Canada is not a "free society"

By Razib Khan | March 24, 2010 5:47 pm

That’s all I have to say to Eric Michael Johnson’s post, Ann Coulter, Hate Speech, and Free Societies. OK, seriously, from what I recall Eric is an American, though resident in the forgotten north. American absolutist stances on free speech are not shared by most Western societies, so demanding total free speech is quixotic and culturally tone deaf. Granted, Europe or Canada are not barbaric like China or Muslim societies when it comes to speech, so that communication about this issue is possible. But here are the exceptions to free speech enumerated in the European Convention on Human Rights:

The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

I bolded aspects which I think Americans would assume are going to be open to abuse. The new Irish blasphemy law is rumored to be motivated by a fear of Muslim violence aimed at those who defame their primitive superstitions (the cowardly Irish atheists know that Western Christians tend to be lax about agitating violently on behalf of their superstitions, so they blasphemed Catholicism, this was an error, see below). Though it isn’t just Muslims who are barbaric, a few years ago Sikhs in Britain rioted over a blasphemous theater production, and the arguments that it isn’t speech if it “hurts feelings” were voiced by them as well. This is a normal human viewpoint, protection of patently offensive speech is probably a cultural aberration. What to Americans seems a universal human right is actually a perverse extremism from the viewpoint of outsiders (though do note that the abolitionists seemed to be perverse extremists in their time, so numbers don’t always predict where history will flow)
One of Eric’s stupid commenters linked to this op-ed, Ann Coulter, Hate Speech, and Free Societies:

This is why Coulter’s speech is not just “free” (i.e. bias-free, objectively sent out into the atmosphere). The effects of her speech when launched into public space are not simply situational. They are another series of burps in the historical and currently existing framework that has normalized a particular way of thinking about Muslims, gays and lesbians, and other marginalized groups.

Pretty funny that Muslims are marginalized along with homosexuals, since when Muslims are a majority they have a tendency to persecute or kill homosexuals with more efficacy than other cultures (though not homosexual behavior). Naturally Muslims in the West are exempt from the injunction toward not engaging in homophobia, as it’s naturally part of their barbaric set of beliefs. The op-ed continues:

From this framework, we can see how free speech is a slippery problem. Ironically, it seems to surface when there is a need to stifle speech that challenges social power (which is what the U of Ottawa students were doing – challenging the inequitable social power relations that Coulter’s “speech” upheld).

Really someone should ban the usage of quotations, because morons like this will get drunk on them. Though seriously, I’m expressing a very cultural biased viewpoint here, an American one, and I’m of conscious of this. I really don’t see a point in castigating Canadians for being Canadians, they’re not China or Syria, but neither are they the United States. Even the British have insane libel laws which stifle speech operationally, though there’s a chance that the law might be tightened up. We alone should be the City upon a Hill where the blasphemers and peddlers of bigotry can take refuge, because we’re already the last best and only hope.
* I use the term “barbaric” to refer to societies which I feel express values which are fundamentally different from those of my own so that there is a lack of commensurability of discourse. From the perspective of many Muslim societies American culture is barbaric and kuffar, while the Chinese have their own set of values as evident with the recent conflict with Google over censorship. I use the term “savage” to delineate those societies which dehumanize other cultures. So the Aztecs were savage because they waged wars against other polities for the sake of harvesting sacrificial victims, who were later cannibalized.

  • Kaviani

    Who the hell pissed in your grits? Are you Ann Coulter’s fanclub president or something?

  • razib

    interesting, the retard above is american! but it shows that barbarism has a long reach within the united states. note, because i defend ann coulter’s speech i must be a fan of the content of her speech. this is a normal barbaric way to reason. generally though barbarians understand realpolitik: american left-wing barbarians should understand that they’re way outnumbered by right-wing barbarians. so if their moronic viewpoints about constraining “hate speech” legally gain traction, expect the christian right start talking up offense to “people of faith” a lot more.

  • Greg Laden

    I think you use of the terms “Savage” and “Barbaric” borders on tribal.

  • razib

    it is tribal. i’m not an anthropologist, why should i make a professional habit of pretending i’m not normatively influenced? anyway, anthropologists just pretend, they are too (though i think professionally it is best to try). i’m being descriptive in pointing out that eric michael johnson’s stance toward free speech would seem strange to most of the world’s population, and even many westerners. i’m being prescriptive in asserting americans should man the barricades on this aspect of exceptionalism. americans often talk about their extreme stance on freedom of speech as if it’s self-evidently a human universal. as a matter of fact, it isn’t. therefore, perhaps we should cut our losses and defend it as another peculiarity of our society.

  • Monson

    I think the organizers of the event canceled it for their own gain. Threatening? What a farce.

  • Melykin

    Ann Coutler is an idiot but it was very rude of those students to shout her down. It would have been much smarter for them to stay away from her speech if they didn’t want to hear it. All they have done is give her more publicity, which she loves. They have helped her sell more of her hateful books, so I hope they are happy with themselves. Idiots.
    I agree that the anti-hate speech laws we have in Canada are repressive and should be done away with. I think Europe has a lot of similar laws that were brought in after WW2.
    I think the problem with the liberal mind set in Canada is that a lot of views are held like a religion, and considered to be the *only* proper views to have. People aren’t thinking things through logically. Most of the people I know are like this. People are afraid to express any opposing view because they will be called names such as xenophobe, racist, etc.
    Basically if a person of a non-white race does a bad thing, or if a whole group of them do a bad thing, great care must be taken not to mention it in the media, because it might give offense. So we don’t, for example, put a lot of effort into finding a way to control the alcoholism of aboriginals, or trying to stop domestic violence and gangs in the Sikh community, or put a lid on fraud in the Chinese community* because we don’t want to admit out loud that these problems exist. Actually I think a lot of people don’t want to admit even to themselves that problems such as this exist. So we just turn away and nothing is done.
    I’m tired of the whole thing.
    *getting drivers licenses by bribery and creating zapper software to help restaurants fraudulently avoid paying tax are just a couple of examples I can think of off hand

  • razib

    but private speech continues, right? i have nader supporting lefty friends who lived in vancouver for a few years, and privately to me they had no issue expressing the problems with thrill crime by sikh youth in that city (e.g., they wouldn’t park in certain neighborhoods but used public transit because they were worried that sikh teenagers would jack their car).

  • Melykin

    Yes, people will talk about this sort of thing with trusted friends. But no where else, and certainly not publicly. Especially if you are a politician or media person–that would be kill your career.
    I guessing that within *all* groups (ethnic or otherwise) there are some people who make unflattering remarks about other groups. Maybe it is some sort of tribal behaviour that reinforces within-group bonding.

  • zlz

    Private speech continues.
    There was a (relatively) recent high-profile case in Canada on charges of promoting hatred, which might prove instructive (well, it provides a single data point, that being an example of what has merited charges) if people are interested in the boundaries of what will actually result in hate charges being filed:

  • zlz

    I remark that that to which Melykin refers is social disapproval, not criminal sanctions.

  • Chris B

    The creepiest thing about this incident was the letter to Coulter by a senior administrator at the university, full of we’re-too-good-for-American-style-free-speech smugness. There’s sense up here that anything American is automatically suspect, so I always rant about “American-style political correctness” to my leftist friends, which nicely disorients them.
    The actual cancellation, though, was the usual combination of narcissism (by the protesters) and learned helplessness (by the authorities). That sort of thing has happened on some U.S. campuses, I think (though not with Coulter).
    BTW, she’s an amusing polemicist, but I think her facts tend to be shaky, so I don’t often read her.

  • Melykin

    Apparently Ahenakew (an elderly First Nations leader) was drunk when he said that stuff about Jews. A lot of people think the reason he wasn’t convicted was because he wasn’t white. He just died a few weeks ago.

  • Clark

    I completely agree with Melykin. The PC speech rules in Canada are ridiculous. Further it’s the people in power who enforce them typically against those with little power. So the whole “power relations” mindset most of these clowns got from Foucalt makes zero sense. The biggest problem though is the lack of checks and balances and the fact the folks imposing all these punishments are themselves a powerful minority with no accountability.
    All that said I can’t stand Ann Coulter. And many of those attacked by these speech laws are often not terribly sympathetic. But it has a very chilling effect on political discourse.

  • Clark

    Chris – reminds me of a joke that Canadians are just like Americans and the only way to tell them apart is to say that. LOL. But I think a real Canadian nationalism has developed the past decade or so. It’s not just the “we’re not Americans” that was typical when I was young. On the other hand I’ve been living in the states for over 20 years now, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

  • Tyler DiPietro

    Razib has apparently forgotten that calling Muslim culture barbaric is racist regardless of how barbaric Muslims actually act. He should stop being a white supremacist neo-colonialist and adopt the enlightened viewpoint that no culture can legitimately claim to be superior, and that everything else is hate speech.

  • Rod

    The two positions seem to be: The light of public scrutiny seems to subject nutty and unpopular ideas to ridicule and tends to diminish their impact. The other seems to be that why should a semi-public intsitution give views like Ann Coulter (and others) a free soap-box?
    On another note, there seems to be a view among some in Canada (not me, I am a free-speech Canadian) that everyone is entitled to not be offended by anything stated or printed in public. To which I say: Hell with that. I want to be able to challenge anything I think deserves it, offensive or not. How fragile does an idea have to be? Why should I worry about your delicate sensibilities or fragile egos?
    A plague on all their houses!

  • Snippet

    Very interesting and relevant point.
    One thing that gets my goat though is the way that so much of this “cultural difference” regarding free speech seems to be motivated more by fear of offending (ahem) certain (ahem) people, rather than some sort of adherence to principle.

  • Lampang

    So savage seems to mean different and barbaric means different in a bad way, but, of course, devoid of all the wildly negative connotations that those words actually have so there’s nothing reprehensible in referring to the Chinese or Arabs as savage barbarians. Right. By your own admission, these labels can justifiably be placed on American culture and, in fact, seemingly any culture can use them about any other culture. So, what’s the point? If we take you at your word and you’re not using these with pejorative force, they’re pretty much meaningless but if we want the words to have a useful sense, then you really are saying that the Arabs and the Chinese (and, I guess, all of us who stupidly didn’t choose American parents) are savage barbarians with the full force of those words.

  • Lampang

    “One thing that gets my goat though is the way that so much of this “cultural difference” regarding free speech seems to be motivated more by fear of offending (ahem) certain (ahem) people, rather than some sort of adherence to principle.”
    Heaven forbid that offending people should be a concern in deciding what you say. That would be an outrage, wouldn’t it? I certainly hope you don’t teach your children anything as savage and barbaric as wilfully not causing offence.
    And the article is predicted precisely on a lack of principle. What’s the justification for America’s prioritisation of freedom of speech over other rights? It’s American. That’s the beginning and end of it. So I get to sit in my bunker shouting “Septics are all twats” and you – apparently – get to sit in yours shouting “Chinese are all savages”. Lovely.

  • razib

    just so barbarians can understand this correctly: i do mean savage pejoratively, i don’t really mean barbaric very pejoratively. i think savage cultures should be reformed by force. ergo, cultures which practice slavery or cannibalism, which is inhuman, should be stamped out. OTOH, we should establish a modus vivendi with barbarian cultures. e.g. we can’t expect china to have the same individualist emphasis on rights that we do, and nor should we attempt to reform them by force. we can’t expect muslims and india to take a more chilled out attitude toward religious identity which removes its corporate and communal valence, because that’s just how they are. that difference does not mean equivalence. there are foods that you may not like, and there is trying to make you eat shit. barbarians have practices we may not like, even understand, but their values allow them to flourish. OTOH, i think “savage” is a practice which violates cross-cultural aspects of “basic human rights” as understood in the contemporary zeitgeist. the british in the early 19th century clamped down on the slave trade and eliminated the freedom of slaving cultures because they viewed it as fundamentally inhuman. the USA put pressure on saudi arabia to abolish slavery in 1960 because of its inhumanity. on the other hand, we seem to tolerate with unease the legal second class status of women in that nation. there is not an overwhelming international consensus that differentiation based on sex is as abhorrent as differentiation based on race. or frankly religion, as non-muslims have circumscribed rights in saudi arabia as well, while china has plenty of religious persecution (even if that follows from political considerations less than theological ones).
    now, as to pejorativeness and judgement. i do prefer the norms of western society, and in particular american society in regards to speech. why? i’ve been inculcated toward those norms, they are a part of who i am, and express core values. i am aware of the cultural embeddness of some of these values, ergo, i don’t think there should be a global crusade to enforce american norms (in fact, i do disagree with some american norms myself!). but, just as i have particular individual aesthetic preferences, and so make choices in my local environment to reflect those preferences, so particular societies have values which influence the choices they make, and the preferences they have. in regards to speech,i think perhaps a new tack that americans should take is this: acknowledge cultural differences, and assert strongly american uniqueness on this aspect and deny the importance of non-american categories. in particular, implicit within most society’s understanding of speech seems to be a society wide level of utility. e.g. “speech exists to foster understanding,” “speech exists to maintain harmony.” and such. many non-americans do not understand, i believe, that we are often little perturbed by these arguments because we don’t view speech through group-level utility metrics, excepting cases such as yelling fire in a theater. rather, we view speech as an individual level end unto itself, not necessarily a means. so arguments about hate or social utility carry little water with us. on the other hand, they are very important for other societies, and we should understand that.
    note: many americans have normal human impulses in regards to speech, especially toward disliked viewpoints. the indoctrination toward speech absolutism is rather more evident among elites, resulting in a lack of diversity of viewpoint. but i have heard the head of the american catholic league argue for blasphemy laws, while some feminists are fans of punishing “hate speech.” our free speech absolutism and its lack of emphasis on utility is probably nearly incomprehensible to barbarians.

  • razib

    lampang, just an fyi, you’ve inverted. i think chinese culture is barbaric. and i assume chinese think american culture is barbaric. though it seems that we appreciate aspects of each other’s culture too. OTOH, i think it is harder to admire aspects of savage cultures. the nazi regime was efficient, and had some artistic production and aesthetic, but its basic savagery allows for little genuine admiration.

  • Lampang

    “So savage seems to mean different and barbaric means different in a bad way”
    Ah. Got these the wrong way round: barbaric is different and savage is different in a bad way.
    My mistake but it is so difficult using these technical terms correctly.

  • razib

    they’re not technical terms. they’re terms i’ve attempted to reuse in non-academic contexts to try and trace important grades of cultural difference and comprehensibility. i wouldn’t use them in cases where concerns are purely descriptive; i don’t refer to ancient romans as barbaric or savage though some of their values are clearly so when viewed through a normative lens. that being said, in the age of multiculturalism there is a delusion that cultures which view each other as fundamentally barbaric can coexist easily. i do not view that as so.
    p.s. just so there is no confusion, barbarism or savagery is not necessarily heritable. my parents were not born in this country, and espouse some frankly barbarized values. they do not speak much of their opinions about homosexuals in public in large part because they understand that most americans would find their views shocking (though not so americans in the 1950s).

  • T. Bruce McNeely
    PZ provides an account of this incident that I am inclined to believe – that a relatively orderly crowd of protesters appeared (exercising their right to freedom of speech), with the only disruptive action being some assclown pulling the fire alarm. Coultergeist and her people were the ones who chickened out. There was no mob of thousands screaming at her. Coulter is being as truthful as ever.
    I personally feel that Canadian Human Rights Commissions and Hate Speech laws are counterproductive. Coulter should be free to make an ass of herself if she so chooses.
    There are three idiots that stand out here – the U of O bureaucrat who wrote that stupid letter, the fire alarm nitwit, and Coulter herself, for being such a ludicrous drama queen (and for being Anne Coulter).

  • Russell

    The style of free speech America has implemented, thanks in large part to liberal judges and the ACLU, is in my view the part of our legal system of which we can be most proud, and hold up as an example. Yes, I understand other nations do differently, and that Ireland’s blasphemy law is not the equivalent of China’s great internet wall. But can we not criticize the former, without falling into that false equivalence?

  • Lampang

    I was being facetious, but never mind.
    I’m not sure I follow your argument. America’s prioritization of freedom of speech is justifiable because it’s American. There’s no appeal to rights or, indeed, any kind of universal justification. (“we should cut our losses and defend it as another peculiarity of our society.”) This is the basis of barbarism, right? I say tomaaahhhtooohhhh and you say tomayto. But savagery does seem to point to some kind of universalism (“i think “savage” is a practice which violates cross-cultural aspects of “basic human rights” as understood in the contemporary zeitgeist.”) But that solves nothing because you still need to make clear how we’re to judge what constitutes a basic human right and how to adjudicate between competing rights – this is a highly contentious issue which is precisely at the root of why you choose to prioritise freedom of speech over freedom not to be offended. Surely America culture doesn’t randomly prioritise certain rights over others; it does so for a reason but the question is why and is that prioritisation justifiable.
    A second point: how does America escape being described as savage? Your country’s crimes are too numerous and too well known to need repeating here but it’s certainly guilty of violating “basic human rights”. Your example of savagery is “the Aztecs were savage because they waged wars against other polities for the sake of harvesting sacrificial victims, who were later cannibalized.” Well, it’s fairly clear that the American state wages war for the economic benefit of an elite. I’m not sure what formulation of “basic human rights’ you’re operating with, but I can’t see how sacrificial cannibalism is savage when murder for economic gain isn’t. Perhaps this isn’t a concern of yours but people and glass houses and throwing stones and all that. And if America is savage, who is to take up arms and reform it? Is that what you want?

  • razib

    Surely America culture doesn’t randomly prioritise certain rights over others; it does so for a reason but the question is why and is that prioritisation justifiable.
    the reason is america’s particular history. and the zeitgeist itself is a product of history. all rights are “fundamentally” unrooted in any ultimate principle. they evolve as societies evolve (e.g., after the bronze age the greeks and chinese both turned against the human sacrifice which was prevalent in their societies, and labelled it savage and “against the gods”). i suspect there is a “direction” to moral history, but that’s a different post.
    And if America is savage, who is to take up arms and reform it? Is that what you want?
    the only people who have practical power over this are americans through representative democracy. since i’m the type of person who will refer to a “warfare state” you’ll get no apologia from me in regards to aggression…but as a practical matter the international system can’t totally constrain the united states now. i assume in the near future this is not going to be much of an issue because of china.

  • razib

    also, of course america can be perceived as savage. there are many in the world who perceive the rights which we grant to homosexuals now (over time) as “against nature.” westerners tend to disagree with this now, but we’re in the minority. see the conflicts in the anglican communion.

  • AG

    Could this have some thing to do with Canandian’s politeness? Law always reflects culture value.

  • Tyler DiPietro

    “Surely America culture doesn’t randomly prioritise certain rights over others; it does so for a reason but the question is why and is that prioritisation justifiable.”
    That assumes that there is some right that conflicts with free speech. In other societies there seems to be a consensus around some right not to be offended, in America there is not.

  • Lampang

    “That assumes that there is some right that conflicts with free speech. In other societies there seems to be a consensus around some right not to be offended, in America there is not.”
    Really? I’m not American so obviously I don’t really know but that sounds very surprising. Do you really not see any conflict at all? Does nobody in America? Has there never been conflicts over this? If so, how did the concept of ‘hate speech’ come about?

  • razib

    tyler’s comment points to the “not even wrong” aspect of some of these conversations. it’s almost worthless, people just need to assert their differences and move on. a lot of this stuff is tautology or sloganeering. e.g., “hate speech is not free speech,” etc. it makes sense within a particular social or cultural framework, but for many americans it just elicits as WTF?!?!

  • Lampang

    “people just need to assert their differences and move on”
    So after all that, anyone can call anyone else anything they like and it’s all just relative. You’re no less a savage barbarian than anyone else and it’s all just pointless, meaningless name-calling. Cracking stuff.

  • razib

    it’s all just pointless, meaningless name-calling.
    no, don’t mind read.

  • EMJ

    Of course, I said nothing about Canada not being a free society and I “demanded” nothing. I don’t believe a government should have a role in deciding what viewpoints are permissible and, as far as I’m aware, it’s okay to express that while living in Canada (even as an American). In many cases I think the US could learn something by looking at Canadian policies. In this case I think the US has unusual freedoms of expression that should be appreciated. Hate speech that calls for the attack of someone or the perpetuation of a crime is a different issue in my opinion. We just need to understand that what one political perspective views as “moral” or against “public safety” is quite different from another. We either protect the speech of those whose ideas we abhor or we’re really not interested in free speech at all.

  • Tyler DiPietro

    “If so, how did the concept of ‘hate speech’ come about?”
    I didn’t say that there weren’t individual advocates for it. I just said that no societal consensus exists for some right not to be offended, whereas it does elsewhere.

  • Morgan

    The new Irish blasphemy law is rumored to be motivated by a fear of Muslim violence aimed at those who defame their primitive superstitions (the cowardly Irish atheists know that Western Christians tend to be lax about agitating violently on behalf of their superstitions, so they blasphemed Catholicism).

    What blasphemy are you referring to when you call Irish atheists ‘cowardly’? The twenty-five blasphemous statements published by Atheist Ireland in protest against that law includes several directed at Islam (and one at Buddhism). They may be found in a link in the NYT post you linked yourself; did you not read them?

  • razib

    morgan, my bad! didn’t see that list, i had read something else. thanks for the correction.

  • http://rogersyahoo Willow

    Blasphemy or slurs about other societies is not new to any of the what 7 societies (religious) and racial differences. What angers me is that a person can get paid by intellectual and what I like to believe educated ppl whether Ivy or Bush league students and rely on their Educators to bring such hatred to a country such as are and change not our laws or give our young Canadian children of all cultures to resent each other in the future which will make our Canadian society even more parted in their ways and also bring verbal and possibly physical harm to others in the very near future.

    Thanks Ann Coulter and those that agree with her for being not only bigits but racists at the same time. Maybe you should spend a weekend in a general population apartment building of mulicultured tenants or a correctional facility and then you won’t speak so freely without reservantion.

  • Desert Rat

    I’ll be 64 years old next April. I’ve visited Canada many times during my lifetime. I’ll never cross that border again. It’s obvious that Canada has let their children take control. The parents have switched places with their infants. I’d be afraid to walk the streets of Canada now lest I be targeted as an American and attacked. I was a stupid liberal when I was a kid. Now I’m old and conservative having learned the hard way how life works. So I’d say the wrong thing two minutes after entering Canada.

  • Brian Too

    Ann Coulter is arrogant and offensive. I suspect that she drives even like minded potential allies away from her. She needs to learn the adage “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” but I expect she never will.

    It was a mistake to cancel her speaking engagement. However I won’t miss her (exceedingly short) absence from the public stage. Shed no tears for Ann, she has plenty of platforms upon which to toss her head and tease her hair.

  • diana

    Congrats on the new digs, Razib.

    “I really don’t see a point in castigating Canadians for being Canadians, they’re not China or Syria, but neither are they the United States.”

    Sure, but I think we can castigate the Canadians for being cowards on the subject of free speech.

    Ann Coulter is a gadfly. Grit in your eyeball. The only way to flush it out is with facts, not censorship. If that makes me a free-speech absolutist, so be it.

  • Pagal_Aadmi_for_debauchery

    Razib is of course right about America being the last free speech city on the hill. The only real threats to First Amendment right of free speech in the United States have been from the Supreme Court (Johnson and Eichman decisions which passed 5-4) Interestingly, Scalia sided with the Liberals on this decision though the other conservatives and Steven (Steven in his first three years was not that liberal) sided with the government on flag burning. I think by now Stevens will vote with the liberals so the conservatives have only 3 possible votes for supporting the restrictions on flag burning, unless Kennedy changes his mind as well.

    The other threat and more likely is of course the Flag Burning Amendment to the Constitution. I believe only 3 Republican Senators voted against the Flag burning Amendment and it failed by one vote in the Senate.

  • elaine

    I am wondering if the Uof O President would have written a letter of warning to Bill Maher had he been the one invited by the students.

    I am wondering if the same protest of “he’s a hater” would have developed.

    Maher and Coulter are the king and queen of drama and hyperbole (in fact, they dated for a while and are friends), and they both know how to make a buck. Nevertheless, underneath all their schtick, they both have points worth hearing, and it pains me that the Canadian system outlaws one or the other or both.

    It does seem to be the Left, the Canadian Left or the American Left, that resorts to obstructing such speech on college campuses, however. The description of the Left as hypocrital is deserved.

    Canadians, tell me: what can comedians not say in their performances?

  • Too

    People are misunderstanding something when approaching the issue of Ann Coulter.

    1) The students who protested her ALSO have a right to free speech. They utilized their rights and protested. They did not say they would burn her house or rip her apart, they were simply loud, and there were many of them. Ann was not directly threatened, only yelled at. It was her and her bodyguard that judged the situation as being dangerous and decided not to show up. No one told her “if you come I will stab you,” and honestly, this is Canada, no one ever gets stabbed for having a speech. If there’s a protest, it’s just a lot of yelling, but no one dies or gets injured. We haven’t had a single political assassination in our history, despite how unpopular and how many protests were held against him/her. She had the option to continue on, and the students certainly have the right to protest. The US have protests in Washington all the time, it in itself is a form of free speech, and the White House does not shut down every time there is a protest. Ann was never in any danger. Remember, this situation is not the GOVERNMENT sending Ann a letter saying she should shut her mouth. It’s other citizens protesting and disagreeing with her viewpoints. THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO VOICE THEIR VIEWPOINT AS WELL.

    2) Canadian law on “hate speech” is actually very specific. Essentially, they have to prove that you are propagating a certain message for the PURPOSE of spreading hate AND willingly did it (so just expressing your opinion wouldn’t cut it) AND pose a real threat to public order/safety/peace. That’s why Akenahew got off, because it was simply a viewpoint he held and could be justifiably believed. He believed in it and wasn’t trying to manipulate messages for the sole purpose of making others hate a certain group. If Hitler was born in Canada though, and making things up simply to make the world hate Jews. He probably would go to trial in Canada for saying things like “we should burn Jews and imprison all of them, they are rats, thiefs, they killed Jesus and ever since that day they have been putting poison in our wells. They spread the plague, and even today they are the cause of the recession. We should imprison them all and kill them.” With a message like that you will go to Trial. If you say something like “Oh, I hate jews cause I think they’re all a bunch of retards, one stole my lunch when I was a kid” then you’d be fine. Even if you do go to trial, after a lengthy process you will be let go because the Judge knows what the law is. There’s a line, and it is not as absurd as people are making it out to be. So many people are making this seem much more than it actually is. As Canadians we draw a certain line for certain things, but it definitely is reasonable. You’re not going to go to jail for saying “Jews are stupid” but try to do what Hitler did, and you will. Freedom of speech, in Canada at least, is not an aboslute, it’s on a spectrum. Like ALL laws, everything is on a spectrum. During war, even in the US, you may lose aspects of your freedom and be conscripted. There are always lines, and this is where we drew our line for free speech. Pundits of free speech keep on sprewing BS without actually learning where the line is, it is actually quite reasonable. None of you will have CSIS agents following you around for posting anything. It isn’t China in Canada. Don’t let Ann Coulter make you think it is. Canada as a government didn’t throw her in jail and tell her to shut up, it was other citizens who told her she was wrong, and they have the right to. This is perfectly in line with their rights.

    3. The law actually is different, as mentioned above. The Vice Dean pointed her to this fact since she has a tendency to be controversial and can easily pass over. She never officially did cross over the line, but he certaintly thought that she could very easily have and that is most likely why he sent his mail. Reading the email, looking at our legal system etc… you can see that the email was quite reasonable. Was it not HIS free speech to warn others and express his opinion? It was definitely within the allowable limit.

    Remember: this incident was simply one citizen, VP of UOttawa, telling her what they think of her viewpoints (telling her to shove it up her own ass), and then her overreacting and crying about it (saying she would take it to the human rights commission for being warned about the differences in law), and then from all her whining she somehow angered a lot more people, which lead to a protest (which they are perfectly entitled to do), and then her deciding not to show up for her schedule speech (which she is perfectly entitled to do). Then now suddenly a bunch of Canadians are calling us anti-free speech bastards. Lol, seriously?

  • Too

    Realizing the length of my previous point, here’s a summary:

    This whole spat has nothing to do with Free Speech in Canada in the sense that, although news broadcasters are making this an issue about “free speech in Canada” and focusing most of their articles on the matter, her actual right to talk was never actually infringed upon.

    Rather than an issue about free speech in Canada, it’s actually more of a situation of two groups of people swearing at eachother and utilizing their free speech. Which they’re both entitled to do. It’s just that in this case one of the groups (Anti-Coulters) were much more numerous than the other (pro-Coulters), so she cancelled because of all the noise and “perceived” danger (there really wasn’t any). She was allowed to speak at other venues, and she said whatever she wanted to without problem. The Coulter moment had nothing to do with anti-free speech, but rather a loud and vocal group saying she should shove it.

  • TGGP

    Razib, I expressed a similar sort of idea (among others) in my long rambling post, A particular universalism. I guess the distinction is that I don’t think “savage” cultures should be put down through force. One man’s barbarian is another man’s savage. The real question to me is whether the barbarians can live tolerably in a world with other barbarians or insist on making a nuisance of themselves.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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