Putting a muzzle on the right to disagree

Censorship's pure arrogance says: ‘I'm so correct that I can decide on behalf of everyone which ideas may be expressed in public’

CALGARY, Alta. Oct. 26, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Did the Supreme Court of Canada get it wrong in striking down Vancouver’s ban on placing political ads on buses?

Vancouver’s policy stated, in part: “No advertisement will be accepted which is likely, in the light of prevailing community standards, to cause offence to any person or group of persons or create controversy.”

In 2009, the Supreme Court unanimously declared this policy to be an unreasonable and unjustifiable violation of free expression. It ruled that political speech on buses does not interfere with public transportation, and “allows for expression by a broad range of speakers to a large public audience.”

Fast-forward to 2013, when Edmonton Transit approved and ran a bus ad stating: “Muslim Girls Honor Killed By Their Families” followed by: “Is your family threatening you? Is there a fatwa on your head? We can help: go to FightforFreedom.us.”

Edmonton Transit pulled the ad after city Coun. Amerjeet Sohi called to complain. The head of Edmonton Transit immediately ordered the ad taken down, apparently without seeing it, considering its contents or contemplating freedom of expression as defined by the Supreme Court. Edmonton Transit refused to answer questions from the American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI), the non-profit group that paid for the ads. Only after AFDI started a court action did Edmonton claim that the ad was anti-Muslim.

Edmonton Transit has no consistent standard when it comes to bus ads. It previously dismissed complaints about a pro-Islamic ad, posted on buses, stating: “ISLAM The message of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad,” an assertion sure to be offensive to Jews and Christians. The Supreme Court requires governments to be neutral. But there is nothing neutral about permitting a pro-Islamic ad while removing an ad that Edmonton Transit (months later) called anti-Islamic.

On Oct. 4, 2016, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench rejected AFDI’s free expression claim, upholding Edmonton’s arbitrary double standard.

Rather than considering the ad alone, the court looked at Internet postings about AFDI that were captured two years after the ad ran. The court, however, did not apply this same technique to the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), which paid for the pro-Islam ad. A quick Internet search reveals numerous allegations about ICNA connections to al-Qaeda, Hamas, anti-Semites, extremists, terrorists and war criminals. No doubt ICNA would deny these allegations.

It’s bad enough that politicians, bureaucrats and judges would have the power to censor speech they disagree with.

But censorship becomes even worse when inquisitors purport to know the true meaning and intent of a bus ad, based not on the ad itself, but on Google searches conducted by city employees two years after the removal of the ad.

Censorship is pure arrogance, expressing the attitude: “I’m so correct in my thinking that I can decide on behalf of everyone which ideas may be expressed in public.”

Whether a politician, bureaucrat or judge, the censor effectively looks down on other people as incapable of arriving at the ‘correct’ opinions, namely the opinions of the censor. These days, censors try to hide their arrogance behind a moral crusade to stamp out “offensive,” “hateful” and “discriminatory” speech.

It’s a nice theory, except for the fact that reasonable people disagree frequently and strongly about whether something is offensive or not. The censor pretends that we all agree about what should be banned as discriminatory, when in fact we don’t.

Ultimately, censorship deprives all members of the public the benefit of being able to hear and consider all opinions, and make up their own minds about what is true or false.

One could argue that, as a forum for the free expression of ideas, the outside of a public transit bus should be less free than a public sidewalk.

The Supreme Court may one day clarify its 2009 decision to strike down Vancouver’s ban on political ads.

But in the interim, it’s disappointing to see a politician, a bureaucrat and then a judge acting in unison to censor an ad they disagree with.

Calgary lawyer John Carpay is president of the [popup url=”http://www.jccf.ca” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms[/popup], which acted for the American Freedom Defence Initiative in the above-mentioned court action.

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