Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What's the point of free speech when only some are freely allowed to speak?

Of all the criminal trials underway in Canada today I cannot think of a more frivolous matter than the ongoing second criminal court trial of former Aboriginal leader David Ahenakew for ‘hate speech’. One could be forgiven for presuming the public purse has unlimited resources. The Globe and Mail reports:
Saskatoon — A second hate crime trial is under way for former aboriginal leader David Ahenakew. The 75-year-old sat quietly in Saskatoon court as the Crown began presenting evidence he wilfully promoted hatred in 2002 by telling a newspaper reporter Jews were a “disease” and caused the Second World War.

Mr. Ahenakew avoided a throng of reporters during the lunch break, rushing off to visit his ailing wife during her dialysis treatment in hospital.(…)He was originally found guilty and fined $1,000, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.

While Ahenakew’s bigotry and ignorance is beyond question and his opinions offensive (well, at least to me) he has already been tried in the court of public opinion and found not only guilty but wanting and flawed as a man. A lifetime spent achieving accolades and honours for his work within and outside the Aboriginal community is left more tattered than a pair of my discarded Swan Lake toe shoes. This is what one should do with bigots and ignoramuses.

Ahenakew is not on trial for counselling, inciting or even promoting violence against Jews but for merely having expressed a poorly reasoned bigoted opinion which in another lapse of questionable judgment he chose to share in conversation with a reporter. My own beloved grandmother had her own set of dearly held prejudices which she never learned not to voice but we all learned early the bankruptcy of those opinions, and consequently, did not take them to heart. It never crossed our minds she should be jailed for voicing her bigotry.

I wonder at the apparent zeal of the crown in seeking a criminal prosecution against an old aboriginal man for ‘hate speech’ and I cannot help but wonder if the zealotry of the Crown is more a case of venomous bigotry than justice blind. If David Ahenakew was a Muslim rather than a Native; would he even face a first trial, let alone a second?

Think I am mistaken – then ask yourself why no charges have been laid against the Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque in Toronto for the published ‘hate speech’ found on their very own public website. Certainly the messages in the public domain were on par with anything Ahenakew said to the Star Phoenix reporter in a one-on-one conversation. The mosque administration has removed the offensive material and apologized. David Ahenakew has apologized too but for some inexplicable reason he is still being held under the bus.

Hate speech laws have no valid place within any society which aspires to be a free and open society but even more repugnant - is criminalizing hate speech and then only using the selected enforcement of those laws. I am favour of giving everyone – including all bigots, the right to speak their mind in the public market place of ideas. It makes it far easier to know which opinions one should discount and avoid at all costs.

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