The creepy tyranny of Canada’s hate speech laws

Posted: March 23rd, 2010 by Militant Libertarian

by Glenn Greenwald, Salon

I’ve written many times before about the evils of “hate speech” laws that are prevalent in Canada and Europe — people being fined, prosecuted and hauled before official tribunals for expressing political opinions which the State has prohibited and criminalized.  I won’t rehash those arguments here, but I do want to note a particularly creepy illustration of how these laws manifest.  The far-right hatemonger Ann Coulter was invited by a campus conservative group to speak at the University of Ottawa, and the Vice Provost of that college sent Coulter a letterwarning her that she may be subject to criminal prosecution if the views she expresses fall into the realm of prohibited viewpoints:

Dear Ms. Coulter,

I understand that you have been invited by University of Ottawa Campus Conservatives to speak at the University of Ottawa this coming Tuesday. . . .

I would, however, like to inform you, or perhaps remind you, that our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or “free speech”) in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States. I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here.

You will realize that Canadian law puts reasonable limits on the freedom of expression. For example, promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges. Outside of the criminal realm, Canadian defamation laws also limit freedom of expression and may differ somewhat from those to which you are accustomed. I therefore ask you, while you are a guest on our campus, to weigh your words with respect and civility in mind. . . .

Hopefully, you will understand and agree that what may, at first glance, seem like unnecessary restrictions to freedom of expression do, in fact, lead not only to a more civilized discussion, but to a more meaningful, reasoned and intelligent one as well.

I hope you will enjoy your stay in our beautiful country, city and campus.


Francois Houle,

Vice-President Academic and Provost, University of Ottawa

Personally, I think threatening someone with criminal prosecution for the political views they might express is quite “hateful.”  So, too, is anointing oneself the arbiter of what is and is not sufficiently “civilized discussion” to the point of using the force of criminal law to enforce it.  If I were administering Canada’s intrinsically subjective “hate speech” laws (and I never would), I’d consider prosecuting Provost Houle for this letter.  The hubris required to believe that you can declare certain views so objectively hateful that they should be criminalized is astronomical; in so many eras, views that were most scorned by majorities ended up emerging as truth.

Read the rest at this link.


Comments (4)


  1. Liberty Now says:

    Canaduh is decending into a politically correct tyranny one step at a time.

  2. Jessica says:

    They didn’t threaten her with criminal prosecution. They reminded her, for her own benefit, that if she incites violence against an identifiable group, the crown could charge her. Most likely with a fine. The University can’t press “hate speech” charges against a person. Our hate speech laws aren’t subjective. They’re clearly defined:

    “any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide or the communication of which by any person would constitute an offence under section 319,” “incites hatred against any identifiable group.” An identifiable group is: “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

    The accused is not guilty if:

    “(a) if he establishes that the statements communicated were true; (b) if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text; (c) if the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds he believed them to be true; or (d) if, in good faith, he intended to point out, for the purpose of removal, matters producing or tending to produce feelings of hatred toward an identifiable group in Canada.”

    Hardly subjective. Don’t misrepresent my country or it’s laws. I would also like to point out that Coulter’s speech was not canceled, she chose to cancel it. Freedom of speech was exemplified by protesters on both sides of the argument. You gotta get your facts straight.

    • Militant Libertarian says:

      Then explain why this somehow applies to Holocaust deniers, those who disagree with Israeli policy, etc.

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