“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
—Evelyn Beatrice Hall (Misattributed to Voltaire)
I have really, really tried to keep this blog apolitical. Yes, I’ve made repeated reference to my politically-motivated arrest in 2012 over some crude and angry words I had Tweeted against the fucking racist bitch that previously ran our province, but I never intended to write a political blog post, especially on a webpage dedicated to my writing.
Unfortunately, recent events have forced me to change that policy. Recent events have made me decide to use my blahg as a bully pulpit. So here goes.
I used to very strongly support anti hate-speech laws; I had an array of cogent, logical arguments as to why hate speech was neither protected speech, nor free speech. I endorsed the government’s right to prosecute people for saying things that deliberately targeted others becaus of their race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, affiliation or beliefs.
I naively believed that these laws would only be used to target people involved in groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Neo-Nazi movement, the Aryan Nation, or jerks like the Westboro Baptists (and other anti-GLBTQ assholes), the Heritage Front or Holocaust-deniers, like Ernst Zundel.
Stupidly, I never imagined that giving such powers to the government, giving the government the ability to dictate what a person could and could not say, to criminalize a person’s words and thoughts, would ever be abused by the police, courts, or the Legislature.
I was a fucking imbecile.
When Marois was elected in 2012, a lone lunatic tried to kill her as she gave her smug victory speech. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), the lunatic didn’t even get a shot off in her direction before being taken down.
I took to Twitter to bitch about her win and crow about how hated she was that someone would try to snuff her on election night. I swore to fight to the death to defend my civil rights as an English-speaking Quebecker. The words (and vulgarity) I used (And the fact I used them in English) got me arrested, put on trial, and thanks to my shitty, low-life bag-of-dicks lawyer who never returned my phone calls or emails to help me plan my defense, and after several months of marriage-crushing stress and anxiety, I was coerced into pleading guilty.
I was forced to plead guilty to charges of hate speech and uttering death threats, for something that if I had said to a friend in a bar, in earshot of on-duty police officers, would not have even gotten me a dirty look.
I plead guilty to saying things that, if I were an American Citizen, posting them about an American politician, would have at worst gotten me a rude visit from some Agency or other; but I seriously doubt it would have led to more than a stern “Don’t do that again, sir.” God Bless America; if you had better health care and some gun control legislation, I’d move.
Since then, I have seen many cases of people being arrested and prosecuted for Hate Speech, or uttering death threats for Tweeting, Facebook posting, Instagramming or simply making completely innocuous statements online.
Two cases spring immediately to mind, the first being that of Dan Seniw, who glibly posted something to the effect that “A machine gun would fix all the problems in the National Assembly” and was arrested for it.
His intent was not to call for the deaths of anyone in the Assembly, nor was he actually advocating violence; it was a glib, off-the-cuff remark; shit, you’ve probably made the same sort of statements about your city hall, state or provincial assembly or even federal government on more than one occasion, I’m sure; who hasn’t?
But doing it online? Well, here in Canada, that opens up your glib, off-the-cuff remarks to being actionable causes for your arrest and criminal prosecution.
The second case of abuse of Speech-Restriction Law, involves a Montreal student, Jennifer Pawluck, who posted to instagram the picture below this paragraph; a picture of graffiti that she did not create. The graffiti in question is of Montreal Police Spokesman Ian Lafreniere. Pawluck posted it as a critique of Lafreniere, who had at the time unapologetically defended some of the worst acts of police thuggery in Montreal, in the midst of a controversy about Montreal Police brutality. She was charged with uttering death threats, arrested, tried and found guilty. As far as I can tell, her only real crime was pissing off some asshole who with the power to arrest her.
Another motivator to write this post was the city of Granby recently passing a municipal by-law making it illegal to insult or denigrate (read: criticize) their police force online. Apparently, Granby Police aren’t afraid to risk their lives in the line of duty, but are terribly, terribly frightened of Twitter trolls. Having posted this, for all I know, is enough for me to be issued a fine for not being nice to Granby’s po-po.
But what’s truly motivated the writing of this blahg post has been two events that have occurred in the past few days. The first happened late last week, when Canada’s version of the PATRIOT Act, Bill C-51, was passed by Parliament. Now it goes on to the Senate, where the un-elected, appointed-by-the-government-in-power Senators will doubtlessly rubber-stamp it.
This bill would will give unprecedented police powers to CSIS, Canada’s spy agency. They would will be able, under this legislation, to arrest people for “posting online support” for terrorism; these powers are so vaguely defined and the bill’s language so dangerously ambiguous that saying something as well-intentioned as “Instead of killing terrorists we should be addressing the grievances that led them to terrorism for recourse in the first place” could land a person behind bars.
The legislation likewise makes warrantless surveillance of all Canadians’ online activity legal, and shares that information with other government agencies, as well as with foreign governments. The NSA in the United States had a similar electronic spying system in place, until the Checks and Balances within the American Government quashed it. And I’m sure that the NSA is now fully complying with the decision, and has stopped spying on innocent Americans online.
The second, most egregious, act that spurred me to write this post was the Federal Government yesterday saying that it would use “existing hate speech laws” along with Bill C-51 to arrest people who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, as well as making it illegal to criticize Israel’s ongoing Apartheid against the people of Palestine. And while the government has backtracked (slightly) from that previous statement, they still signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Israel which makes it clear that they consider BDS to be a terrorist organization; under the clauses of Bill C-51, that means anyone in Canada, from students to Religious organizations like the Quakers could be arrested for lending moral support to terrorists.
And so, I now find that my position on Hate Speech Laws has changed. I see anti-Hate Speech laws as censorship designed to keep people from saying what they want to say, posting what they want to post, and sharing what’s on their mind. The United States has no such Hate Speech laws, and I once thought Canada superior for having them; I now see that America, when it lives up to its most idealistic intentions, is a freer country than Canada.
I now think the best way to combat hate is to let people say and post what they want, and let their statements drag the assholes making them down into the mire of public disdain; let the Westboro Baptists, David Dukes, Ezra Levants, Rush Limbaughs and the aforementioned Ernst Zundels of this sick little world dig their own graves and bury themselves in the dirt of their own words. Jailing people for what they dare to say online or off only draws attention to their cause, and only EMPOWERS what they’re saying, because then their supporters can turn around and say that they are justified in their views.
Anything else is intellectual cowardice, unjust censorship, and I think I’ve already made it clear how I feel about people’s rights to express themselves freely being taken away.
Okay, I’ve said my piece. Others have doubtlessly made better cases for the abolition of Canada’s hate speech laws than I, but as this IS my website, and all, I had to get this off my chest.