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It's About Hate, Not Neutrality

Yesterday, Canadian telecom consultant Mark Goldberg filed an application with the CRTC to have a specific American web site blocked for Canadian viewers.  The reason for the application was that the site was promoting genocide against Canadian jews, and the murder of one specific human rights lawyer living here in Ottawa.  The site has since been removed by Google (the hoster), however it raises some interesting questions.

These cases are often hard for folks to figure out.  Censorship is distasteful, and may prematurely curtail important discussions that can occur in a public forum.  For that reason, while not condoning their message, I’m generally in favour of allowing these groups to have their say.  My hope is that exposing them to public scrutiny will show them for what they are.  I’m reminded, in particular, of a Jerry Springer episode in the 1990’s where he interviewed members of the KKK, including their kids. It would be difficult for me to imagine anyone being influenced by that show in any fashion except to conclude that the KKK membership is mostly poor, white, uneducated bigots that any normal person wouldn’t want to associate with.  I am sure that they viewed the opportunity to be on national TV as a platform for spreading their message.  It didn’t work out well for them at all.

I’m also sympathetic, although usually not in agreement with, “slippery slope” arguments.  Most of the time there isn’t any substance to these arguments.  They are simply being set up as a straw man to curtail debate. 

Having said all that, I support Mark’s effort.  The spirit of our Charter of Rights is being violated.  Moreover, our own laws against the promotion of hatred are also being violated.  In Canada, it’s illegal to promote genocide, or violence against minorities, or to encourage others to hate minorities.  The man being targeted is fearful that among the readers of this web site there may be Canadians with similar views living near by.  Nobody should have to live with that fear.

One commenter on Mark’s blog asks why the owner of the site is simply not being charged.  The reason was that this site is hosted on Google’s Blogger, in the US, and written by an American. There is no concept of a hate crime in US law, however, and courts have generally given strong support to free speech. That is why groups like the KKK can continue to exist south of the border.  It’s clear that the only way for us to uphold our own laws is to attempt to ensure that this content can’t be viewed here. 

I disagree with my friend Jon Arnold’s view that this might be a side effect of net neutrality.  Net neutrality would not give anyone the right to engage in illegal acts using the internet. In a net neutral world, it would still be illegal, for instance, to produce and view child pornography.  We should think about this case in the same way.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Bill White August 24, 2006, 12:33 pm

    I hate to smack Jews with reality, but I never actually told anyone to kill RW (well, at least via the internet). ;-D

    I posted his address. I then was asked, on the radio, “What if someone kills him” and said “I hope they do. He deserves to be killed.”

    And I stand by that. They should line you guys up and shoot you right next to each other.

    But, there is no website calling for the death of RW.

    That said, I thank you for driving 76,000 Canadians to my website, (removed).com, which has not been taken off the internet.

    You have made this big enough that we may actually get some revolution out of it.


  • Alec August 24, 2006, 2:19 pm

    Hey Bill, I visited your site, and you know what? You’re nutty as a fruitcake. Anyway, feel free to post in the comments, but don’t expect me to leave them unedited. I won’t willingly link back to you and your goofy propaganda.

  • John McAdams September 5, 2006, 11:37 pm

    Your point about incitement is a good one, but I can’t agree with you about “hate speech.”

    In practice, “hate speech” is merely speech that one disagrees with.

    In Canada, one can get in trouble for saying unkind things about homosexuality, but there (as in the U.S.) it’s open season to attack Christianity. Whites can’t attack blacks, but blacks can say nasty things against whites.

    While “incitement” can be narrowly defined, “hate speech” is in the eye of the beholder, and frequently the eye of the beholder is itself full of hate.

  • Alec September 6, 2006, 1:40 am

    John, at least here, "hate speech" is a narrowly defined set of actions limited to incitement to hate, incitement to violence, and incitement to genocide. You can't be prosecuted for hate crimes unless your speech falls into one of those areas, which is why it's relatively rare that hate crimes cases proceed. But you know, we're also a very politically correct country on these issues. It's far more likely that you will experience public condemnation for statements deemed non-inclusive, rather than a court case.

    You CAN have a debate on these issues, here, so long as it's done respectfully.

    In the recent gay marriage case, for example, as many people spoke against the position taken by some of the established Christian churches on this issue, as spoke for it. Our own Prime Minister is a conservative Christian, who stood with church goers on this issue. Not only is it possible to have a respectful discussion on these topics, but we have done so, without triggering prosecutions. There were a few people who personally received black eyes from the press and the public for some of the more incendiary things said, but by and large the debate was typically Canadian.

    I, for one, am happy with our laws against hate crimes. I think they cut the right balance between the right of the individual to speak freely, and society's need to ensure that all members can live free from fear.

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