Thursday, March 18, 2004

Revisiting thoughts on Bill C-250


With that in mind, I am once again re-printing a letter to the editor of mine that was published in the local paper:

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.

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