Thursday, March 7, 2013

Oh, Canada! WTF? Writers Face Substantial Fines for Exposing People to "Vilification"

Political correctness is now the law of the land in Canada.

In a decision that has left me flabbergasted, the Supreme Court of Canada has imposed a legal "political correctness" test on speech and writing.  Cross the line and writers will face substantial fines.

In  Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. William Whatcott, the Canadian Supreme Court upheld fines issues against fervant anti-homosexual pastor Bill Whatcott for his flyer "Sodomites In Our Schools."

The Canadian Court apparently tried to strike a middle ground.  It struck from the Saskatchewan ordinance the provision that made it impermissible to make a statement that "ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity“ of a person on prohibited grounds of discrimination.  But the Court said that a statement could be punished if "a reasonable person, aware of the context and circumstances, would view the expression as likely to expose a person or persons to detestation and vilification on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

The Court held that a prohibition of any statement “that exposes or tends to expose to hatred” any person or class of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground is a "reasonable limit and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."

Truth is not a defense.  The statement can be true, but if it subjects the person to "detestation and vilification," it can be punished as improper speech.

For most American, the idea that pure speech can be punished simply because someone doesn't like it is an anathema to the very concept of freedom.   I would have thought Canadians shared this fundamental understanding of freedom.  But apparently not.

It is ironic that the Canadian decision comes on the 25th Anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, the case that established that writers cannot be liable for  inflicting emotional distress on the subject of their articles, even when intentionally done.

The Hustler v. Falwell case is the subject of my next post.

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