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Svend Robinson's Bill has stolen your right of free speech Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 03 May 2004

Bill C-250 cleared the Senate last Wednesday, and your right of free speech has been dealt a gaping wound.

C-250 is a private Bill sponsored by Svend Robinson, the noted socialist MP and jewel collector. It curtails criticism of homosexuals, by adding them to other identifiable groups protected from "hate speech" under the Criminal Code.

All too often the naïve citizen thinks, "Well, that's good. Nobody should be allowed to say hateful things about anyone."

But first let's ask, "Who will decide what speech is 'hateful'?"

Certainly not you or I. We used to be free to set our own limits, but nowadays they're imposed on us by human rights tribunals, government-funded complainants, prosecutors and judges.

This can get expensive. A magazine I published, Alberta Report, spent years and thousands of dollars defending itself from a determined Jewish chap who was terribly offended when we described someone else in a story as sporting flashy rings, open shirts and gold chains on a hairy chest.

The complainant felt strongly this was an anti-Jewish slur. An Alberta human rights tribunal found us guilty of racism (though we eventually fought our way out of it).

But here's the point. When we appealed, a Court of Queen's Bench judge ruled that while Alberta's human rights law explicitly allows "free expression of opinion on any matter," this should not be taken literally.

Anything that might offend protected groups, he decided, must be considered in the context of the public value of what's being said, the nature of the medium, the general character of the audience, evolving social sensitivities, and other factors.

All of which kills free speech. The rules become impossible to understand, and whatever they might mean today is irrelevant tomorrow.

Gays have already persuaded human rights tribunals across Canada that our "fundamental freedoms" under the Charter--freedom of speech, belief and association--matter less than their right not to be offended.

The "Svend Act" now ups the ante by moving the battle to the criminal courts, and you don't need a law degree to see who will win.

You just have to look at the disgraceful way this law passed.

Opponents like Senator Anne Cools were shouted down as bigots. Shockingly, this private NDP member's Bill was propelled through both Houses with the discipline and prestige of a government bill, without any government minister taking responsibility for it.

Svend Robinson predicted the law will rarely be used and will not inhibit free speech. But he said its "symbolism" to gays and lesbians "is enormously important."

However, Svend is no more trustworthy with rights than he is with rings. The next gay project will be to get someone with conservative views charged under section 319.1 of the Criminal Code--something it allows any gay activist to prosecute as a private citizen.

The accused will insist that his or her statements were a responsible use of free speech. The prosecutor will reply (echoing unproven gay rights claims for the last 30 years) that any criticism of the gay lifestyle triggers back-alley muggings and the suicide of gay youths. He will argue that these are the kind of fatal breaches of the peace that section 319.1 seeks to prevent.

This is the next stage. The question now is how to stop it.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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