Building Democratic Canada With Freedom of Speech

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Freedom of Speech

Free speech is a critical component of a democratic and free society, therefore, it should not be regulated. Canadians are lucky enough to live in a free and democratic society where we have the right to make our views and opinions known. Unfortunately, many people across the world are not as lucky and live under oppressive governments and leaders, who punish their people for stating their views. With more and more regulation of free speech, we become increasingly likely to live in a society like this. It is critical that Canadians understand what free speech regulation can lead to. It can be understood by looking at several countries around the world, primarily in Africa and the Middle East.

As guaranteed in The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, people cannot be punished for exercising their right to free speech, save for “reasonable limits” (Government of Canada, 2019). When the Constitution Act of 1982 was signed into law by Queen Elizabeth II, she also signed into effect The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document which lays out the protected rights of Canadians that cannot be infringed upon. (Government of Canada, 2019). Though Section 2(b) of the Charter states that the government can enact “reasonable limits” (Government of Canada, 2019) to free speech, it does not allow for the Government to be inflicting serious penalties or punishments (Government of Canada, 2019). The Constitution of Canada, of which the Charter is a part of, is the “supreme law of Canada” (Government of Canada, 2019), this means that all laws in the country must follow the rules set out in the Constitution. A law that fails to follow the Constitutional rules is not valid. For example, if the Government of Canada decided that anyone who spoke out against the Prime Minister would be jailed, that would be an invalid law. Though the Supreme Court has ruled that the right to freedom of expression and speech is not absolute, it has set the precedent that unless one identifiable group is attempting to prevent another identifiable group’s right to freedom of expression, there is no issue (Walker, 2018). Considering that there is no legal definition stating at what point freedom of expression or speech becomes illegal, it would be incredibly difficult to impose significant laws or regulations on the topic.

It is difficult to prosecute people for a ‘hate speech’ issue because there is not a specific point at which free speech turns into ‘hate speech’ and there are very few restrictions on speech legally in Canada. In fact, the only two freedoms of expression and speech related charges in the Criminal Code of Canada are Advocating Genocide and Publically Inciting Hatred, Mischief Against Religious Property and Offences motivated by hate (Walker, 2018). A Crown Prosecutor may not bring these charges against people, without permission of the Attorney-General of Canada (Walker, 2018). Aside from these aforementioned charges, there are no punishments for exercising your right to free speech. If we were to criminalize hate speech and make it a punishable offence, individual police officers and judges would be setting different precedents all the time, because it is not a clear cut issue, it is simply a matter of opinion. Not only would attempting to limit individual’s rights to freedom of speech violate the Constitution of Canada, but it would not promote democracy or foster the principles of democracy.

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Free speech is an important part of our democracy, but is becoming dangerously limited. The Criminal Code of Canada considers offences such as Advocating Genocide to be a hate crime and individuals found guilty may be sentenced to a significant fine and prison time. (Freedom of Expression, 2014). According to Denis Rancourt, a former University of Ottawa Professor and current researcher with the Ontario Civil Liberties Association, the era of globalization has seen to the limitation of freedom of expression becoming increasingly limited, not only in Canada, but across the World. (Cooper, 2019). In conclusion, limiting the guaranteed rights of people is a dangerous idea and the government will take increasing control into people’s lives through it.

While some individuals may agree with that point, some people will disagree and feel that it is imperative that the government leads the way in creating a society where everyone feels included, to the point where people should not be allowed to state their views. A prime example of this on an international stage is China, which has strict laws to prevent freedom of expression, allows only senior officials from the Communist Party to criticize the government, only behind closed doors (McGovern & Rubio, n.d). These anti-free speech laws were introduced under the ruse of equality and fairness, but in reality were designed to give the government virtually total control over the people (McGovern & Rubio, n.d). In a regional context, Don Cherry was recently fired for his so-called “toxic rant”, according to the Toronto Star (Raza, 2019). Despite not inciting hatred or advocating genocide, he was still removed from his position by his employer, Sportsnet (Raza, 2019). Though Cherry was not punished or penalized by the government, the actions of Sportsnet demonstrate an attack on free speech in Canada. This may only be the beginning, unless we, as the citizens of Canada resist against these organizations and individuals who have made it their mission to abolish free speech.

To maintain a free and democratic society, people must be permitted to speak freely, even if this means that some people may be upset or offended. The future of the free and democratic Canada that we know could be on the line, if we continue to allow governments and organizations, whether private or public, to disregard our Charter protected rights. As Canadians, we must uphold the values and ideals of the Charter, as it is arguably the most important document we have. This means we all have a duty to call out governments and organizations that go against what we stand for as a nation.

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