At the University of Waterloo last week, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth was scheduled to speak to a group of students at an event organized by the Students for Life campus club. Unfortunately, a group of students shut down Mr. Woodworth's speech by shouting him down, until he was left with no choice but to cancel the event.
The utilitarian belief that individual rights to speak freely are somehow less important than the right of others to not be offended is ludicrous in so many ways. For the top court of the country to support it brings many questions of its legitimacy and effectiveness in protecting the fundamental freedoms that we supposedly enjoy.
On Jan. 22, Carlton University undergraduate student Arun Smith forcefully removed a "free-speech wall" from his campus over accusations that it provided a public forum for students to express hateful comments. According to the campus newspaper, such comments included "abortion is murder" and "traditional marriage is awesome." What's needed is not external censorship, least of all the "forceful" and self-defeating kind Smith exhibits, but responsible self-censorship, and this comes through critical thinking and awareness, not removing free-speech walls.
Faulty advertising rules caused extensive problems for small spenders such as non-profit and charity groups during the 2009 B.C. election. The rules led to widespread confusion, wasted resources, anxiety and, most dangerously, self-censorship among organizations that spent little or nothing on election advertising. The government should have (and could have) fixed this situation when it was amending the law this spring, but chose not to.
The fact that most governments and citizens in the west supported the cause of democracy and human rights in the countries of the Arab Spring shows that there is a growing clash of extremists rather than a clash of civilizations. There is a urgent need for leaders in the U.S., Canada and the west to demonstrate to the moderate majorities in all their countries that the extremists in their midst should not be allowed to speak for them.
This week, a grade 12 student was suspended for wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Life is wasted without Jesus." Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects both freedom of religion and freedom of expression, but nowhere does it protect people from feeling offended. In a diverse and complex society, learning to disagree without being disagreeable may be a survival skill.