Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spreading hate must have consequences...

The case of Saskatchewan resident Bill Whatcott, who published and distributed in 2001 and 2002 some virulent hatred against LGBT people, is now before the Supreme Court of Canada. In his case, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission found Whatcott guilty of spreading hatred and fined him $17,500 dollars, which he refused to pay. An appeal to a higher court in Saskatchewan overturned his guilty finding. Now the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission is taking the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which is expected to rule in the months ahead.

There has been much debate about the topic of prosecuting the expression of hatred in Canada. Those who favour unrestricted freedom of expression often argue the only consequences of their position are some "hurt feelings." Like the "feelings" that led young Jamie Hubley to commit suicide this past weekend, I guess. This writer condemns the use of human rights commissions to prosecute hate speech because too many, "Canadians will sooner self-censor than risk having to spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend against a human rights prosecution, in which neither truth nor good intention is recognized as a defence." Except of course there wasn't any truth in Whatcott's pamphlets, but that's beside the point, I guess.

Whatcott published materials that included the phrase, "Kill the homosexuals!" repeatedly. He later apparently tried to argue that publishing "Kill the homosexuals!" did not really mean, "Kill the homosexuals!" The fact that he published "Kill the homosexuals!" has been frequently ignored by those arguing his defense in the private media including Ezra Levant and the Toronto Star. Even this gay writer ignores the fact that Whatcott incited violence against homosexuals. Yet some of these supporters of unconditional free speech argue hate speech prosecution should only be used against those who incite violence.

What the fuck!? Since when is "Kill the (insert group name here)!" not an incitement to violence?

Jonathan Kay even assumes himself to be the supreme authority on all Abrahamic faiths in his defense of Whatcott. If we allow hate speech protections in ours laws, then we must make all Abrahamic faiths illegal, he writes. What utter bunk! Surely, forced mass conversion of all Christians/Jews/Muslims to Humanism or gay-friendly Paganism or some other spirituality is an option too, right Jonathan? (My tongue firmly planted in cheek there, giving Kay's arguments the respect they deserve.)

But what of simply attacking all gay men as pedophiles, as Whatcott did? Should that be acceptable? If I published that Ezra Levant was a pedophile, he could rightly sue me for libel and extract millions in damages, which would push me into bankruptcy. But if I published that all Jews are pedophiles, Levant and others like him seem to argue that is just fine and dandy.

This article by David Langtry, the acting chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, is probably the most reasonable entry into the debate I've read in a long time. In it, he addresses the main issue about whether hate speech should be prosecuted by quasi-judicial bodies like human rights commissions, or strictly in the criminal courts. Hatred against homosexuals has only been part of the Criminal Code's anti-hate provisions for a few years, of course, while most anti-hate provisions in human rights acts protecting LGBT people date back to the 1990s.

Langtry summarizes the problem well when he writes: "The Criminal Code [provisions against hate] requires the approval of an attorney general for a charge to be laid. This is an unusually tough test. It discourages prosecutions. Police forces are reluctant to invest resources in investigations they doubt will lead to a charge. Few have resources to invest in hate crime units. If MPs vote to repeal Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, as Bill C-304 proposes, perhaps Parliament should also make it easier for police to lay a charge based on evidence. Perhaps, too, it would be useful to ensure that police have the resources they need to gather that evidence. If the Canadian Human Rights Act is not the best vehicle to counter hate speech, Parliament should ensure the Criminal Code is up to the job."

Langtry is right. If human rights commissions are to be stripped of their abilities to combat hate speech and other forms of hatred, then it must be made easier for police to do their jobs in this regard. They must be able to press charges without the permission of Attorneys General.

But there's another issue here. Again, if Whatcott published that "Matt Guerin is a pedophile," I could have sued him for libel and won millions as this is not true. However, since Whatcott published that all homosexuals (including Matt Guerin) are pedophiles, an even bigger lie, his supporters argue he should be free as a bird and face no consequences. This is unacceptable in a free and democratic society where individuals such as myself should be able to fight back against all libel.

If bigots like Whatcott are to be allowed to publish that entire members of an identifiable group are pedophiles, or terrorists, or murderers, or what have you, then why can't every member of that identifiable group sue Whatcott or others like him in court for libel? Are members of attacked groups to have no recourse whatsoever against these lies? Such a tolerance for hate speech is dangerous, as history has unfortunately taught us. If you want to be a bigot and publish such nonsense, I and every other gay man should be able to join in a class action libel suit against you for millions. Truth would win the day and Whatcott would be bankrupt financially (on top of his moral bankruptcy.)

However, the only recourse individuals such as myself now have against bigots like Whatcott are human rights commissions. Until the Criminal Code provisions against hate speech are improved, we must continue to have these venues to protect ourselves against destructive libel and hatred.

1 comment:

sharonapple88 said...

Good post. Raised some interesting issues.