Monday, March 22, 2010

"Canadian Law Puts Reasonable Limits On The Freedom Of Expression"

That is an excerpt from a letter sent to Ann Coulter by the provost of the University of Ottawa--you can read the entire letter here.

The Other McCain links to some of the blogs that are covering this.
And, not surprisingly, Mark Steyn has something to say as well.

What would be considered a reasonable limit on free speech?

Faisal Kutty--lawyer, board member with the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations and general counsel for the Canadian Muslim Civil Liberties Association knows--in February 2006 explained why the Muhammed cartoons could not be republished:
Though it can be argued that the cartoons, in and of themselves, may not be caught under law, there are strong grounds to lay a charge against those who republish them now. The news value has now diminished. Secondly, at least two of the cartoons, especially the one showing the prophet with the bomb and the one calling for an end to suicide bombings because of a shortage of virgins, suggest that Muslims are necessarily and inherently evil (this is a reasonable interpretation), because a Muslim by definition tries to emulate the prophet. The issue for most is not whether the prophet should be pictured. It is his portrayal, essentially, as a poster boy for al-Qaeda and by extension, Muslims in general, as violent and therefore worthy of hate.

Thirdly, given the fact that Muslims, both observant and non-observant, have made it very clear that these are offensive and violate their dignity as a community (granted this is an alien notion in our individualistic society), republishing them is therefore intentionally provocative and can promote hatred.

As well, it can be reasonably argued that the intent behind their publication in the current climate will serve no real free speech purpose and may in fact expose Muslims to hate. Lastly, I believe that the full context of its initial publication can shed some light on the intent behind its continued publication.
These sort of circumlocutions raise all kinds of questions:
  • Is it possible for free speech to have limited time usage based on utility?  Now that he is dead, should free speech be curtailed to forbid calling the former president "Tricky Dick" Nixon--or is it only now appropriate to do so?
  • Who will be entrusted with ferreting out the hidden implications of expressions of free speech, whose immediate message alone is not sufficient.
  • Does the object of one's free speech get to determine the extent of the free speech of the speaker?
  • What is on the permitted list for acceptable "real free speech purpose"--does free speech even have to have a purpose?
  • Given a large enough context, is it ever not possible to find an excuse to forbid free speech?
Indeed, whatever it is that enables one to judge free speech based on the suggested criteria, it is not a degree in law.

Now the provost of the University of Ottowa did not explicitly advocate any of the criteria spelled out by Kutty--but it would be interesting to hear what reasonable limits he did have in mind.

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