2 min

Designated free speech

The Beijing Olympics squelched free speech but Canada's supposed to be a democracy

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states in Section two:

“Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association.”

What is free speech anyway?

Is free speech like when you’re one of the many who voted against the Olympics in 2003 because when you examine other Olympic cities they always end up in massive debt, and since you’re a taxpayer and a citizen of Canada and the Canadian Charter guarantees freedom of speech you head down to BC Place to protest, but when you get there you’re told by security that you must protest at a “designated free speech zone” and you’re shuffled off to a suburban strip mall parking lot, where no one can hear you except a herd of cows and the checkout girl at Blockbuster?

Is that free speech?

Or is free speech like when you’re a young gay environmental activist, in fact you were one of the people who protested at Eagleridge Bluffs in 2006 when the BC Liberals destroyed this rare, diversified ecosystem just to save a few bucks on their Sea to Sky highway expansion project.

On the first day of the 2010 Olympics you and your environmental buddies set up a banner over the former bluffs so people passing by on their way to Whistler will know how the environment was destroyed just so they could get to the games quicker.

The first hour goes pretty well. Some people honk in support. A few even pull over to check out the literature on your pamphlet table.

By the second hour, the RCMP arrives to inform you that this is not a designated free speech zone. You’d like to remind them that all of Canada is a designated free speech zone. That’s why your grandfather fought in the Second World War. But you see the officer’s hand clutching the butt of his Taser gun, so you quietly leave.

Is that free speech?

Or say you’re the lesbian executive director of an organization whose aim is to end poverty and more than half of your clients have been evicted to make room for tourists. So you organize a peaceful assembly but when you get to the art gallery where you hold all your demos security officers tell you to leave.

You stand your ground but when you argue your case an officer mistakes you for a terrorist and he clubs you. And when your assistant tries to defend you with her bare hands they club her too and your whole group is beaten and arrested, and because you can’t afford an expensive lawyer it takes 48 hours before you’re released, except you’re still facing a charge of assaulting a police officer because when he hit you with his baton your arm instinctively rose to cover your face.

Is that free speech?

When the Chinese government squelched all protest by its citizens during the Beijing Olympics, we all kind of expected it from the repressive regime of China. But this is Canada. This is a democracy. Isn’t it?