Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Right to Libel" movement gains strength in Canada...

The debate over how best to deal with hate speech continues, with most mainstream commentators I've read this week brushing aside any notion that hate speech could still be a problem in Canada.

Most prefer to couch their arguments against our country's hate laws in sanctimonious "freedom of speech" platitudes, but I think we should relabel these outspoken libertarians as the "Right to Libel" movement.

In effect, by tolerating hate speech, they are fighting for the right to libel.

When anti-gay haters say that homosexuals are just a bunch of diseased pedophiles, they are, in effect, slandering people like me (or libeling, should they publish it.)

Why should it be criminal to libel one individual person, but not criminal to libel an entire group of people based on their skin colour or their sexual orientation?

I've also noted that most of the "Right to Libel" folks are the same types who were vehemently opposed to including "sexual orientation" as a protected group in the Criminal Code in 2003. The big Stephen Boissoin case in Alberta in 2002 could only be considered by that province's human rights commission, not the courts.

Dan Gardner wrote a column in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen which argued that maybe hate speech is actually good for us.

Dan Gardner's dubious premise: In Kansas, the number of same-sex couples willing to identify themselves as such in the American census has risen rapidly. In 2000, it was 3,973. In 2005, it was 6,663. Kansas is the home state for the notoriously anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, led by the devilish Fred Phelps, who's been spouting off more than his share of anti-gay hate for years. Yet Gardner argues the effect has been to actually help build acceptance for homosexuals in the state. Phelps is so over the top in his vitriol (his followers now picket the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq) that it's easy to suggest that he actually undermines his own warped agenda.

But there's something empty in Gardner's essential argument that hate speech has no real victims.

I'm a 35-year-old man. I've heard everything that Phelps and others like him have spouted off for years. It no longer hurts to hear it, I know in my bones that anti-gay vitriol from the religious (and non-religious) is complete bullshit.

But I've had years to build up a thick skin. I remember being an isolated, lonely, closeted gay teenager. When church leaders or others spouted off against the immorality of homosexuals, the darts were painful. Every attack took a chunk out of my then-fragile self-esteem.

To me, this is the main reason the hatemongers do what they do. They want to inflict pain and suffering on their targets. Sure, if they inspire others to take up arms and do whatever they deem necessary to fight the alleged wickedness of the specified group, that's just icing on the cake.

And now the "Right to Libel" folks are going to bat for these bigots?

The notion that hate speech has no real impact in Canada is utter crap. Why must anyone live in terror in a society where irrational hatred toward their community is openly tolerated?

Elsewhere in the world, hate speech is a sign of dangerous things to come.

Let's not forget the mistakes of the past and make it easier to get away with hate propaganda.


lance said...

'In effect', that's like 'virtually', right, as in 'not'?

Group 'rights' overriding Individual Rights? I think not.

And for the record I am for same sex marriage although I'd prefer 'unions', but religion ceded marriage to the state a long time ago, so all marriage is civil now.

I am fully in support of criminal liable and slander laws and I'm fully in favour of specific criminality regarding physical demonstrations of hate.

In your own post, "It no longer hurts to hear it, I know in my bones that anti-gay vitriol from the religious (and non-religious) is complete bullshit.", you give the perfect argument for Gardner.

In that, you speak for me.

Yes, you later detail the hateful barbs, etc, but here's a clue; being a teenager sucks for everyone.


Zorpheous said...

When anti-gay haters say that homosexuals are just a bunch of diseased pedophiles, they are, in effect, slandering people like me (or libeling, should they publish it.)

Actually it is neither Slander or libel, it is defamation, which is also actionable.

Now the thing here to point out, Libel, Slander and defamation are actionable on the individual level and do not cover groups, unless the action takes place against a registered organization, like a company, business or social club.

Our anyi-hate laws are a very tricky business, and it has been show that they are open for abuse, while the libel, slander and defamation laws that are followed in Canada are also easily abused.

We do not need to throw away these laws, they need to tuned and fix.

In the case of Libel, slander and defamation we need ANTI-SLAPP laws placed on the books in regions of Canada.

Our Anti-Hate Laws, well that one is a little more tricky to fix and I would want to hear peoples solutions first.

KC said...

A lot of the commentary has been from folks in favour of retaining the criminal code hate speech provisions, and simply stripping HRC's of their jurisdiction to hear such complaints. As a consequence, hate speech, like libel would be adjudicated in real court, by a real judge with the kind of due process we would expect for such a matter.

So while you may have something to your comparison we already have a body of law in place to deal with it. We wouldnt adjudicate libel in a quasi-judicial council.

Matt Guerin said...

kc, I've heard arguments both for having anti-hate laws in the criminal code only, and for getting rid of anti-hate speech laws altogether. Dan Gardner seemed to be arguing against any hate speech laws, either in the HRA or the Criminal Code.

Our anti-libel/slander/defamation laws don't apply to groups like an ethnic background, or the LGBT community, or a particular religious group. It seems the only protection against hate propaganda being levelled against such groups is keeping our anti-hate speech laws.

I think weakening our anti-hate speech laws in this country (by passing Keith Martin's PMB) would make it easier to get away with hate speech. That's not something I'm prepared to accept. Human rights panels need to clean up their acts and stop hearing frivolous cases. But we ought not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

KC said...

Matt - If not wanting to make things "eas[y] to get away" with were an argument in favour of having HRC's adjudicate speech then why do we have these pesky things like the presumption of innocence, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, etc. at all. If hate speech, why not murder? Why not just transfer jurisdiction over criminal law to quasi-judicial "tribunals" where the state only needs to prove that they "likely" committed the crime?

Why not? Because that would be madness. As is having a quasi-criminal proceedings with a reduced standard of proof in cases of hateful speech.

Free speech arguments aside. The lack of traditional procedural rights for accused hatemongers should disturb even those who have no time for hate.

Matt Guerin said...

Alternatively, KC, should we do away with all quasi-judicial hearings in our country on other matters that don't pertain to the criminal courts? Lots of disputes are solved in this way.

I do agree that the processes involved in being accused of hate speech or other HRC violations could be cleaned up somewhat. The accused should also be able to access public assistance for a defence. The point of these quasi-judicial venues is to provide an alternative to our busy criminal courts, to provide parties a venue where matters can be resolved, perhaps through official mediation or what have you, without having to get someone charged criminally and go through a lengthy criminal court proceeding. You want to do away with this option. That would make prosecuting hate propaganda more difficult. That would make hate propaganda more common. If you're happy about that, then by all means keep advocating what you're advocating.

I'm saying we ought not to make it easier for hatemongers to get away with hate speech.

KC said...

My point remains then. If we should have HRC's adjudicate speech why not transfer jurisdiction over theft, common assault, etc. over to quasi-judicial tribunals. As it stands now its too "easy" for pople to get away with their crimes and this fact makes the crimes more "common".

I just dont see why hate speech of all "crimes" should be somehow different because we dont want to make it "easy" to get away with. Why would we want to make any crimes "easy"? Maybe life would be a lot better if ALL criminals were convicted by low cost quasi-judicial tribunals, where you only need to have "likely" committed the crime to be convicted.

I may be a liberal by am very uncomfortable about this tendency to completely dispense with classical liberal values like proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the presumption of innocence, and free expression for more modern goals like preventing hurt feelings-which is what I think the HRC hate speech provisions as opposed to the criminal code provisions are actually about.

People just need a little thicker skin. As an atheist I bristle everytime I hear how you can't be "good" without religion, or that I and everyone important in my life (people I consider to be very good people) is going to burn in hell for all of eternity. Having said that I've never felt the need to file a Human Rights complaint over such "promotion of hatred".