Crossing the line on the public dime

I think people have a right to be offensive. I have said that before. I get very concerned about this government’s plans to introduce legislation to deal with hurtful speech on the internet.

As I have written before, support for concepts like “Freedom of Expression” and “Freedom of Peaceful Assembly” is easy when you agree with what is being said. But how do we deal with dissent and with controversial points of view? How do we distinguish between language that is offensive but hasn’t crossed the line to be illegal?

However, there can be consequences that might arise from speech that is offensive yet legal.

Those consequences can vary depending on the speaker’s role or public status. We hold different people to different standards. We have heightened expectations of politicians and celebrities.

Over the past few days, questions have been raised about a hateful and hurtful language used by a consultant engaged by Canada’s Anti-Racism Action Program. I have been writing about my concerns with his association with this government-funding program since last April (See: “Purveying hate on the public dime” and “Government funded hate speech”)..

As a result of extensive amplification of my concerns by Jonathan Kay, this issue has finally attracted such sufficient public attention that the Minister who awarded the funding could no longer ignore calls for a review.

Let’s be clear: The government had been aware of this issue for months and made no acknowledgment of the problem, as if it hoped the matter would just go away.

If this individual was just a garden-variety antisemite, he might have been able to continue to spew vile comments about Jews and French Canadians in the obscurity that he so richly deserves. But he was a beneficiary of the largesse of Canadian taxpayers, and as a result, is subjected to certain behavioural expectations. Most Canadians wouldn’t expect antisemitic rants to regularly appear from government-funded anti-racism consultants working on an anti-racism program.

I suspect most Canadians would expect consequences to arise for a government-funded purveyor of hateful and hurtful online commentary.

Will this impact the overall credibility of the government’s Anti-Racism Action Program?

There are indeed consequences associated with testing the limits of speech freedoms.

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