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Say can you free


In a world where social media and complaint boxes underscore a mass hypersensitivity, the things we say are monitored more closely than ever.

In many cases that’s a plus; there’s little tolerance for statements that reflect racism, sexism, discrimination or any kind of prejudice.

Everyone is watching everyone and that’s keeping the heels of discretion to the fire. So with all of these people listening, what does that mean for free speech in the modern world?

In Canada, the right to free speech is listed as a fundamental freedom under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But in no way is it a protected right because there is no absolute protection for the things we say.

Some people feel that might give the decision-makers in Ottawa a little too much control over what can legally come out of our mouths, while some others feel that Canada’s vague definition of free speech is a valuable asset in combating hate speech and other undesirable or offensive talk.

In America, only in the most extreme cases is there a limit to what can be said. It’s pretty much a free-for-all below the border.

Let’s get one thing straight before we go any further: there are people of many different races, religions and moral backgrounds all living and breathing under the roof of Canadian democracy. Before we can evaluate the meaning of free speech and how far it stretches, we must first seek to understand the differences in others. That means understanding how what you say could offend someone else or be perceived as hateful towards their gender, race, religion, social status or sexual orientation.

In Canada, we can legally say many things that have the potential to offend others, but there are limits to that offence. The wording of our comments has a lot to do with how offensive comments are categorized. If what we say falls under the “hate speech” umbrella, there are legal implications that are dealt with by the highest courts of Canada.

I’m not saying we should be restricted in what we say by a fear of violence, but I do believe there is a balance to be struck between free speech and not spurring hatred towards any group or person.

In a thriving multiculturalist world, we must uphold civility by balancing how we understand ourselves with how we understand others.

Only then can we all be free.

 

banstey@ganderbeacon.ca

Twitter:@beaconnl

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