Canada's new bill threatens free speech

I'm not a free speech purist, but pretty close. To me, attempts at censorship in democracies are a hallmark of right wing movements — historically, they're the ones who want to ban books, police speech, and try to stop free inquiry. The ones who hate protest and science and new ideas. That may be one of the bedrock reasons I always considered myself a liberal. 

But more and more it seems that free speech is being curtailed by my pals on the left side of the aisle. Much to my chagrin.  

This essay in The Atlantic looks at the way Canada, liberal tolerant Canada, is on the cusp of implementing some pretty radical limits on free speech. Canada? Yes, Canada. 

The Online Harms Act states that any person who advocates for or promotes genocide is "liable to imprisonment for life." It defines lesser "hate crimes" as including online speech that is "likely to foment detestation or vilification" on the basis of race, religion, gender, or other protected categories. And if someone "fears" they may become a victim of a hate crime, they can go before a judge, who may summon the preemptively accused for a sort of precrime trial. If the judge finds "reasonable grounds" for the fear, the defendant must enter into "a recognizance."

This is starting to sound like the Thought Police, no? Maybe it's not so bad — what exactly is a "recognizance?" 

A recognizance is no mere promise to refrain from committing hate crimes. The judge may put the defendant under house arrest or electronic surveillance and order them to abstain from alcohol and drugs. Refusal to "enter the recognizance" for one year results in 12 months in prison.

I have no doubt their Canuck hearts are in the right place — who's pro-hate speech? — but this seems like massive overkill, like taking a nuclear warhead to a knife fight. 

Just countries do not punish mere speech with imprisonment, let alone life imprisonment. Just countries do not order people who have not committed and are not even accused of a crime to be confined to their home or tracked with an ankle bracelet. 

We may face huge challenges here in the US, but thank you James Madison for giving us the First Amendment, one of the key bulwarks we have against illiberal drift… either on the right or the left. 

For those masochists who want to read the actual text of the bill and judge for themselves, it's right here.

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