Choosing self-esteem over freedom of speech

REX MURPHY

Welcome to Canada, land of never-speaking-ill-of-a-marginalized-group free-ish speech.

You can say what you like in Canada — to yourself, in a low voice.  According to our Supreme Court, free speech is secondary to the right not to feel offended.

I join with Andrew Coyne (see his column from Thursday) in expressing bewilderment at one particular statement from this week's decision in the case of Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. Whatcott — the one where the Justices write: "truth may be used for widely disparate ends."  What an eerie caution.

The court wants to make sure that disreputable forms of truth can't serve to get Canadians off the hook for hate speech.

After all, truth is such a wily, insidious, sly concept.  Allowing Canadians to use it any way they please ... why, that way lies anarchy and uncomfortable dinner tables.

Four hundred years ago, the great Francis Bacon described this relativist attitude: "'What is Truth?' said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer."  His contemporary, Montaigne, wrote:  "Truth for us nowadays is not what is, but what others can be brought to accept."

Truth is either the centre of law and life, or law and life both are the worse for its not being so.

The term "self-esteem" might have been foreign to Montaigne and Bacon.  But they would have lamented how self-esteem — or its group equivalent — now gets more play than truth.  There's a fair dollop of therapeutic chatter in the Whatcott ruling, a resort to vague nostrums, such as the idea that "hate speech" might "oppose the targeted group's ability to find self- fulfillment?"

So might bad weather, or bunions.  What, really, is that phrase supposed to encompass?

Moreover, how can group "self-fulfillment" be measured?  Is self-fulfillment a legal right?

There have been, in recent decades, any number of commentators pointing out the follies and failings of our human rights commissions and tribunals.  In rendering their judgment on Whatcott — which arose from the machinations of this same human-rights industry — could not the Justices have offered some view on the often outrageous manner by which this industry operates?


The Court was silent on the manner by which human rights tribunals stack the deck in favour of the offendee against the alleged offendor.  The victim-complainant is given all manner of succor and support from bureaucrats.  The "offending" party, on the other hand, is left to bear the time and burdens of hearings and rulings.  Often, he must go out and get a lawyer, at his own expense.

Nor did the Court offer any real guidance on why our tradition-tested and tradition-hallowed rights — such as freedom of speech and religion — now must be displaced or diluted in favour of new more politically correct axioms.

It is a remarkable shame that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are being trimmed and sliced, cut down and made secondary to transient fashions.

Moreover, why does the overbearing modern notion of tolerance seem to involve so much ... intolerance?

And why do some Canadian citizens — the "designated groups" we hear so much about in human-rights jurisprudence — now effectively enjoy more rights and more protection than other Canadian citizens?  Lady Justice is not blind.  She's now winking at subsets of the population, while pretending to be fair to all.

The man at the centre of this case was Bill Whatcott, a Saskatchewan activist with some rather strong views about homosexuality, which he regards as a sin that threatens Western civilization.  This week's decision effectively is a direct blast at all traditional religious attitudes that offend progressives.  Whatcott is free to hold his opinions, we are told, but he can't try to proselytize them to others.  (I await the day that an evangelist complains of being offended by a secular spokesman, and then wins a case.  It will be a long wait.)

But if the Court's Justices are guilty of having remained silent on these wider, deeply important issues, they have plenty of company.

Where are the voices of Messers. Harper, Mulcair or Trudeau on so fundamental an issue as freedom of speech?  None has the courage to grasp the nettle on this.

It is a remarkable shame that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are being trimmed and sliced, cut down and made secondary to transient fashions.  Meanwhile, our leaders — while brave on petty things — keep long silence on matters that are at the centre of how we have governed ourselves for generations.

 

Rex Murphy on the Pope's resignation

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Rex Murphy, "Choosing self-esteem over freedom of speech." National Post (March 2, 2013).

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.

THE AUTHOR

Rex Murphy is host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup and contributes weekly TV essays on diverse topics to CBC TV's The National. (See Rex's TV commentaries). In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, and a weekly column for the National Post.

Rex Murphy was born near St. John's, Newfoundland, where he graduated from Memorial University. In l968, he went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. His primary interest is in language and English literature, but he also has a strong link with politics. His first book, Points of View, is described on Amazon: "With TV commentator and journalist Rex Murphy, it's easy to put a twist on the old parable: when he is good he is very very good, and when he's angry, he's awesome. Uncommonly dignified, relentlessly honest, unencumbered by de rigueur political correctness, and solidly grounded by his Newfoundland roots, Murphy is that rarest of TV types. He's an everyman who happens to be a Rhodes Scholar, and a personality treasured for his brain, not his looks...A cranky intellect, maybe, but an intellect just the same. It's Murphy's almost reluctant cynicism — delivered in language as sharp as shattered glass and aimed squarely at those in ivory towers — that makes Points of View a must-read."

Copyright © 2013 National Post




Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter

 

 

Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.