It’s rare that I find myself expressing unqualified support for a piece of legislation that the government, or so I hope, is about to enact.. But the UCP’s proposal for An Act to Protect Free Expression at Alberta’s Public Colleges and Universities strikes me as letter perfect and long overdue. The drafters of the Act have understood what John Stuart Mill and Walter Lippmann understood: that it’s not about your right to speak your mind. If it were we could simply drop you off in a farmer’s field and pick you up an hour later. Rather it’s about my right to hear what‘s on our mind, conditional, of course, on your wanting to share it with me.
The people the Act is designed to thwart are those who don’t want me to hear what you have to say, because you’re clearly wrong, and I’m too weak-minded to see that. But that’s an argument that’s cut both ways in the history of its deployment. Yesterday it was the Spanish Inquisition and the Taliban. Today it’s our own social justice warriors. It’s not that it hasn’t been a useful argument in a lot of right causes. It’s that it’s been too useful in too many wrong ones. The Act puts the kibosh on both. I can live with that.
My worry, however, is this. The Act excludes from its protections what it calls ‘hate speech’. And so those who oppose the objectives of the Act will circumvent it by simply expanding what counts as hate. This is already happening. Apparently here at the University of Lethbridge suggesting that Mossad was involved in 9/11 is anti-Semitism. So what’s hate speech for you? It’s speech you hate others to hear.
A law is only as good as those who interpret and enforce it. Let’s just hope that our invertebrate Administration has a little more backbone this time, when the Chicken Little lobby tries to tell it that global warming denial is hate speech. After all, what, other than hatred of humanity, could motivate such indifference to human extinction?!