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In the developed societies of the modern world, it is one of the major premises that freedom of expression is the pivotal character of liberal democracy. A democratic government must guarantee the right to question and debate the merits and flaws of policies, politicians, and any other political- or social-related issues without being subject to prosecution. Open discourse and open statement of a personal point of view on any topic whatsoever is the essential aspect of personal freedom and autonomy (Roach and Schneiderman 266).
Section 2 of the Constitution Act 1982 states that each person has a number of fundamental freedoms concerning the ability to state his/her personal viewpoint, which include the freedom of opinion, thought, belief, and expression. This right also presupposes freedom of all the existing types of media (Roach and Schneiderman 266). However, there exist certain limitations that become evident when one takes a closer look.
Section 1 of the same Act claims that even fundamental freedoms must have their restrictions even if they do not violate other people’s rights. This means that practically any utterance may be considered unconstitutional (Knott par. 5). Thus, the paper at hand states that despite the alleged freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution of the country, the nature of this freedom is rather ambiguous as any type of intellectual or artistic expression may be subject to legal prosecution. The research performed is based on the review of literature highlighting different domains that have to deal with censorship.
The ultimate goal of the study is to prove that though the right for freedom of speech is nominally present in Canada, its actual administration proves to be ineffective, which puts the country far behind the principles promoted by democracy.
Legal limits on Speech
The criminal legislation of the country puts certain legal limits on speech. They are connected with such wrongdoings as treason, blasphemy, religious worship disruption, falsification of information, obscene vocabulary, and many others (Moon 80). The major law dealing with these issues is called Libel and Defamation law.
Libel refers to slander recorded in various types of publication whereas defamation concerns the right of an individual to receive moral compensation in case of publication of the text that damages his/her personal dignity and reputation. The law seems to be reasonable as it provides regulations necessary for the media that can sometimes resort to libel in order to attract larger audiences. However, the government went much further than protecting the right of individuals to be treated with due respect and avoid slandering (Roach and Schneiderman 266).
Mass Media Censorship: Control Institutions
Censorship in its different forms is basically an indicator of a controlled, restrictive environment. In the country where the media ceased to reflect the needs, values, and ideas of the society, it becomes inevitable to introduce restrictions on the range of opinions, behaviors, and attitudes that can be expressed freely (Roach and Schneiderman 267). The ambiguity of this regulation becomes evident with the realization that two freedoms clash in case of mass media: the individual right of journalists for self-expression and the public right for selecting the information that the audience wants to be covered in the press, on radio, or on TV. Therefore, the protection of one party undermines the rights of the other one (Roach and Schneiderman 266).
In Canada, there exist agencies that have a mission to control and modify the content of the media according to the preferences of the government eliminating the information that seems to be questionable, provoking, or clearly hazardous. It is believed that such regulation is required in cases when the media cannot control themselves intrinsically. However, some of the newspapers, magazines, and TV channels opt for self-regulation in order to prevent interference on behalf of higher authorities (e.g. the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the Ontario Press Council, etc.).
Despite this initiative, all the information channels are controlled by the government: the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunication Commission has to check all the advertisement texts; the Liquor License Board releases lists of alcohol products that can be mentioned in the press and on TV; the Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children regulates what all the visual information that is intended for the audience under 18 (Véronneau 53).
Thus, it is clear that creating an illusion of freedom and self-control, the government actually regulates all the information reaching a large audience regardless of age.
Books, Television, and Internet
The freedom of speech in Canada is also limited through a number of restrictions imposed on books, television, and the Internet. Books that contain obscene language, sexually explicit episodes (especially those involving people of the same sex), provocative anti-religious texts (as well as books targeting some other religions as being inferior to Christianity), and many other books can be banned under the criminal code (Normey 39).
As far as television programs are concerned, the rules are basically the same. Canadian government actively promotes the idea of racial tolerance, political correctness, diversity, etc. Despite the fact that such an approach is essential for being open-minded, this cannot help telling on the freedom of expression. The paradox is that the government is so much focused on satisfying the needs of various minority groups that it actually starts discriminating against the general population depriving people of their right to expression. A recent example of this is the case with comedian Mike Ward who has been forced to pay moral damages to a boy-singer with disabilities and his mother because he made the boy a target for his jokes on a TV show (Lilley par. 1).
The Internet, which is now the major source of information on various topics, is also subjected to regulations as it is often associated with irresponsible speeches, promotion of violence, heated political arguments, and other factors that may present danger. Besides, the Internet also brings concerns about the piracy that violates copyright law (Normey 39). It is much more difficult for the government to justify restrictions on the Internet but, nevertheless, there are laws against hate messages that allow providers to shut down the site.
Moreover, sites with extremist information can also be eliminated legally. The Internet is also closely bound with the issue of pornography that is challenging and dubious for everyone who adheres to the freedom of expression as opposed to those who protect children’s rights. There is a lot of debate on the restrictions of different types of pornography – therefore, the issue still remains unresolved (Normey 42).
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Thus, it would be fair to conclude that not only mass media but all other sources of information are regulated by the Canadian government through a number of various restrictions, which makes it hard to claim that there is any freedom of expression whatsoever.
Hate Speech Regulation
Besides the internal limitations imposed on the freedom of speech, Canada is obliged under international law to struggle against hate speech that may provoke violence, discrimination, and civil commotion. The Criminal Code contains hate speech laws at the federal level, and human rights legislation regulates the issue at the provincial level. There exist two basic directives that allow recognizing hate speech:
- it must be found out whether a side observer would consider the expression as hatred-provoking or aggressive;
- the term must be analyzed in order to identify whether it bears a strong negative connotation.
However, even these instructions do not help to reduce the number of possible interpretations (Moon 84).
As a result of hate speech laws, a lot of disputes arise on the issue of free expression of negative attitudes in arguments. There is no clear demarcation line between normal conflict within the boundaries of self-expression right and hatred kindling. The latter is often an exaggeration that is made by the regulating bodies in order to stay on the safe side.
As compared to the USA and other developed democracies that can demonstrate successful experiences of promoting the freedom of speech, Canada is still lagging far behind (Bloomberg par. 2). The problem is that the ostensible rights granted by the Constitution to various social institutions are either not administered in practice or restricted by a number of laws that have a common aim to reduce the number of freedoms to the possible minimum. It turns out that the government, which pursues noble purposes of eliminating violence, intolerance, discrimination, and hatred, in fact, kindles aggression in those, whose rights are violated. Thus, the ambiguous nature of such a policy undermines the democratic principles promoted by the state authority.
Bloomberg, Michael. “Why Free Speech Matters on Campus.” The Wall Street Journal. 2016. Web.
Knott, Tom. “Think Canada Allows Freedom of Speech? Think Again.” Huff Post Politics Canada. 2016. Web.
Lilley, Brian. “Death of Free Speech in Canada: Montreal Comedian Ordered to Pay $42K in Damages Over a Joke.” The Rebel. 2016. Web.
Moon, Richard. “Hate speech regulation in Canada.” Florida State University Law Review, vol. 36, 2008, pp. 79-98.
Normey, Rob. “PEN Canada: On Guard for Freedom of Expression.” LawNow, vol. 36, no. 2, 2011, pp. 38-54.
Roach, Kent, and David Schneiderman. “Freedom of Expression in Canada.” Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, vol. 259, no. 2, pp. 266-267.
Véronneau, Pierre. “When Cinema Faces Social Values: One Hundred Years of Film Censorship in Canada.” Silencing Cinema, vol. 32, no. 3, 2013, 49-62.