Canada is in the midst of a review or, in some cases, a handwringing over what sort of speech can be allowed. While there is the pretense of free speech, someone who was raised in the US (as I was) would find it jarring that it’s not as free as the same right south of the border. There are many differences between Canada and the US but this one has been a frequent point of discussion in our house, particularly as we talk to our children about the two countries.
In theory, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects fundamental rights of thought and expression. In reality, the country has struggled with what that means while legislatures and tribunals balance an overweaning need to protect people from themselves in a variety of aspects of their lives. Today’s opinion piece on the Globe and Mailsite is emblematic, to me, of the part of the country who thinks the government knows better what speech should or should not be free. What was striking to me was that the U.S. standard of free speech was cited as too broad and negative, while so-called liberal governments in Europe who had restrictions were exemplars. When the Supreme Court issues its ruling in the Whatcott case, currently before them on appeal, there may be a clearer indication of which direction Canada will be heading.
The whole thing reminds me of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom, a great send-up of ballroom dance competitions in Australia (that I highly recommend to new Irish dance parents to prepare themselves for feis, oireachtas, and other things related to dance competitions). The story revolves around people living their lives in fear of doing things that other people might not like, might not appreciate, might not understand.