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Do we believe in freedom of speech?

Do you believe in freedom of speech? Of course you do. It’s the cornerstone of our democracy.

Do you believe in freedom of speech? Of course you do. It’s the cornerstone of our democracy.

It’s etched in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms ... b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

Pay attention, freedom lovers. Just because it’s in the Charter, don’t believe everything you read.

What if I asked the question this way: Do you believe in freedom of speech for David Ahenakew? He’s the Saskatchewan aboriginal leader who was first convicted, then acquitted, of spreading hate for expressing the following opinion:

“The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war. That’s how Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn’t take over Germany or Europe. That’s why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the goddamned world.”

When he was acquitted Monday, the B’nai Brith said the verdict is inexcusable, and that Canadian hate crime legislation needs to be reviewed, i.e. strengthened.

Of course there are numerous human rights tribunals that could still discipline Ahenakew.

B.C.’s code, for example, says simply that a person must not publish or cause to be published anything that discriminates against a person or group, or exposes them to hatred or contempt.

Under B.C.’s code, it would be much easier to find Ahenakew guilty.

I could ask the question this way: Do you believe in freedom of speech for The Ottawa Citizen? The paper was found guilty of libeling a former cop, Danno Cusson, who took it upon himself to go to New York in the wake of 9/11 with his dog, trying to free trapped survivors.

The Citizen called it an ill-conceived misadventure; Cusson was offended and sued — and was awarded $125,000 by a jury.

Now it’s before the Supreme Court of Canada, where media lawyers are pleading for libel laws to be liberalized. Obviously, we do not really believe in freedom of speech. Instead we argue about it. Sometimes restrictions seem to make sense; who wants some guy going around the country spewing hateful lies about Jews? In others, we’re not so sure. To shut a reporter up, should all you have to do is sue for libel? Not a good idea if we want the truth to emerge.

Here’s the thing.

If we believe in “freedom” we have to tolerate lies as well as truth, errors as well as accuracy.

Freedom of speech protects us all from the consequences of our utterances and idiotic notions.

Freedom of speech is clear: If you think it, you can say it.

So one more time, do you still believe in freedom of speech? For me, the answer is still — and always will be — yes.

 
 
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