Why we must tolerate hate

TheGlobeandMail.com – news/politics
Published Monday, Oct. 17, 2011.   Lysiane Gagnon

Is there a concept more subjective than “hate”? What my neighbour may see as a “hateful” rant, I might see as a caustic, yet legitimate, comment. A law founded on the concept of “hate” is in itself unacceptable, especially in a society that pretends to respect freedom of opinion.

Unfortunately, Canada has been plagued by such a law for decades. Now the Supreme Court is reviewing the issue, thanks to William Whatcott, an anti-gay crusader whose ideas I abhor but whose determination in challenging these laws I applaud.

I loathe homophobia, but I want homophobes (or those who morally object to homosexuality) to be able to express their opinions, even if their vocabulary is inflammatory. For freedom of expression to be fully recognized, people should have the right to use the words that come to their mind, even if they risk hurting someone’s feelings. If the thought police had their way, everyone would be talking in the politically correct “langue de bois,” a depersonalized, robotic language devoid of emotion.

As a woman, I’m part of one of those minorities that our hate laws supposedly protect. I don’t need such protection; neither do most women I know. We don’t care if some loony uses unprintable words to qualify our gender. We don’t sue him – we ignore him. I get venomous letters filled with misogynistic remarks from some readers every time I write a column on a controversial topic. This doesn’t make me feel “degraded.” I’m not even “offended.” I just click “delete.”

A line must be drawn somewhere, of course. Direct calls for violence against a person or a group should be banned. But this leaves a wide area for freedom of expression.

Unfortunately, Canada, once a brave country of explorers, has become a “mommy state” in the grip of a vast clique of moralizers who encourage people to be extraordinarily sensitive to the slightest insult, as if reaching victimhood status were a goal in life. It’s censorship by another name, and also a pathetically naive attempt to eradicate evil from the face of the Earth and reconstruct the human mind.

Each country has its share of bigots and racists. If they’re silenced and excluded from the public sphere, they’ll go underground and perhaps do more harm than if they were openly contested. Why did our courts have to persecute Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel? Targeting this man didn’t erase anti-Semitism – it only provided exposure to his previously obscure pamphlets.

The reason why bigots and racists should be free to express their opinions, as unpleasant as they are, is that when the state starts repressing “bad” ideas, it ends up repressing other ideas, too, especially those that go against society’s predominant views. Remember Galileo, who was tried by the Roman Inquisition for saying the Earth revolved around the sun? Today’s Galileos should be encouraged to defy public opinion and express unpopular ideas.

A liberal, open-minded law against hate speech? That’s an oxymoron. There’s no possible reconciliation between freedom of speech and hate-speech laws, however they’re written or reformulated. A civilized, progressive society should opt for freedom of speech, period.

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1 Comment

  1. First off, I would like to mention that people who are homophobes are not always the same people who object morally to homosexuality. Now, in many cases this is true, but not always. However, I agree that homophobes or not, they have the right to express themselves, and that sometimes the words chosen, could be “inflammatory.” The problem is people can hurt people’s feelings, without committing a hate crime. Not to say that bashing people is okay, (it most definitely is not) however, people have the freedom of speech, and the freedom to believe what they want, really the freedom of opinion. I agree with the author, that many times, there are derogatory names towards women (and many other minorities) the thing is, if everyone who made any sort of comment towards anyone, in a way that could hurt their feelings, was arrested for a hate crime, the truth is there would be no one left.

    Name calling, and hurt feelings are common, so common that after a while, it doesn’t hurt anymore. Have you ever been to school? Especially high school, the amount of things a female, homosexual and everyone else can be called there, is beyond ridiculous. But what we are dealing with there is name calling and immaturity. I agree with the idea that direct calls for violence towards a person or a group should be banned immediately, because I believe those to be hate crimes, and wrong.

    The issue is, as the author mentioned, that leaves many things in between. When it comes to hate crimes, there area a variety of things including small things like spray painting people’s garages (for example, with the words “go back to your own country”) all the way to the Holocaust. Neither of these is acceptable behaviour, one how ever is more extreme than the next, both though are offensive and can cause some pretty serious damage.

    If someone however was to voice their opinion about people different from themselves, are these hates crimes? I believe that depends on the act. Unfortunately people are not perfect, and life is life. It sometimes sucks, and sometimes hurts. But people have the freedom to speak, and for example, someone whose religion says homosexuality is a sin, is not speaking a hate crime, they are o biding by there specific religious views. They do not hate homosexuals, they just don’t agree with their behaviour, it goes the same for people who don’t agree with tattoos or piercings, they don’t hate those people, they just don’t agree, and have decided that is not what they want for themselves.

    You see, as human beings we naturally point out differences in others, often things we are ashamed of about ourselves or things we are ignorant about. So to make a law about hate speech would mean that every single person in Canada is guilty. I bet there was a time we all called someone fat, ugly, rude, what about not as nice things like a bitch or (and in many cases amongst high schoolers now, a “jew”) and the list of not nice names goes on and on. You see, every person has the freedom to speak (and at times, especially when we are angry, we tend to say things we wish we hadn’t) but we often say things that can hurt someone’s feelings, we even do it without trying. So a law on this would be absolutely ridiculous, we have all hurt someone’s else feelings, whether intentional or not, because we have the right to speak our mind.

    So until Canada takes away that right as a human being, then Canada cannot make a law completely contradicting that right.

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