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Jack Chick Tract Club link

Welcome to the Canadian Censorship Wing

More from the Country that banned Chick Comic Books!

Censorship in Canada

The Washington Post

© December 12, 1999

In Canada, Free Speech Has Its Restrictions

Government Limits Discourse That Some May Find Offensive

By Steven Pearlstein

Washington Post Foreign Service


TORONTO--New Yorker Harold Mollin thought it was a pretty clever way to

market his new "weather insurance" to Canadians planning weddings or

vacations: a 30-second TV spot featuring a huckster dressed in an Indian

headdress leading a bunch of senior citizens in a rain dance.


But to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), the ad was an affront to

Native Americans and the elderly. The government-owned broadcaster

refused to run it.


"This is political correctness run amok," said an incredulous Mollin,

noting that the seniors in the spot included his 89-year-old father, his

aunt and his best friend's parents.


Or take the case of Stephani the cow. This fall, after a visitor to the

government's experimental farm complained that she didn't like sharing

the same name with the animal, the farm's director declared that,

henceforth, government cows would get only names like Rhubarb and



Whether you call it over-sensitive political correctness or an abiding

sense of fairness and decency, Canada has embraced it like a . . . well,

never mind. Through its human rights laws and hate speech codes,

broadcast standards and myriad "voluntary" industry guidelines, Canada

makes no bones about its determination to impose liberal-minded limits

on public discourse.


Although the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms put free speech and a

free press into the bedrock of Canadian law, neither the public nor

Canada's courts views these rights as absolutely as Americans have come

to view the First Amendment. The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled in a

series of cases that the government may limit free speech in the name of

other worthwhile goals, such as ending discrimination, ensuring social

harmony or promoting equality of the sexes.


"In Canada," said Ron Cohen, chairman of the Canadian Broadcast

Standards Council, "we respect free speech but we don't worship it. It

is one thing we value, but not the only thing."


Cohen said that Canada seems to have survived reasonably well without

Don Imus or Rush Limbaugh on any of its radio stations. (Howard Stern is

heard only in Montreal --and then only censored on tape delay.) Last

month, the Global Television network pulled the "Jerry Springer" show

from its lineup after the standards council found that it had violated

the restrictions on sex and violence.


Canada's most powerful tool against politically incorrect speech is its

hate speech code, which prohibits any statement that is "likely to

expose a person or group of persons to hatred or contempt" because of

"race, color, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status,

family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or

age." Prosecutors are not required to show proof of malicious intent or

actual harm to win convictions in hate speech cases, and courts in some

jurisdictions have ruled that it does not matter whether the statements

are truthful.


One person who has run afoul of the code is Hugh Owens, a Christian

fundamentalist who took out a small display ad in the Saskatoon

newspaper featuring a stick figure drawing of two men holding hands

inside a circle with a slash through it--a statement of his disapproval

of homosexuality.


What made it worse, said the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, was

that the graphic was accompanied by citations from the Biblical books of

Leviticus, Romans and First Corinthians that, in some translations, call

for sodomy to be punished by death by stoning. If a hearing officer

agrees that this display violates the code, Owens could become the first

modern-day Canadian punished by the government for citing the Bible.


"Our position is that you can't rely simply on the free exchange of

ideas to cleanse the environment of hate and intolerance," said John

Hucker, secretary general of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.


For the Canadian press, however, a more serious challenge to free speech

is posed by a case brought by the Human Rights Commission of British

Columbia against Douglas Collins, a former columnist for the North Shore

News in Vancouver.


In 1994, Collins wrote four columns that questioned whether as many as 6

million Jews were killed in the Holocaust and criticized Hollywood for

contributing to the "Holocaust propaganda" with movies such as

"Swindler's List," as he called Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List."

Acting on a complaint by the Canadian Jewish Congress, a commission

tribunal ruled that the columns had expressed his "hatred and contempt .

. . subtly and indirectly" by "reinforcing negative stereotypes" about



The tribunal imposed $2,000 fines each on Collins and the newspaper and

ordered the paper to publish a summary of its decision--the first time

that any Canadian government agency or court had dictated editorial

content to a newspaper and ordered that it be published. The case has

been appealed to the British Columbia Supreme Court.


The electronic media operate under even tighter content restrictions.

Last month, in the midst of violent protests in New Brunswick over

Indian fishing rights, CBC reporters on orders from network officials,

began referring to participants as "native fishers" and "non-native



"Why can't we call them what they call themselves?" complained CBC

producer Dan Leger in an internal e-mail leaked to the National Post.

"Mik'maqs call each other Indians. Fishermen call themselves, well,

fishermen." Leger called the new designations "urban, technocratic,

precious, racist and, above all, imprecise."


Failing to follow such guidelines, however, can have consequences. In

Winnipeg last year, radio talk show host John Collison lost his job

after the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) complained to

station owners about his repeated and sometimes salty diatribes against

Glen Murray, who eventually became the first openly gay mayor in Canada.

Collison also used his show to stir up opposition to a program proposed

by some school board members to eliminate homophobia in the city's



Collison concedes he was playing the role of "shock jock." In response

to threats from the CRTC, Collison said, the station not only fired him,

but also gave up its all-talk format in favor of easy-listening music.


"This is the way things run in Canada," Collison said. "There is no way

of escaping the mandarins of political correctness."


Andrea Wylie, a member of the CRTC, disagrees. "We are not the thought

police," she said. "We use our power lightly."


Wylie cited figures showing that the commission and its broadcast

standards council took action in only about a dozen of the 14,000 viewer

complaints lodged last year. While acknowledging that the very existence

of the codes might have a chilling effect on public discourse, she

called it "a reasonable chill," reflecting what Canadians are willing to



"We don't have the hang-up you Americans have with free speech," Wylie



Advertisers in Canada also must adhere to a strict set of guidelines

adopted voluntarily by the industry, but no less effective than the

government regulations. Under their dicta, a national restaurant chain

was recently forced to pull a television spot showing a helpless dad

trying to prepare dinner for the kids (he eventually gives up and takes

them out for burgers and fries). A hearing officer ruled that the

commercial "reinforced negative stereotypes" about men that "cannot be

excused by an attempt to engage in humor."


There are a few Canadians who worry about these limits, but, as Alan

Borovoy, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has

discovered, it's a very few. Despite 30 years of crisscrossing the

country warning of the dangers of speech codes and laws, Borovoy's

organization has a mere 6,000 members and a budget of less than

$300,000. Typically, he can take on fewer than 10 cases a year.


Sitting in his cramped office in a rundown office building in downtown

Toronto, Borovoy is philosophical in describing American and Canadian

attitudes toward civil liberties. While Americans are suspicious of

government and rally to the cry of "life, liberty and the pursuit of

happiness," Canadians, he said, tend to respect authority and set their

sights on the more modest goals of "peace, order and good government."


"In this country, we give the government too much power and trust them

not to abuse it," said Borovoy, noting that, for the most part, voters

have not been disappointed. "I tell people that Canada is a pleasantly

authoritarian country."

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