Is Freedom of Speech in Canada Dead?

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According to Section 2 of the Charter of Rights, Freedom of expression is protected as a fundamental freedom in Canada. 

But…

Section 1 allows the government to pass laws that limit free expression so long as the limits are reasonable and can be justified in a free and democratic society. 

Section 13 prohibits “communication of hate messages”, bans incitement that leads to a breach of peace, and bans willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group.

Over the last couple of years, Bills have been passed restricting speech. 

When it comes to abortion:

Bill 163, also known as the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, received Royal Assent in October of 2017. This bill made it illegal to protest within 50 meters of abortion clinics in Ontario. Alberta, BC and Manitoba have similar laws in place.  

Cyril Winter

On February 7th 2018, Cyril Winter was arrested when he walked within 50 meters of the Morgentaler Clinic in Ottawa wearing signs that read “Freedom of Expression and Religion. No Censorship.” and “God save our Charter Rights”.  He had reached out to police prior to wearing the signs as was told that he would not be breaking the law with his signs. After his arrest, Police claimed that he was taking pictures of women entering the clinic, which is against the law. Winter denied the claim. He was to appear in court in March the same year, but passed away days before. 

Father Anthony Van Hee

Father Anthony Van Hee, an 83 year old Jesuit Priest was arrested and charged with “intimidating or attempting to intimidate persons seeking or providing abortions”. He had been protesting for 4.5 days wearing signs reading, “the Primacy of Free Seech: Cornerstone of Western Civilization” and “Without Free Speech the State is a Corpse”. He never spoke with anyone or handed out information during his protest. The charges were withdrawn and changed to “informing or attempting to inform a person concerning issues related to abortion services by any means including oral, written or graphic means” and “performing or attempting to perform an act of disapproval concerning issues related to abortion services.” His lawyer says that he plans to plead not guilty when he goes to court on January 24.

William Whattcott has also been charged under Bill 163 in Ontario for protesting too close to abortion clinics. He was also fined by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal for handing out information that they deemed hateful, but the charge was overturned by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeals.  

 

When it comes to Gender:

Bill C-16 was passed to add gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights code.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Refusing to refer to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity, or purposely misgendering, will likely be discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment, housing and services like education. The law is otherwise unsettled as to whether someone can insist on any one gender-neutral pronoun in particular.

Jordan Peterson is an outspoken critic of the bill. He told Lifesite news, “The fact that it’s potentially illegal for me not to participate in that is something that I think is absolutely dreadful. It puts a shudder in my heart as a Canadian that we could even possibly be in a situation like that.” 

When it comes to Immigration/Migration:

Canadians were concerned when Prime Minister Trudeau signed the UN Migration Compact, fearing that any criticism of migration would be met with charges.  Could it have an affect on the way the media covers stories on migration? The pact advises governments to “promote independent, objective and quality reporting of media outlets including by sensitizing media professionals on migration-related issues and terminology.” 

When it comes to Islam:

Motion 103 also had Canadians outraged. Would people be arrested and charged with hate speech if they criticised Muslims or Islamic teaching? As it turns out, the motion was filed asking the Government of Canada to condemn Islamophobia and call for a study on racism and religious discrimination and how it can be reduced. 

When it comes to criticising government:

Today, it was revealed that the NDP government in Alberta has charged Rebel Media  and had them convicted in absentia of being a political campaign organization, not journalists. The Rebel has been critical of Rachel Notley in the past. Ezra Levant sent out an email today stating that they had been threatened by Notley’s election boss in 2017, telling them they were an illegal campaign group. After the Rebel’s lawyer wrote back, explaining that the Rebel is a media organization and exempt under the law, they didn’t hear back. Until December of 2018. They received another letter accusing them of breaking the law when they put up a billboard criticising education minister David Eggen. Again their lawyer wrote back asking for details and were told that they would get back to them with info on January 15th. No one got back to them with any detail. The Rebel was convicted on January 14th. It seems like this is an attempt to silence The Rebel Media. 

If the government can prosecute journalists, what does that mean for citizens? Can a Facebook post land you in jail? Can you offend someone with a tweet and be fined? Will saying the wrong word find you in hot water?

 

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