Hate and the law: how to deal with bigots

TheStar.com – opinion/letters – Re: Yes, hateful words can be harmful, Opinion Dec. 18
Published On Mon Dec 19 2011.    Joe Killoran / Laura Westra

Eradicating racial hatred is a noble goal but it cannot be legislated out of existence. The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits communication “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.” This is impossibly vague and subjective.

It could be used against most religions, Occupy protesters (contempt for the 1 per cent), authors like Salman Rushdie, Zionists denying the existence of a Palestinian people or “Israeli apartheid” protesters.

The legislation does not permit a defence of truth and ignores progress made by feminists, gays and civil rights activists, many of whom were contemptuous of, and hateful toward, their oppressors.

This draconian, anti-intellectual edict has drawn condemnation from people and groups as diverse as the National Post, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Association of Journalists and Noam Chomsky.

Bigots are best defeated through open debate, rather than judicial or legislative fiat, precisely so their ideas can be exposed to both hatred and contempt.

Joe Killoran, Toronto


Indeed, hateful words can do harm, but Bernie Farber and Marvin Kurz don’t even attempt to speak against the over-inclusiveness of Section 13. Members of any society should be judged for what they do, not who they are, and that is why the truth is indeed an excellent defence against partisan over-inclusiveness of that law, a blunt instrument that can be abused.

Farber and Kurz offer some disingenuous examples: how can you prove that Africans are not inferior or that Jews are not rapacious, they say. But you can prove that some African rulers are committing criminal acts (and some are at the International Criminal Court now), and you can prove that the government of Israel has repeatedly violated any number of human rights and humanitarian laws and should be taken to account for it.

Yet some attempt to confuse silly and unprovable claims with what amounts to an unacceptable reality: in the case of Israel, by referring to both as “anti-Semitism.” That is the problem with Section 13.

Laura Westra, Professor Emerita (Philosophy), University of Windsor, Maple

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