Thursday, June 12, 2008

Freedom of speech: America is alone 

The New York Times has a must-read front page article this morning, centered on the various Canadian hate speech laws and prosecutions thereof, that describes in detail the differences between the American guarantee of free expression and much weaker protections in other liberal democracies. America really is alone, even compared to countries as geographically and culturally proximate as Canada. Even purported defenders of civil rights believe that this derives from American exceptionalism.

Jason Gratl, a lawyer for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Journalists, which have intervened in the case in support of the magazine, was measured in his criticism of the law.

“Canadians do not have a cast-iron stomach for offensive speech,” Mr. Gratl said in a telephone interview. “We don’t subscribe to a marketplace of ideas. Americans as a whole are more tough-minded and more prepared for verbal combat.” (bold emphasis added)

Of course, this should come as no surprise to any student of Canadian history. The most magical words in America's foundational document are that it is "self evident" that our inalienable rights are "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." What's the Canadian counterpart? The British North America Act's "peace, order, and good government." There's a big goddamned difference, and it goes to the heart of the Canadian national culture. The heroes of the American frontier are the cowboy, the gunslinger, and the town sheriff, but the iconic symbol of the Canadian frontier is the federal government's Mountie. That's what you get if peace, order, and good government are your top priorities. Eventually, peace and order become so ingrained as an objective in and of themselves that it takes a lot less than sticks and stones to break your bones.

There are at least two lessons for Americans in this. First, our First Amendment, expansively construed, is a great treasure and essential to our national character. It is also unique in the world. Relentlessly oppose judges who would cite foreign law as precedent and vote against the politicians who would appoint them.

Second, be very wary of Americans who seem to prefer Mounties to cowboys, gunslingers, and sheriffs, actually or metaphorically. They are spiritually Canadian, and if they take over we will be just like everybody else in the world, more concerned with peace and order than life and liberty.



By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jun 12, 10:06:00 AM:

Having spent many of my youthful summers tromping around northern Ontario, I'd say Canadians more clearly recognize their cultural differences with Americans than the reverse. Americans of my acquaintance seem to think of Canadians as some sort of northern type of Americans, kind of like Minnesotans. This article is a clear example of the difference, but the terrible and sad threat in it is the authors scrupulous failure to condemn the Canadian laws and Orwellian legal proceedings against Steyn. He obviously agrees with the proverbial "legal scholars" who want to constrain our right to free speech.

I suppose history teaches us all good things come to an end, but having the NYT practically calling for an end to the American idea, government and way of life is sobering.  

By Blogger Andrew Hofer, at Thu Jun 12, 10:07:00 AM:


It is mind-boggling that so many feel any government can be trusted with the ability to decide what ideas can be expressed or thought. Talk about "don't know much about history"!

Since liberals are so all-fired up about judges and abortion, I recommend conservatives and libertarians expose the first amendment records of the supreme court judges and attempt to enforce a litmus-test of their own.  

By Blogger Georg Felis, at Thu Jun 12, 10:26:00 AM:

I’ve been following the Freedom 5 coverage, much better than waiting on the Times to maybe, someday, possibly report something vague about what may or may not be happening.

I listen to bloggers primarily because they are targets of this (censored) law, and I may want to visit Canada someday without being thrown in jail for my hate-filled rhetoric on blogs.

From what I understand, the Canadian Human Rights Council has a conviction rate very comparable to the Stalinist Courts (100 percent).

Don't worry TH. If you visit Canada, we'll all chip in to post bail :)  

By Blogger MarkCh, at Thu Jun 12, 10:29:00 AM:

If America's "original sin" is slavery, ours is that Ontario, the dominant province in English Canada, was founded by those Americans too lame to want to kick out George III. The monarchy eventually smartened up, but the Tory spirit is still strong in Canada. Always remember, though, that there are many Canadians who believe in liberty and are willing to fight for it, and so the USA should remain true to their principles as an example to all.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jun 12, 11:32:00 AM:

Are there federal judges who have cited foreign law or precedent in a First Amendment case? Or are you talking about death penalty or other cases and expressing concern about a slippery slope? MCU  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Jun 12, 11:40:00 AM:

Slippery slope. If foreign law is useful precedent for an 8th amendment case, why wouldn't it be for a 1st amendment case? Bad idea. There was a day when we needed to draw on wider common law precedents because we did not have a deep enough history of decisional law to inform our own opinions. Those days are long over. It is past time we recognized that America is exceptional even from other common law jurisdictions. In this regard, I recommend the best book about American politics I have ever read, written (curiously enough) by a couple of Brits: "The Right Nation."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jun 12, 11:43:00 AM:

It's odd that the NYT, which prides itself on publishing government secrets, refusing to name sources and offering poorly researched smears on Republicans and white college athletes would be sympathetic to any restriction on free speech.  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Thu Jun 12, 08:57:00 PM:

Scalia provided the best metaphor about those who wish to cite foreign law in US rulings.

It's like, he said, going to a football stadium filled with 100,000 fans, looking over the crowd and singling out your friends.  

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