By Kevin Metcalf
This week CJFE launched a bold new campaign to lead by example and challenge the rise of hateful speech which is threatening democracy in Canada.
The campaign features advertisements on social media and throughout Toronto's transit system (TTC). The ads show section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms—which enshrines the rights to freedom of expression, press, religion and association—in Arabic accompanied by the English-language message, “These Rights Belong to All of Us.”
As a member of our community, we want to thank you for supporting our work. In a very real sense, these advertisements belong to you as well. If you believe in what we're doing—we need you to put your money where your ideals are and support this initiative.
Over the last year, we've seen the rise of groups espousing openly hateful ideologies in Canada. These groups are well resourced and are rapidly developing their capacity to reach existing supporters and recruit new ones.
There is a link between the rise of hateful rhetoric in our national discourse and incidences of hate crimes. What does this mean for CJFE? We're an organization that champions the right to free expression—even controversial forms of expression.
They have the right to say it, but we have the responsibility to challenge it.
We don't and never will support calls to limit or censor speech, except those forms of speech that explicitly meet the strict legal definition of 'hate speech' as set out in Section 319 of the Canadian Criminal Code.
At the same time, we believe that the open and unchallenged expression of hateful views undermines the fundamental dignity of humans and threatens our democratic society. Free expression should never be a shield or an excuse for this kind of anti-democratic behavior.
A federal government motion (M-103) aimed at mitigating Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry in Canada was recently passed through the House of Commons. While non-binding and purely a statement of intent, this motion was panned as a threat to free expression. We have clearly stated that this is not the case.
Rallies sprung up across the country calling on the government to do everything from rejecting M-103 to banning Islam entirely. The groups holding these rallies have claimed they are defending free speech, while at the same time engaging in routine mob violence, and assaulting and harassing their critics, including one of our staff members.
While the claim that these groups stand for free speech has been delegitimized by their actions, it is the responsibility of those who do not support their views to use our own voices to speak out against the rise of hate and in defence of a democratic society.
It is clear that democracy is under threat. We cannot stay silent. Free expression is the only effective antidote to hate.
A Muslim woman walks past anti M-103 demonstrators at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on March 4, 2017. Photo: Kevin Metcalf
We strongly believe that in order to protect democracy, these views must challenged in civil society through initiatives such as the campaign we launched this week.
It is our role as a free expression organization to defend the right to say controversial or unpopular things, but it is also our responsibility to challenge them when they threaten our rights and democracy.
So, what else is CJFE doing to challenge hate?
- Planning small-scale creative activities to challenge hateful ideas at their source.
- Consulting with experts in the field and working to support and promote diverse opinions on the subject.
- Partnering with community groups such as the National Council of Canadian Muslims and supporting initiatives to promote the use of counter-speech.
- Working to direct media attention to the issue of the rise of hate.
- Connecting advocates and journalists to improve the quality of the discourse.
Our response is not to call for controversial or antisocial speech to be banned, but rather to show leadership and use our own voice to challenge it directly. CJFE is promoting counter-speech as a form of free expression that is an effective antidote to hate.
In order to do this, we need your help to build and grow this campaign. If there's no demand from the public for this sort of action, we simply can't do it. We know the demand exists for hateful ideas. Millions of dollars are pouring into the coffers of hate groups even while you're reading this.
The future of democracy in Canada is under threat. Without financial support from concerned members of the public like you, we'll be unable to effectively push back against these ideas. So please, take a moment today to donate to save democracy.