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(McCann, Pierre)
(McCann, Pierre)

LYSIANE GAGNON

Why we must tolerate hate Add to ...

Is there a concept more subjective than “hate”? What my neighbour may see as a “hateful” rant, I might see as a caustic, yet legitimate, comment. A law founded on the concept of “hate” is in itself unacceptable, especially in a society that pretends to respect freedom of opinion.

Unfortunately, Canada has been plagued by such a law for decades. Now the Supreme Court is reviewing the issue, thanks to William Whatcott, an anti-gay crusader whose ideas I abhor but whose determination in challenging these laws I applaud.

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I loathe homophobia, but I want homophobes (or those who morally object to homosexuality) to be able to express their opinions, even if their vocabulary is inflammatory. For freedom of expression to be fully recognized, people should have the right to use the words that come to their mind, even if they risk hurting someone’s feelings. If the thought police had their way, everyone would be talking in the politically correct “ langue de bois,” a depersonalized, robotic language devoid of emotion.

As a woman, I’m part of one of those minorities that our hate laws supposedly protect. I don’t need such protection; neither do most women I know. We don’t care if some loony uses unprintable words to qualify our gender. We don’t sue him – we ignore him. I get venomous letters filled with misogynistic remarks from some readers every time I write a column on a controversial topic. This doesn’t make me feel “degraded.” I’m not even “offended.” I just click “delete.”

A line must be drawn somewhere, of course. Direct calls for violence against a person or a group should be banned. But this leaves a wide area for freedom of expression.

Unfortunately, Canada, once a brave country of explorers, has become a “mommy state” in the grip of a vast clique of moralizers who encourage people to be extraordinarily sensitive to the slightest insult, as if reaching victimhood status were a goal in life. It’s censorship by another name, and also a pathetically naive attempt to eradicate evil from the face of the Earth and reconstruct the human mind.

Each country has its share of bigots and racists. If they’re silenced and excluded from the public sphere, they’ll go underground and perhaps do more harm than if they were openly contested. Why did our courts have to persecute Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel? Targeting this man didn’t erase anti-Semitism – it only provided exposure to his previously obscure pamphlets.

The reason why bigots and racists should be free to express their opinions, as unpleasant as they are, is that when the state starts repressing “bad” ideas, it ends up repressing other ideas, too, especially those that go against society’s predominant views. Remember Galileo, who was tried by the Roman Inquisition for saying the Earth revolved around the sun? Today’s Galileos should be encouraged to defy public opinion and express unpopular ideas.

A liberal, open-minded law against hate speech? That’s an oxymoron. There’s no possible reconciliation between freedom of speech and hate-speech laws, however they’re written or reformulated. A civilized, progressive society should opt for freedom of speech, period.

 

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