proven too strong. I've been provoked beyond the point of restraint.
Today's opinion pages featured a letter from a couple who believes that Bill C-250 "is in direct violation of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and even freedom of conscience." Gah!
Here's my reply as to what constitutes freedom of speech:
Sir: Last summer, I wrote to you in support of Observer critic Mike Murphy’s right to exercise his freedom of speech. This summer, I find myself writing to you once again, and again I find myself concerned with the issue of free speech.
Today, though, I want to convey that this issue is not a black-and-white one, as Mike and Amy Campbell appear to suggest by their opposition to Bill C-250 (“Bill would restrict freedoms,” The Observer, Friday, August 25, 2003.)
Bill C-250 is a Private Members bill which proposes to extend to sexual orientation the same protection from hate propaganda that is given to ethnicity, race, and religion under the Criminal Code. In their current form, Sections 318 and 319 prohibit the championing of genocide and the “public incitement of hatred” towards an “identifiable group.” Bill C-250 would see homosexual, bi-sexual and trans-gendered individuals classified as an identifiable group.
Should this bill pass, it would make it illegal not to express opposition to homosexuality–as the Campbells would have Observer readers believe–but to wilfully promote hatred and violence towards homosexuals.
Bill C-250 does not infringe upon the right to freedom of speech any more than Sections 318 to 320 of the Criminal Code currently do. The truth of the matter is not that freedom of speech is absolute, but that–in certain cases–free speech can be malicious and that parties need to be held accountable for their actions.
To reiterate, as with any issue of alleged censorship, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.
I write, then, not to provide an answer, but to continue to problematize. When does criticism become criminal? Where–if at all–should the line be drawn?
I am curious, too, as to where these opponents of Bill C-250–these supposed watchdogs of free speech–were as media ownership in Canada fell into the hands of a few, large conglomerates. As of 2000, the largest three media conglomerates–CanWest Global, Quebecor and TorStar–controlled 66.1% of the circulation market for Canada’s 105 daily newspapers (only 3.2% of the market was occupied by the country’s 7 independent daily newspapers.) Wouldn’t the existence of fewer independently-owned media outlets affect the freedom of speech and the expression of divergent opinion?
What about the affect of a watered-down Canadian Broadcast Corporation? Our national, public broadcast corporation has had both its staff and budget cut significantly since Chretien Liberal governance began in 1993. Surely media conglomerates and C.B.C. cuts pose greater threats to free speech than Bill C-250! Where were the proponents of free speech then?
A line, apparently, has been drawn.
So... Whaddaya think? I'm not sure they'll print it (especially because of that jab at media conglomerates--the local paper is indeed owned by a conglomerate, though not by one of the big three), but at least I got that off my chest. Grrr... I mean, how can they not see the need for sexual orientation to be protected from hate propaganda?! I could have gone into the whole common good (ie. protect everyone from hate mongering) over individual freedom thing, but I thought I'd keep things pointed. Hopefully it's more effective that way.
But yeah. The real threat to free speech in Canada is media ownership. The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom is something any lover of free speech ought to check out.