Canadian/Iranian antipathy toward free speech only a matter of degree

The current generation of Canadians lacks a principled appreciation of how important freedom of expression is

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CALGARY, Alta. Feb. 19, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Two members of the Iranian metal band Confess have been arrested for blasphemy, and Iran’s law permits the government to detain, torture and execute so-called blasphemers.

The young men – ages 21 and 23 – are charged with “blasphemy; advertising against the system; forming and running an illegal and underground label in the satanic metal and rock style; writing anti-religious, atheistic, political and anarchistic lyrics; and interviewing with forbidden radio stations.”

Half a world away, we could look at this travesty and say it would never happen here.

But don’t get too haughty. In Canada, a metal band has been forced to defend itself in legal proceedings for saying unsavoury things. And our laws don’t exactly guarantee freedom of speech.

For many metalheads – such as myself – heavy metal music is an opening into a grand, intricate world of discordance and mesmerizing soundscapes. And it’s puzzling when our peers don’t recognize what we love as valid artistic expression. As a result, metalheads often feel alienated from and misunderstood by the rest of society. But to these two Iranian men, it has become far more than a mere feeling.

[popup url=”https://soundcloud.com/confess1″ height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]Listen[/popup] to Confess online and you’ll hear why protecting the fundamental human right of freedom of expression is so important. Societal reform comes from dissemination of diverse opinions. If a government can jail, punish and kill people for sharing unpopular views, then expressing those views becomes extraordinarily costly. Societies are made worse when a government can judge the value of what is expressed. Only the most horrible places in the world arrest their citizens and kill them for speech “against the system.”

You may not like Confess’s music, that they’ve chosen to express themselves through a loud and vociferous medium. But that’s a matter of taste, not of principle. Consider this fundamental tenet of a free society: it is too dangerous to grant a monopoly over expression – artistic, political or otherwise – to any government. No political authority should be able to decide what qualifies as artistic expression or determine the value of that expression. That’s society’s role and we should never give it up.

It’s easy to observe the travails of a faraway metal band from the comfort of Canada. If I am being honest, their circumstances only bother me in a sort of intellectual way. But tyranny is only ever a generation away, and I worry that the current generation of Canadians lacks a principled appreciation of how important freedom of expression is.

In 2003, the Alberta Human Rights Commission decided that American death metal band Deicide did not violate the province’s hate speech provision in the Human Rights Act. Although the commission came to the correct conclusion, it did so for the wrong reasons. Instead of offering a fulsome defence of freedom of expression and the need for limitations on the government’s authority to control artistic expression, the commission found that Deicide did not have a wide enough listening audience or popular appeal, even though the band had sold nearly 500,000 albums in the United States alone by that time.

Further, Canada still has a blasphemy prohibition in the Criminal Code. Although it has not been used for many years and is likely unconstitutional under section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, this provision still permits the government to imprison Canadians for two years merely for saying unsavoury things on religious topics.

I met with my former member of Parliament regarding this law in 2013. He expressed regret that repealing this law would not be politically expedient since it might upset some of his constituents.

So at least some of those entrusted to resolve disputes in Canada don’t understand the importance of freedom of expression. Those same people elected as representatives don’t find it inherently abhorrent for the government to control expression. And, most troubling, the public probably doesn’t get it either.

Now, Canada is not even remotely as bad as Iran. Saying otherwise would be pure hyperbole. But in Canada, we have our own blasphemy law intended to punish people for being insufficiently respectful of religion. And we have an impoverished understanding of the important role that freedom of expression plays in the growth and maintenance of a free society.

Our differences with Iran would seem to be a matter of degrees, not of principle.

Derek James From is a lawyer with the [popup url=”http://www.theccf.ca/” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]Canadian Constitution Foundation[/popup]. 

Derek is a Troy Media [popup url=”http://marketplace.troymedia.com/our-contributors/” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]contributor[/popup]. [popup url=”https://www.troymedia.com/become-a-troy-media-contributor/” height=”600″ width=”600″ scrollbars=”0″] Why aren’t you?[/popup]


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