Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Canada wrestles with speech laws

This past week, Canadian authorities announced an investigation into the blog postings of Solman Hossain, a University of Toronto student. Although he has not yet been charged with a crime, the government is monitoring and reviewing Hossain's activities online. The case promises to test Canada's controversial free-speech laws.

At issue are posts, such as those found on this comment thread, that Hossain made urging the killing of Canadian soldiers training for deployment in Afghanistan under NATO's banner. Hossain writes:

Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil who are training to go to Afghanistan or Iraq are legitimate targets to be killed. Now it is possible and legitimate ... believe me, if we could have enough of our soldiers killed, then we'd be forced to withdrawn (sic) from Afghanistan.
From the Associated Press report:
In a December post Hossain wrote that he hoped the Taliban would kill Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay during his December visit to Afghanistan. Hossain also writes many anti-Semitic blogs.WHEN DO I GET TO SHOOT A FEW JEWS DOWN FOR ATTEMPTING TO BLOW UP DOZENS OF MOSQUES IN AMERICA RIGHT AFTER 9-11?
Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication" to "everyone" in Canada. However, the Criminal Code of Canada (section 319) criminalizes anyone who issues "statements in any public place, [and] incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace."

Hossain's posts appear to fit that bill. But Canada is a multicultural, multilingual society struggling to define the limits of appropriate speech. (You can read some of the vexing details of the recent Canadian trend toward political correctness on the issue of speech here and here.) Investigators are therefore proceeding cautiously.

The Hossain case is merely the latest contentious debate between Canadian muslims and a Canadian institution to play out in public. Four muslim law students filed complaints with several Canadian governmental bodies in late 2007, alleging that their human rights had been violated by a series of articles in Maclean's magazine. One of these articles, "The future belongs to Islam" by author and columnist Mark Steyn, highlights demographic trends in Europe that seem to indicate a greater political role for Islam in the near future.
In a few years, as millions of Muslim teenagers are entering their voting booths, some European countries will not be living formally under sharia, but -- as much as parts of Nigeria, they will have reached an accommodation with their radicalized Islamic compatriots, who like many intolerant types are expert at exploiting the "tolerance" of pluralist societies....Wherever one's sympathies lie on Islam's multiple battle fronts the fact is the jihad has held out a long time against very tough enemies. If you're not shy about taking on the Israelis and Russians, why wouldn't you fancy your chances against the Belgians and Spaniards?
In the filing, the students charge that Maclean's "targets the Muslim community, promotes stereotypes, misrepresents fringe elements as the mainstream Muslim community, and distorts facts to present a false image of Muslims." You can read Steyn's reply to the charges here.

Canada's hate speech law seem in for a real test. In a story on the Maclean's flap, the Canadian Broadcasting Company quotes Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association: "Even truthful articles describing some of the awful situations in this world could run afoul of this law, it is so broad and such a potential threat to freedom of speech." That organization's motto is "The Freedom of no one in safe unless the freedom of everyone is safe."

Easier said than done.

7 comments:

Chumir Ethics said...

Watch Alan Borovoy discuss these issues here:
http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=ERktJImUbI0

And read more here:

http://www.chumirethicsfoundation.ca/main/page.php?page_id=137

Paul Levinson said...

Good to see that Canada is wrestling with this problem.

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julie said...

Hello,

My name is Julie Schwietert Collazo, and I am a writer and editor for the online travel magazine, MatadorTravel. I am in the process of interviewing 50 bloggers around the world regarding their opinions about the US presidential elections: how they think the outcome of the elections will affect them and their countries, and who they would vote for if they lived in the US. I'd like to know if you'd be interested in participating as an interviewee; a link to your blog would be featured in the article as well. Please contact me at writingjulie@gmail.com if this is of interest to you. Thanks in advance.

oyat said...

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oyat said...

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