Words speak as loud as actions

Posted on April 18, 2008 in Equality Debates

TheStar.com – comment/letter – Words speak as loud as actions
April 18, 2008

Re:Ban discriminatory actions, not inflammatory words – Comment, April 16

Alan Borovoy maintains that our justice system should provide remedies only for hateful actions but not hateful words. His view misses the unquestionable link between words and actions.

Almost every scholar on the Holocaust has informed us that systemic group defamation of Jews – often in the mass media – set the stage for the Nazi genocide of more than 6 million Jews and others who did not fit the Aryan genetic criteria. Those familiar with ethnic and tribal genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda are well aware of the influential role played by dehumanizing speech.

Hateful words set the stage for hateful actions. Once an identifiable group has been dehumanized, hate and discrimination are no longer viewed as unacceptable but rather as legitimate in light of the target group’s “undesirable” traits. It was this recognition of the indisputable connection between words and actions that led to the hate-speech protections built into our criminal and human rights laws.

It is therefore fully appropriate that human rights commissions fulfill their role in addressing hate speech for the real and present threat it poses to Canadian society – a role already endorsed by the highest legal authority in the land, the Supreme Court. In 1990, while dealing with a constitutional challenge to Canada’s criminal hate-speech laws by an anti-Semitic Alberta schoolteacher, the court cited the virtues of the hate-speech provisions of human rights codes as an alternative to criminal provisions. The court endorsed human rights statutes as a “less severe and more effective response than the criminal law” to hate speech.

So why is the wisdom of the Supreme Court being questioned, when the precedents and values it espouses have been borne out in the response of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to Maclean’s magazine’s Islamophobic publications?

Imam Dr. Zijad Delic, National Executive Director, Canadian Islamic Congress, Ottawa

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