2 min

Freedom of speech?

Going too far is one thing. Hate speech is another.

I can be opinionated. Heck, even abrasive. And I consider that my right since we live in a democracy, and, theoretically speaking, everyone has a right to their opinion.

I know I offend some people and, because of that, I expect to be called on what I say. I try to be careful, but sometimes I get carried away, swept into the seductive notion that I’m totally right about something and someone else — the leader of our country, say — is wrong. It’s a dangerous game.

Something that feels funny or harmless or cheeky to me while I’m at home in my track pants, drinking sparkling water and listening to Enya, will look radically different when I see it in print. I’ve regretted a few things I’ve published; there are plenty of moments where I’ve lacked tact or taste.

As someone who has publicly fumbled — in print — many times, I have sympathy for creative people who go too far.

But going too far is one thing. Hate speech is another.

Ottawa students sent the loud and clear message that they did not want American propaganda writer (she prefers the term “journalist”) Ann Coulter to speak. I say: awesome.

Sure, the university invited her, but the students already knew what she was about — anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and homophobia — so it was easy enough to say “No thanks” or actually, “No more hate speech on our campus.”

We need more of that. It was the perfect way to express freedom. Speaking out is what people do in a healthy democracy.

Canada’s media empires, while troublesome (no argument there!), are not built on the kind of sensationalism that breeds folks like Coulter. Fox News is the classic example, but there are dozens of famous American “journalists” whose careers are built on inciting outrage.

And just when I thought this kind of thing couldn’t happen in Vancouver, it did. I read an article in the Courier slamming the people I admire the most, taking work they’ve done out of context, misrepresenting them and blatantly provoking.

Mess with a community’s heroes and you’re messing with a whole community and its allies. 

I expect columnists to be biased. I even expect them to be wrong sometimes. In fact, that’s often why I read columnists: to have an imaginary argument with someone I don’t know. But I don’t expect columnists to bold-faced lie or resort to malice or smearing community activists.

When creative expression turns into an excuse to spread lies and anger, it’s up to everyone to say they don’t want to hear it. Ottawa said no to Coulter. Vancouver can say no, too. It’s the only democratic thing to do.