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January 18, 2011

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Deb

Eric! Where's the 'Like' button? :)
If any song should be banned for all time everywhere, my #1 pick would have to be
'Don't Cry out Loud' by Melissa Manchester- lovely lady, but the lyrics gave me hives when I believed them ;)

Brad

I think an important point to me made here is the power of speech and what regulations need to surround it. And we may need to distinguish between the American and Canadian ethos surrounding freedom of speech.

My sense is that in the US, freedom of speech is protected as a central pillar of democracy itself. Censorship is equated to tyranny associated with our memories of the Iron Curtain abroad and McCarthyism at home. All well and good until one wants to exercise their freedom of speech in ways that are immoral and destructive.

Take the case of the author of the book on how to be a pedophile without getting incarcerated. CNN pundits floundered around trying to sort out how we must defend the author's freedom of speech (!) but not Amazon's right to profit from it (?!). He could not be arrested for writing such a book, nor could the book be banned. He was only to be charged if caught in the act of pedophilia. In other words, it seems to me that under US law, neither the written nor spoken word can be considered an 'act' and must be defended at all costs. Hence, guys like Fred Phelps are not indictable for hate speech, even when picketing a funeral. This protection of both the pedophile and the hate-monger to say or write whatever they want is deemed necessary to the freedom of the nation. I may have the exact rules wrong here--and please correct me--but I think I've nailed the essential ethos.

In Canada, under our charter of rights and freedoms, there are limitations on speech acts that are hateful and destructive. Groups targeted for hate-speech based on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation are protected and have legal recourse. The heart of the matter is that we have come to recognize that speech itself, written or spoken for the purpose of hate or exploitation, is an 'act' in and of itself. Speech alone can be violent. Words have power to kill, as we see in the bullying cases that lead to suicide. Holocaust deniers can be charged and Fred Phelps can be turned back at the border. In Canada, recognizing speech as a potentially violent act is deemed necessary to the freedom of our nation.

Which brings us to what the CBSC is up to and why--and how and why they missed it. The CBSC understands rightly that under Canadian law, hate-speech spoken even in song is a violation of the rights of the individuals it targets. They understand rightly that Canadian freedom includes the right not to be called a faggot... IF YOU ARE A HOMOSEXUAL. And this is where they blow it on the following counts:

- They misread the target: Dire Straights was not targeting homosexuals for hate-speech whatsoever. They were obviously showing disdain for the entertainer from the point of view of the working class. This isn't forbidden in our charter.

- They misread the meaning: Dire Straights was not attacking the entertainer's sexual preferences... obviously not. We recognize that a word's meaning is determined by its usage and can have multiple senses. The sense in which they used the term was derogatory in the sense of 'weasel' or 'lame' without maligning the furry mammals or paraplegics.

- They ignored the aspects or irony and story-telling. Could they not see that Dire Straights are the very entertainers they are attacking? Could they not see that the word was part of a narrative? It's the same problem that we are facing with retroactively removing the n-word from Mark Twain's literature... rewriting a history that we should not forget for the sake of propriety.

All of this to say the following: when we replace real judgement with a global policy for the sake of 'consistency,' we become less free and face a greater threat. For a parallel example, consider the idiocy that reigns in much of our airport security. I understand fully the importance of resisting profiling, but we've so swung the pendulum to the opposite extreme that we have little (really) old ladies who are breast cancer survivors being groped and having to remove their breast prostheses for a humiliating examination. Their nose hair scissors are being confiscated along with their 80% empty toothpaste container because we don't have the discernment to see how ludicrous our standards are. I just want to say, this makes us LESS safe because it is an abdication of judgment for the written code.

This is exactly where the CBSC went wrong, and in so doing, made us less free.

Brian Zahnd

You have to admit that's a sweet riff.

Eric H Janzen

Hmmm...A 'faggot' is a measure of fire wood...is big brother going to ban all references to wood and wood products as well just to cover their bases?

Seriously, this has 'idiots in charge' written all over it.

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