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Bill Whatcott (L) hands out flyers door to door in Ottawa on October 11, 2011. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)
Bill Whatcott (L) hands out flyers door to door in Ottawa on October 11, 2011. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)

The conversation: March 2 letters and other talking points of the week Add to ...

Twenty-eight years after Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel thanked his opponents for showering him with publicity, the Supreme Court upheld Canadian hate-speech laws as a reasonable limit on freedom of expression. In a 6-0 decision, the court ruled that some flyers distributed by a self-styled preacher promoted hatred against gays and lesbians. Our print and digital readers speak freely.

 

Although my biological makeup qualifies me as a target of the peculiar brand of vitriol of Bill Whatcott, the Saskatchewan anti-gay pamphleteer, I was disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision regarding our hate-speech laws.

Even by narrowing the interpretation of these laws to the most detestable expressions of hatred, this decision will have a perverse effect on the marketplace of ideas in a free society such as ours. Creating limits on a person’s expression means that outrageous views espoused by people such as Mr. Whatcott can’t be openly discussed and, inevitably, dismantled.

We’re a society whose legal system and approach to science is rooted in logical reasoning. Why not apply this same approach to personal beliefs, by subjecting them to the light of day? The end result would be that no one espousing a view in the public sphere would be immune from critical evaluation.

Sounds like a truly free market to me, and one in which Mr. Whatcott would find himself entirely unsuccessful.
James Mancini, Toronto, letter

 

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the “hate” provisions notwithstanding what used to be our right to free speech comes as no surprise.

The human-rights commissions themselves are the corollary to the official “multi-culti” mantra we have foisted on ourselves, and the conditions for the diminution of individual rights is the inevitable outcome.

In watching the train wreck, I’m nostalgic for a melting-pot model, where we celebrate the democratic rights we all used to share rather than the entitlements of each and every discernible minority
Robert S. Sciuk, Oshawa, Ont., letter

 

Another blow for free speech. Hate what the man says, but defend his right to say it. Are we so weak that we can’t figure out for ourselves what constitutes hateful speech, that we can’t decide on our own that what this man said is hateful without government stepping in and prohibiting him from saying it?

As much as it feels good to send this guy packing, this is a bad day for Canadians.
Stephen James, Victoria, digital reader

 

So the Supreme Court has determined that we may no longer hate. Are we allowed, then, to loathe? Perhaps detest? Dislike? Disdain?

Or, as Sheema Khan depressingly proposes (Beyond Tolerance Lies True Respect – Feb. 28), must we all undergo a classically Canadian self-inflicted attitude adjustment and become government-approved allophiles?
Peter Ferguson, Kimberley, Ont., letter

 

Freedom from discrimination and hatred – that should trump freedom of speech always.
Sheila Stephen Watkins Bryan, Houston, digital reader

 

People shouldn’t be prevented from expressing their opinions just because they happen to contradict the politically correct flavour of the day.

If society can designate what kinds of hate constitute an offence and what kinds of hate do not, what’s to prevent a government from using such laws to prevent the expression of views opposed to it?
Richard Webb, Ottawa, digital reader

 

Many have described the Whatcott case as a setback for free speech. But it’s worth noting an ironic point of constitutional interpretation that addresses this concern.

At Paragraph 114, Justice Marshall Rothstein suggests that censoring hate speech specifically serves to fight censorship on balance (and protect the principle of free speech enshrined in Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights): “Hate speech is at some distance from the spirit of s. 2(b) because it does little to promote, and can in fact impede, the values underlying freedom of expression … [e.g. the] search for truth. … [H]ate speech can also distort or limit the robust and free exchange of ideas by its tendency to silence the voice of its target group.”

Anti-Whatcott arguments must address the court’s concern that free speech would be imperilled if hate speech were decriminalized. Otherwise, they risk sparring with a phantom case – falling into the trap warned against by the late U.S. Supreme Court justice Benjamin Cardozo, as quoted by Judge Rothstein elsewhere in his decision:

“[A] jurisprudence that is not constantly brought into relation to objective or external standards incurs the risk of degenerating into … a jurisprudence of mere sentiment.”
Aidan Johnson, Hamilton, letter

 

Free speech should trump all. If you begin to censor, where do you draw the line?
Jason Wylie, Ottawa, digital reader

 

Law professor Michael Plaxton (A Real Burden On Some Speech – Feb. 28) says the Supreme Court in Whatcott has “imposed a very real burden on those who believe that their religious principles require them to proselytize on sexual morality.” But why should religion be privileged? How is it fair that the faithful should insist on the right to express views hateful to the rest of society?

I’m an atheist, but I’m very careful about how I express my views because I know that many people are profoundly, if irrationally, offended by them. So I practice self-censorship in the interests of civility. Why shouldn’t the religious do the same?
James A. Duthie, Nanaimo, B.C., letter

 

ON REFLECTION: MORE LETTERS FROM GLOBE READERS

It’s discouraging to learn that Tom Flanagan’s teaching career is over because he questioned the received thinking around an odious topic (Flanagan Ends Career On Sour Note – March 1). Rather than challenge Mr. Flanagan, an audience member took out his cellphone, recorded the speech and posted it online for tweetheads to issue their condemnation.

Aren’t universities supposed to be the place where shocking ideas are aired? When a respected figure can lose his job for offering another point of view, who wins?
Laurie Dickson, Vancouver

 

Re Pope Leaves Cheering Crowds And Scandal Behind (March 1): As a lapsed Catholic, my testimony is suspect. But weren’t there some significant parallels between the departures of Pope Benedict in 2013 and Richard Nixon in 1974?

The outstretched arms, the helicopter departure, the respective white edifices?
Geoff Smith, Kingston

 

Perhaps Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird should speak to Andrew Bennett, the new religious-freedom envoy, so they can get their stories straight (Too Risky To Fund Syrian Rebels, Canada Says – March 1).

Given that the war in Syria is basically a Sunni-Shia religious conflict with huge human-rights abuses, is this not right up Canada’s alley for its newfound “religious freedom” concerns? Or is it possible that the Harper government’s view of religious freedom and human rights are calculated in how many votes are involved?
Stuart McRae, Toronto

 

Your article Calls Cause Brainpower Outage (Life & Arts, March 1) describes poor connections between left and right brain functions. Does that mean driving is like having political parties in a car?
Jane Coryell, Oakville, Ont.
 

CONSIDERED: READERS’ INSIGHTS INTO THE PLIGHT OF GEN Y
By Rob Carrick

Dating is tough when you’re broke.

That was one of the more poignant details contained in a letter e-mailed to me last spring in response to a series of columns on the economic challenges faced by the young adults who make up Generation Y. It was an unusually gutsy and honest letter. A bewildered 29-year-old who thought he did everything right in school finds he has zero traction in the job market. He describes the impact on his life, right down to the seemingly remote prospect of marrying, buying a house and having kids.

We published the letter in full on our website and the reaction was a crush of online comments and e-mails from readers. Twentysomethings and thirtysomethings wrote to tell me of their troubles in the job market, some angry and some in despair at their inability to get their careers going. Baby boomers offered sympathy in some cases, but also scorn for what is seen in some quarters as a soft, spoiled and entitled generation. Finally, several people in the business world contacted me to offer their assistance to the 29-year-old job seeker.

In daily journalism, we immerse ourselves in a topic briefly and then move on to other things. So it was with this young man until a few weeks ago, when his letter resurfaced on a social news website called Reddit and started generating traffic on our website again. That made us curious: How was this guy making out nine months later?

If you read the Q&A with him that was published this week, you’ll know that he recently turned 30 and still hasn’t found full-time work. There have been short-term contracts along the way, but nothing on which to build a career. Something else that carried through from the spring was intense reader interest in the plight of this member of Gen Y. Web traffic was huge for both for the Q&A and for an accompanying letter from another young adult, this one with a good job and a view that that all is not lost for Gen Y job seekers.

Protests by Quebec students over tuition hikes got me onto the story of Gen Y’s struggles in the economy. Some news coverage of the students cast them as self-centred malcontents who refused to accept that Canada’s lowest tuition rates had to rise. I wondered if the students’ actions reflected legitimate anxiety about not only the cost of education, but also the prospects of turning a postsecondary degree into a decent-paying job.

Using readily available economic data, I concluded in a column last year that today’s young adults have it harder than I did when I graduated in the mid-1980s. The response to that letter from the 29-year-old job seeker – no, make that 30 years old – just adds to my conviction. Now I have to start thinking about what we can do about it.

Rob Carrick writes on personal finance, business and economics for The Globe and Mail.

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