Hate Speech Laws in Canada
SASKATOON (CP) - If David Ahenakew’s hate crime conviction stands, it will lead to the creation of a “tattletale state,” where anyone who is goaded into vocalizing their racist thoughts could be charged, his lawyer said Monday.It is a bit disconcerting to see Jews, long a mainstay of liberal politics, take such an illiberal position.
Appealing Ahenakew’s case in Court of Queen’s Bench, lawyer Doug Christie argued his client never intended to spread hatred against Jews and is being persecuted for angry outbursts he made while in an argument with a reporter.
“I suggest this law wasn’t intended to capture and criminalize people that get ‘lit up,’” Christie said, referring to the way Ahenakew has said he felt during the now infamous 2002 interview with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
“This section has never been used to attack isolated, spontaneous speech.”
Last July, a provincial court judge fined the former head of the Assembly of First Nations $1,000 for wilfully promoting hatred at a Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations conference in December 2002.
Court heard that Ahenakew referred to the Jews as a “disease” when he was approached by a reporter after giving 45-minute, profanity-laced speech in which he blamed the Jews for the Second World War.
Christie spent much of his time arguing that Ahenakew’s interview with the reporter should not be covered by the hate laws.
The section of the Criminal Code under which Ahenakew was convicted applies only to hate spoken “other than in private conversation,” and Christie argued that a one-on-one interview with the reporter meets that exception.
The trial judge heard how Ahenakew consented to the interview at first but didn’t realize he was being taped.
“I would like to submit that ‘private’ means anything to which the public does not have access to by right,” Christie told Justice Robert Lang.
“If it had not been for the existence of the tape recorder, unknown to Mr. Ahenakew, the words would not have gone any further than six feet from the speaker’s mouth.”
But the Crown argued there is no merit to Christie’s assertions because Ahenakew knew he was giving an interview to reporter, not simply having a conversation.
“If the words do promote hate then they shouldn’t be said,” argued Crown prosecutor Dean Sinclair.
“When you equate a people with a disease - when you say there is an upside to the Holocaust ... you promote hate.”
Lawyers for the Canadian Jewish Congress, which had intervener status at the appeal, argued Christie’s stance on the issue of private conversation makes no sense.
But then, most of the positions that all social groups take are the result of social biases, rather than philosophical principles.
Our opposition to “hate speech” laws goes beyond a libertarian support for free speech.
We simply can’t imagine that “hate speech” laws can ever be administered in a consistent way. We can’t imagine, for example, that leftist professors would ever be punished for encouraging students to hate capitalists, or that anti-war activists would ever be punished for saying demeaning things about American soldiers.
We can’t imagine that New York Times columnists or gay activists would ever be punished for saying hateful things about conservative Christians.
Indeed, the status of Jews as a protected group is in doubt. On college campuses, attacking Jews (or at least the vast majority of Jews who support Israel) is pretty routine.
In fact, it has happened at Marquette, and indeed happened under the aegis of the University’s Manresa program.
Under these circumstances, the only legitimate punishment for hate speech is that people will think you a nasty bigot. Not only does Ahenakew deserve this, but so a lot of leftist professors and anti-war activists and New York Times columnists and gay activists.