The news that parliament will soon repeal Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act has been mostly welcomed by both left and right leaning supporters alike. While previously persecuted victims like Ezra Levant and Marc Lemire are naturally happy to see the door hit Section 13′s butt on the way out, there are plenty of voices in the media who agree.
Jonathan Kay of the National Post writes that the legislation is outdated and the “object of mockery.” The Chronicle Herald writes that the anti-free speech legislation was “administered through a quasi-judicial tribunal system which denies those accused the robust tools they should have to defend themselves.” Even the Toronto Star argues that given the existing legal safeguards against vilifying speech, “it’s hard to see why the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) also should be in the business of handing out fines.”
I agree, as I think most reasonable people do. It was time to send this absurdly vague law packing, and all the attendant bureaucracy with it. But as I think you know, when we’re on the subject of politics not everybody will agree. And those who don’t agree are made up of a rather predictable demographic.
Warren Kinsella, who ironically writes for a rightwing news syndicate, wrote a diatribe that led with a series of racially charged and homophobic epithets. For effect, I suppose, though it could also have been just an opportunity to write the word “nigger” and get away with it. The basis of his argument is that without Section 13 of the CHRA, we’re all going to hear a lot more of that word than we did before. Which I think if you’ve ever visited a YouTube channel, you know is utter nonsense.
Whether or not there’s legislation prohibiting those words from being spoken or written, they’re being thought by people. That’s a simple fact. All that, of course, and worse. Though Kinsella keeps his spectrum of victims of hate speech limited to those people who have been what you might call “historically persecuted minorities,” you can be assured there are plenty of white Christian males who have heard their share of hatred.
The insidious notion that you can hide racism and sexism and other forms of discrimination by forbidding the speech out loud is akin to the proverbial dust hidden under the rug. It still exists, it’s still being said, only now it’s whispered and thought and shared in private. And I don’t see how it serves a society to prosecute people for saying something but not for thinking it. Without digressing into the thought crime argument, there isn’t any purpose to it.
And the fact that Kinsella’s argument isn’t even convincing for the Toronto Star should probably tell you something. The legislation and associated kangaroo courts installed to keep the justice aren’t even hauling in racists and homophobes anymore. Now it’s cases like the one where an obese woman was fighting with a woman with a dislocated shoulder in her sixties over who has more right to a strata condo handicapped parking space. God have mercy (though it should be noted the tribunals don’t care if you damn God, whether that’s likely to cause offence or not).
As people like Ezra Levant have successfully argued, whether or not something is likely to cause somebody offence is pretty irrelevant. People are likely to cause offence to other people every single day they live and breath of this Earth. It’s kind of part of the deal you get when you take your first breath and begin squalling in the birthing room, your piteous cries an offence to every person of decent hearing within ear shot.
I would also like to point to another veteran of the HRCs, Mark Steyn, who argued a ban on hating someone or something is absurd. If mankind is given to extremes of emotion, then the polarization of love is hatred. We wouldn’t think to legislate against falling in love, since such a thing is widely viewed as involuntary and emotional. So why is hatred viewed so dispassionately? And what makes anybody think it’s a good thing to demand somebody not hate something?
The argument that hate is a vehicle to violence has merit, but hatred isn’t in and of itself violence. Nor does the potentiality for causing something render it probable to cause it. I think we can all agree that the socially normative attitudes and behaviours in our society has a far greater corrective and effective method of changing attitudes of hatred and dislike than a million human rights commissions ever could.