“We don’t have a religion of free speech”

Americans don’t usually draw that much of a distinction between the U.S. and Canada.  After all, we both speak English, it’s easy to travel back and forth between the same countries, and we even share a lot of entertainers.  The differences seem minute: a few cold weather sports, a penchant for saying “eh”, the metric system.  But the Canadians have one difference from the United States that is a long way from tiny.  They don’t believe in freedom of speech. 

Last week, famed conservative columnist and firebrand Ann Coulter was set to visit the University of Ottawa.  However, before she even set forth on Canadian soil, she was met with a warning.  Not a request to be nice or to avoid offense, but a warning based on the power of the law.  

Respect and civility are not bad things, but should they be enforced by threat of criminal charges?  The Canadians clearly believe so.  Notice the provost’s quotes around “free speech,” as if it is a quant concept that they don’t much buy into. 

The limits on freedom of speech did not end there for Ms. Coulter and the people who wished to hear her speak.  The federation of students barred a volunteer from putting up posters advertising her appearance.  Her appearance was ultimately shut down by the police, who, instead of protecting her and her rights, chose to allow the protesters and rioters to control who is allowed to speak. 

Ann Coulter is not the first to find herself on the wrong side of Canada’s restrictive speech laws.  In 2006, Mark Steyn wrote an article in MacCleans magazine titled “The Future Belongs to Islam.”  In American law, defamation, which is not protected by the First Amendment, only occurs if the speech in question is false.  This is not the case in Canada, where Mr. Steyn was brought up on defamation charges before the Orwellian named Human Rights Commission.  The charge: publishing anything that “discriminates against a person or group, or exposes them to hatred or contempt.”  Although the charges were ultimately dropped, Mr. Steyn was forced to devote many months to defending himself against real criminal charges for doing nothing more than expressing his opinion.  In Canada, the right not to be offended trumps the basic human right to free expression. 

Now, I happen to enjoy Ms. Coulter’s wit, although I understand that many of her comments sound ugly to those with little sense of humor.  I think Mark Styne’s writing is often nothing short of brilliant.  But, even for those who don’t, the good, freedom-loving American can start off with “I don’t agree with what that person says. . .” but finish with a strong defense of that person’s right to speak. 

In Canada, they value civility over our most basic freedom.  Susan Cole, from newspaper Toronto Now, explained in an interview with Fox News:

“We don’t have that same political culture here in (Canada)….We don’t have a 1st Amendment, we don’t have a religion of free speech”….

 “Students sign off on all kinds of agreements as to how they’ll behave on campus, in order to respect diversity, equity, all of the values that Canadians really care about. Those are the things that drive our political culture. Not freedoms, not rugged individualism, not free speech. It’s different, and for us, it works.”

Given the choice between freedom and civility, I’ll take freedom every time.


9 Responses

  1. “…I’ll take freedom every time.”

    Amen, sister!

    I would be interested in hearing from someone who is well
    versed in the history of Canada on the question of whether this
    attitude of “…we don’t have a religion of free speech” is one
    that comes out of their own national experience or is it just the
    common or garden variety leftist cant that one can encounter
    here on almost any college campus?

    • Hi John,
      Thanks for commenting. I published this on NewsBlaze and received an interesting email from a Canadian who certainly did not agree with these occurrences. I posted our exchange here .

      As I noted to him, while I hope that he is right about the majority of Canadians being against this, they simply must change their oppressive laws to reflect this or all of the opposition in the world is useless.

      Yes, we could get that sort of garden variety leftist here, but such a leftist is trumped by the First Amendment. In Canada, that’s not the case. I hope it changes.

      • Thanks for your reply and the links.

        Two points:

        First, this debate does illustrate the degree to which our American idea of an absolute right to free speech is so unusual in human history and, thus, how fragile such a right can be.

        Second, until the Canadians actually repeal the laws in question, these laws by their simple existence will choke off free speech. It does not take many actual prosecutions to do this. For every Steyn and Coulter, there are a lot of people who will think “Is my saying this worth it? It could mean my reputation being ruined, my bank account gutted and days of my life wasted in a court room. Eh…better forget it.”

        • Two very excellent points. I’d add to the second that Mr. Steyn did spend a lot of time over the course of many months fighting the charges, and I’m sure that a lot of lawyer hours were expended (whether he personally paid or not, I’m not sure), and it got international attention (in the blogosphere).

          If it had been someone with fewer resources and/or ability to gain attention (Steyn sits in for Rush Limbaugh occassionally and writes for several major American publications- he’s not a household name, but pretty well known), we can’t know if he would have been so successful.

        • I thguoht finding this would be so arduous but it’s a breeze!

    • hmm.. I’m not sure how many ‘garden variety leftists on college campuses’ are advocating restricting speech… Linking domestic dissent ‘garden variety leftists’ with extreme and implicitly anti-US attitudes abroad “…we don’t have a religion of free speech” is neither fair nor reasonable.

      • Steve, if you think that leftists on college campuses are NOT
        advocating restrictions on free speech, you really have not been
        paying attention to this issue. I would suggest going to the website
        of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) to learn
        more. FIRE has been fighting for free speech on campus for the
        last decade.

  2. […] “We don’t have a religion of free speech” […]

  3. hmm. that’s too bad. Ms. Coulter is usually pretty well reasoned and unoffensive really. Well, suppose I have read some unflattering things about islamics. lol that just made me think of one of my favorite articles of hers..



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