Curtailment of Prejudicial Speech

Ed Morgan, professor of law in the University of Toronto’s faculty of law, used to take a stand for curtailment of prejudicial speech. (“Live and Learn, Confessions of a Jewish Professor,” Canadian Jewish News, Oct. 23 2008, page 9.) His legal career began with the prosecution of Alberta teacher, James Keegstra. “I took seriously the admonition we often hear that the Holocaust began not with deeds but with words.”

He’s abandoned that position. He now argues that the attempt to regulate hateful speech is misguided. “Once we go down the road of censorship for the sake of promoting tolerance we may soon be standing on the heights of intolerance.”

He has a new slogan: “fight bad speech with good speech.” He’s working with Jewish students in the organization Hasbara at York University to “fight bad speech not with censorship, but with more and better good speech.”

What caused his change of mind? The human rights tribunals’ prosecution of Mark Steyn and Macleans’ magazine, for one thing.

Am I convinced? I can’t decide.

Last February I supported the stand taken by the President and the Provost of McMaster University in cautiously and quietly suggesting that some of the publicity for Israel Apartheid Week was inappropriate. The Provost requested removal of a large banner depicting extreme violence. The IAW booth was not shut down; distribution of pamphlets was not curtailed, and IAW events went ahead.

After listening to the Jewish students on the topic of the banner and after doing some research into IAW (an annual event on campuses around the world), I took my stand with the Provost. I was sure that sagacious “curtailment of prejudicial speech” was the way to go. And then, like Ed Morgan, I watched the Steyn/Maclean’s saga unfold.

So: these are the options: Curtailing Prejudicial Speech versus Fighting Bad Speech with Good Speech. The first option is considered Canadian – we are the country with laws against hateful speech. The second option is American. My best guess is that in the short run neither works. But maybe in the long run, if we’re in the hateful-speech-shouting-and-shoving-match for real, the American route is the one to take.


5 Responses to “Curtailment of Prejudicial Speech”

  1. 1 Grant Havers October 31, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    I am delighted to hear that Professor Morgan has rediscovered the utility of liberal credos like freedom of speech. Perhaps there is hope for academia, after all. Still, I remain unconvinced that there is a middle road between draconian hate speech laws (Canada) and near unlimited freedom of speech (America). While I still support laws against slander and libel (as did Mill), the current record of hate speech law-enforcement persuades me that the state should not be allowed to enforce even a watered down version of selective tolerance.

    I have written on this issue elsewhere:

  2. 2 Easy Writer November 18, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    Is that all there is? I was disappointed in “Curtailment of Prejudcial Speech” in that you stopped too soon. I was hoping for a reasoned debate on the two alternatives to support your conclusion. It was a great beginning. How about a great ending?

  3. 3 Blazingcatfur November 19, 2008 at 11:05 am

    But maybe in the long run, if we’re in the hateful-speech-shouting-and-shoving-match for real, the American route is the one to take.

    Amen to that.

  1. 1 Canada: Canada gets its very first conversation police « Of Cabbages and Kings Trackback on November 20, 2008 at 9:44 pm
  2. 2 Curtailment of Prejudicial Speech | BlazingCatFur Trackback on September 24, 2014 at 11:07 pm

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