This being my maiden posting on my new blog, I can’t think of a more appropriate subject right now than that of freedom of speech.
The internet has brought about a new platform for the exchange of thoughts and ideas. This easy and inexpensive means of communication has empowered millions around the world. The evolution, growth and potential of the internet is astounding. Any person can speak their mind and have it potentially published to millions. People can research and find in minutes what used to take days in a library. The internet is an incredible tool and has brought the power of the individual to a new height.
Due to all of the above of course, those who feel that discourse and expression need to be controlled are terrified by the developments of the last decade.
One of the most effective means of maintaining a dictatorship has been to stifle expression and communication between individuals. If people have limitted access to information, they can be easily led. If people have limitted communication among each other, they can be easily oppressed.
In the late 80s, I had the good fortune to be able to tour parts of Soviet Russia and some of Eastern Europe. Security was very tight at borders. Unlike most border crossings where one would expect to be searched for things such as drugs or weapons, what I was searched for in communist Russia was books and cassettes. The largest threat that the communists saw to their evil regime was the introduction of outside thought and news to their populace. The availability of government produced literature was amazing. Books and leaflets were everywhere and were exceedingly cheap and often free. Outside literature was of course nowhere to be seen.
Even prior to the internet, communication throughout the world was improving in leaps and bounds. Despite the best efforts of the communists in Russia, news from the outside world leaked in and eventually the populace learned what misery they actually were enduring. Gorbachev and the concept of glasnost came about in hopes of easing the inevitable transition as it was clear that the regime could not be sustained. His efforts were too little too late and the communist regime finally collapsed upon itself from pressure within.
Decades of cold war were fought to try and fight communism in Russia. In the end, it was not bullets that brought that horrible regime to an end, it was information and communication among citizens that brought communist Russia down.
The power of free speech and communication can never be understated. This power threatens those who would stifle freedoms and oppress individuals and must always be vigilantly protected.
Free speech is not a left/right issue. Free speech is essential for people on all sides of the political spectrum (aside from totalitarians). Even an individual as loathsome as Noam Chomsky recognizes the importance of this as he said here:
“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.”
Despite how clear it is that free speech and expression are essential in a free society, free speech is always under attack by people for a variety of reasons. Currently in Canada, we are seeing quite a story unfold as the entire blogosphere is under attack by some individuals who are abusing the Canadian Human Rights Commission and our legal system.
The prime individual who has been leading this assault on the exchange of ideas on the internet is a man named Richard Warman. Some years ago, Warman learned that the Human Rights Commissions in Canada could be used to make a living. Warman began with the easy pickings on the internet. By appearing as the plaintiff in most section 13 hearings, Warman could not only shut up those who were posting ideas who he felt should not be expressed on the internet, Warman could also gain personal compensation for his hurt feelings while he was at it. Despite the rather staggering evidence easily available, Warman somehow takes offense when it is pointed out that he is a professional litigant and a censor. Well Warman, the shoe fits so get over it.
It was a nice little racket for Warman for awhile. By initially targetting self-proclaimed nazis and white supremacists, it was easy to win cases as few people will stand up to defend people like that. The problem that Warman soon encountered however was that despite his assertations and those of people such as Warren Kinsella, there really are not that many nazis or white supremacists in existence. The gravy train was drying up fast. Rather than seek a real job, Warman and people such as his pal from the HRC Dean Steacy decided to create online identities such as “Jadewarr” and “Lucy” and began to troll discussion forums in hopes of provoking actionable speech. Entrapment is another term for what appears to have happened. It appears that somebody in the human rights office stole the wireless internet signal of an innocent woman in order to make these offensive postings online. That sort of indicates that these people were quite aware that what they were doing is dead wrong but clearly they felt that violating the rights of others is well justified in their hunt for imaginary nazis and such.
The reason that much of these happenings are coming to light is that these anti-speech people have finally bitten off more than they could chew. In targetting fringe discussion forums and such, Warman and his ilk have been able to slide under the radar until recently. When respected individuals in the media became targets of the Human Rights Commissions however, things quickly fell apart. Ezra Levant masterfully exposed the goings on in the Star Chamber when he videotaped and broadcast his interrogation on the internet. Macleans magazine (a Canadian institution) became a target of the human rights commissions as well. What this did was finally shine a light on what has been going on in Canada in the last decade with these commissions.
Like most vermin, Warman despises having light shone upon him. The kangaroo courts of the Human Rights Commissions have been exposed and one of his better means of income is being threatened. In a response of desperation, Warman has turned to the civil courts in hopes of stifling discussion of his doings. It is hard to keep track of the list of lawsuits he has initiated. From what I can gather so far, those Warman has targetted so far are:
Conservative discussion forum owned by Connie and Mark Fornier; freedominion
Blog smalldeadanimals run by Kate McMillan
Blog five feet of fury run by Kathy Shaidle
Columnist Jonathan Kay and the National Post itself and perhaps others, the list appears to grow daily.
Despite this, Warman takes offense to being called a serial litigant.
In a new twist to this, it looks like has-been Warren Kinsella has jumped on the bandwagon.
The posting on a discussion site that Kinsella took offense to in his statement of claim is below:
From planting hateful screeds on the internet to photographing bathrooms stalls at knee-height, there is no place where stawart Nazi hunters like Richard Warman and Warren Kinsella fear to tread. How can anyone reasonably complain about the fact that people like these are using our tax dollars to sell off our most essential freedoms when there are Nazis hiding behind every Canadian maple tree?
Yet the only Nazi-like behaviour I have ever witnessed in Canada has come from people like Richard Warman and Warren Kinsella. To the best of my knowledge, I have never met an actual Nazi. Although there are many Canadians who adhere to the Soviet version of socialism, I have yet to encounter a single one who has tried to convince me of the merits of National Socialism.
So where are all these Nazis?
According to Warren Kinsella’s intrepid knee-height photography in public men’s room toilet stalls, there is at least one of them on the loose. The camera never lies, right?
Kinsella did post pictures of bathroom scrawlings on his blog and Warman has been involved in posting on questionable sites.
I am not a lawyer, but I really do not see what is actionable here. If it gets far enough, I am pretty confident that a judge will ask the same question.
The logic behind this spate of lawsuits is likely a SLAPP attempt (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Essentially by attacking the blogosphere and free media with this barrage of legal action, Warman and Kinsella are hoping to intimidate and mire individuals in legal costs in hopes of stifling the speech that they have determined must not be uttered.
Legal defense is expensive and time consuming. The victims of these suits are likely going to suffer under years of stress, lost time and expenses in the many thousands even if they are found to be innocent in all this.
It is frightening to see the efforts that some people will go to in order to stop the free exchange of ideas on the internet.
Sure, plenty of things said are offensive and idiotic. The price to be paid by stifling speech in order to stop some of these offensive comments is way to high however.
Canada has criminal laws to cover true hate speech as well as libel. The anti-speech folks know that their case would never withstand the scrutiny of a criminal court thus they have resorted to using human rights commissions and civil courts in hopes of stifling discussion.
The precidents that could be set in the coming months are terrifying. I encourage everybody to discuss and keep this issue alive. The vicitims in these suits need help too. All of them have the means to donate to their legal defenses on their sites. You do not need to agree with or even like what they have to say, but it must be understood how important that it is for these people (and ourselves) to have the right to express ourselves.
The links to those targetted by the anti-speech crowd are below:
Their fight is all of ours.