The Truth Will Get You Fined?

“Not all truthful statements must be free from restriction.”

-Supreme Court of Canada

These words should terrify any skeptic. That they would be found in a Supreme Court decision in my country I was unthinkable 6 months ago. But on February 27, 2013, this ruling was issued, and everything I thought I knew about my right to free speech in this country was turned upside down.

The only thing worse than the loss of freedom was the shrug in the atheist community that followed it. Some even applauded the decision because Bill Whatcott is a loud, arrogant anti-homosexual bigot who surely does spread hatred.

Bill Whatcott

But this decision is not restricted to the Bill Whatcotts of the world. It applies to anyone speaking about a protected group in Canada. And the original class of protection, listed first in every hate speech law, has always been religion.

I urge you to read the ruling and consider how it affects your right to talk about any religous issue. These laws are not limited to speech that calls for violence or genocide. How could a true statement call for violence? A statement doesn’t call for any action on its own, it is simply true or false. All that is required is that the speech may tend to reduce the acceptance of religious beliefs within the community.

“Hate speech seeks to delegitimize group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society.”

“It must seek to marginalize the group by affecting their social status and acceptance in the eyes of the majority.”

It does not matter whether reducing the acceptance of those beliefs is your intent or not. It does not matter whether it actually had that effect or not:

“Whether or not the author of the expression intended to incite hatred or discriminatory treatment is irrelevant.”

“The fact that s. 14(1)(b) of the Code does not require intent by the publisher or proof of harm, or provide for any defences does not make it overbroad.”

“The difficulty of establishing causality and the seriousness of the harm to vulnerable groups justifies the imposition of preventative measures that do not require proof of actual harm”.

It doesn’t even matter if you are not directly criticizing the religion, but only the actions inspired by that religion. For example circumcision or wearing burqas.

“where the conduct targeted by speech is a crucial aspect of the identity of a vulnerable group, attacks on this conduct stand as a proxy for attacks on the group itself.”

I’m not sure how that would apply to someone who’s religious identity included illegal actions, such as cannibalism. (Meaning an ancient religion that advocates actually consuming human flesh, not just consuming a substance you believe to be human flesh. The fact that I have to explain that should be sufficient to reduce the credibility of a major religion in the eyes of a “reasonable person, aware of the context and circumstances”. Does that make it hate speech?)

But worst of all, it does not matter if you can prove, based on sound evidence, that every word you speak is completely, unequivocally true.

“Truthful statements can be presented in a manner that would meet the definition of hate speech, and not all truthful statements must be free from restriction. Allowing the dissemination of hate speech to be excused by a sincerely held belief would provide an absolute defence and would gut the prohibition from effectiveness.”

This is nonsense. Truth is a defence in our defamation laws, and the criminal code sections on hate speech. It is even a defence that “on reasonable grounds [you] believed them to be true”. Oddly enough the only defamation law I can find that does not have a truth defence is our blasphemy law. Presumably that is because if the defendant could prove to the satisfaction of the court that their blasphemy true we wouldn’t have a blasphemy law in the first place.

(Yes, Canada still has a blasphemy law in the criminal code. It has not been used since 1935. If it were used today it would be subject to the free speech provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which six months ago I would have said rendered it essentially void. But given this judgement all bets are off.)

Truth defences do not render any of these other laws ineffective. “Scorched earth” tactics do, but that’s another rant altogether. It is the defendant’s burden to prove to the court that the statements he made are truthful. If he can do that he should be allowed to say it. Period.

At least the law also silences an annoying bigot, right?

But it’s actually ineffective at that too. The publicity of the trial made far more difference to his cause than a $7500 fine. But more importantly, think about the message the decision is sending him. The implied message in not wanting to look at whether or not the statements are true is that the statements are true, but we won’t allow you to say them anyway. All the court did was confirm his conspiracy theories. What better evidence could you ask for of a powerful homosexual lobby suppressing Christian freedom?

Bill Whatcott is not right. Most of the information in his brochures were not facts. I am confident that we could prove those statements that remain are false. And if we cannot, he should have a right to make those statements until we can.

I demand the right to speak the truth in Canada. Is that really too much to ask for?

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

―Salman Rushdie

 

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