According to author and librarian Pearce J. Carefoote,
“It may be said that censorship was born in Canada in
1694 when the Comte de Frontenac, Governor of Québec,
decided to ban Molière’s Tartuffe [a comedic play about
a religious hypocrite] on the advice of the local bishop.”
Since then, countless books, magazines, newspapers,
films and various art forms have been censored or
banned in the interest of protecting reli-
gious or moral sensitivities of Canadians.
ray pennings of Cardus says now is not the time for self- censorship.
When words sound like hate
In recent years the offence-taking shoe appears to be on a different foot – one that
seems determined to stomp out various
forms of “hateful” expression. In the spirit
of Charles Dickens you could say that for
freedom of expression it is “the best of times
and the worst of times,” because one person’s truth is frequently interpreted as another person’s highly offensive hate speech.
For example, eight pro-life students at
the University of Calgary were declared
guilty of non-academic misconduct for refusing to turn graphic posters of aborted
fetuses away from passersby in 2010. That same year
five students were arrested at Carleton University after
attempting to put on a similar display. Public figures
from U.S. right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter to former
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from TV
broadcaster Michael Coren to print journalist Christie
Blatchford, have all felt the vehement displeasure on Canadian university campuses of those who disagree with
Then there are Alberta pastor Stephen Boisson, British
Columbia teacher Chris Kempling, and Saskatchewan’s
Hugh Owens and William Whatcott, all of whom came
into conflict with various government bodies as a result
of expressing their personal religious beliefs through
speech, print or deed.
mouth speaks. That’s partly why The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) has sought to intervene in a number of freedom of expression cases in the past.
“One of the basic foundations of evangelical Christian faith is the command and desire to share our faith
with others,” says Faye Sonier, legal counsel at the EFC’s
It has, after all, been called the “right of
all rights.” As University of Toronto Professor of Political Science Simone Chambers told CBC radio’s Ideas program recently, “Without freedom of expression or
the freedom to speak up, to make claims,
to argue, to defend our rights, all our other
systems of rights are undermined. So this
is what makes it important.
“But what makes it interesting is that it’s also a right
to speak against rights. So it is both the guarantor of our
system of rights as well as the possible means of undermining our rights.” Which is precisely why it’s important
for people to defend their right to freedom of expression,
and to defend it vigorously.
a valuable freedom
Of course, putting words and actions to religious faith
is especially important to those who follow Christ. Our
Scriptures teach it is out of the overflow of the heart the
the Canadian Christian experience
No country in the world has totally unfettered freedom
of speech or expression of course. There are always limits. And in Canada we’ve got it pretty good. Courts have
established legal limits designed to protect citizens. There
are laws against defamation, uttering death threats, theft
of intellectual property, fraud and copyright violations.
But Preston Manning, president and CEO of The
Manning Centre for Building Democracy, says Christians need to continue to weigh in on how the limits on
freedom of expression are defined.
“Groups advocating non-Christian or even anti-Chris-
In 2001 and 2002 William Whatcott distributed four fly- ers under the name of christian truth Activists to neigh- bourhoods in Saskatoon and regina. the flyers, vehement in tone and language against homosexuality, deeply
offended at least four individuals who received them, and
they subsequently filed complaints with the Saskatch-
The EFC and a Controversial Case
ewan Human rights commission. A tribunal appointed
by the commission concluded the flyers contravened the
Saskatchewan Human rights code and promoted hatred.
An appeal is underway.
the eFc was granted intervener status in the Whatcott
case, and will – along with a large number of other interveners – be presenting arguments to the Supreme court
of canada on October 12.