Saba Ahmad is a Litigator working on environmental, administrative and commercial matters in Toronto. Learn more at www.sabaahmad.com
Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled it is constitutionally permissible for provinces to penalize hate speech.
I am uncomfortable when our government regulates morality. I thought we had learned lessons from prohibition, or criminalizing adultery – or criminalizing homosexuality, for that matter. I thought we all agreed to live and let live. In order for diverse peoples to live together, we have to tolerate one another. And I thought that included tolerating the repugnant views of our neighbours.
Of course, lines have to be drawn somewhere. People cannot be permitted to incite violence.
But expressing hate? It is more pervasive than adultery.
It is not possible to stamp out “hate” by muzzling some people. We do not promote dialogue by shutting down those who shut down others. And it is hypocritical for our government to stamp out anti-gay hate when it approves “hatred” of other groups. For example, our anti-bigamy laws reflect our government’s “hatred” of certain aspects of some religions. Presumably, Whatcott would have been safe if he was criticizing bigamy by Mormons instead of sodomy by gays. Or if he had criticized adultery by Mosuo women or piracy on the open seas by Pastafarians.
Yes, I find Whatcott’s views repugnant. But I also find Ann Coulter’s views repugnant. She has referred to Islam as a “car-burning cult” and has even called for the attacking and killing of Islamic societies.
I also find Tarek Fatah’s views hateful. He has written extensively on Islam and women and in many instances (particularly on Facebook), has depicted Islam as a perverted and backward religion. I also have a Facebook “friend” who routinely posts anti-Islamic rhetoric. I find her views repugnant. And I have found some views of deeply religious people hateful. Some Muslims have expressed views that make me feel attacked as a woman. Even radio deejays have made me feel attacked as a woman.
As a lawyer, I could write a brief under Saskatchewan’s hate law to justify penalties in each instance. I might not succeed if anti-Islamic sentiment is not as unpopular as anti-gay sentiment. And courts might shy away from shutting down anti-woman sentiment by religious groups and deejays since it is so pervasive.
But should our government be permitted to silence all these people? Should I, as a lawyer, have the power to hail each of the above people into court to defend the expression of their views?
I suspect most Canadians possess views which, if openly expressed, would violate Saskatchewan’s hate law. I insist we must treat all prejudices alike. And if anti-Islamic sentiment is equal to anti-gay sentiment, then many criticisms of Islam as “perverted” or violent would be hateful. Likewise for offensive views about women, Mormons and Scientologists.
If we read the Whatcott decision honestly – which we must – then a majority of Canadians are, in effect, muzzled.