Free Speech

freedom of speech

noun

noun: freedom of speech; plural noun: freedom of speeches; noun: free speech; plural noun: free speeches

  1. The right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint.

The whole of modern society is thundering with pandemonium. A chorus of news anchors, comedians, talk show hosts, presidents, professors, and students are all wondering the same things. How far do my rights extend? Do they exist online? What is hate speech? These are all important questions, and although they are raised in vastly different ways, the core concerns still remain the same: What is free speech? This issue has been the subject of captivating debate on college campuses like Dalhousie University in Halifax, to colleges all across the United States. As an institution, schools have found themselves caught in a rift in society, a civil war between opposing ideologies. Harvested by the digital age, fringe groups like Antifa on the left, and Neo-Nazi’s on the right have been able to build communities festering with contempt for each other.  These communities have become more prominent in the media in the past several years, and have each used their ideologies to spew hate. Though their messages don’t resonate with people who are apt to be more centered on the political spectrum, they have used broad statements and non-specific beliefs to reach out to these more neutral spectators. This is truly an ideological war, and the crossfire is dangerous. With everything that’s been going on, it’s hard not to get caught up in this messy socio-political web. Have we?

Being in high school, we often idolize university and college for its unrestricted learning. A place where we truly discover ourselves, who our friends are and what we stand for. But what happens when your campus becomes a war zone? This became a reality when a Republican college group at Berkeley University invited the infamously controversial speaker and former Breitbart editor to speak on campus. Yiannopoulos has been the subject of thousands of interviews and articles, for his provocative comments and inflammatory speech. Milo is somewhat of an unusual personality, controversial even among some alt-right circles, as he is an openly gay man. His speech was scheduled for February 1, 2017, and one of the platforms, ironically, included free speech. Nevertheless, his political speech was deemed “hate speech” by some left-leaning students and professors, and from there chaos erupted. The students opposing Yiannopoulos’ visit had previously signed petitions to block the speaker, proceeded to protest his visit. The left-wing protest began peacefully, with dove symbols used to signify the peaceful nature of the demonstration, but slowly descended into chaos. As fires were set, fights broke out, and the frightful appearance of a group called ANTIFA started to march on the streets of San Francisco, the speech was deemed unsafe. Several more protests and subsequent counter protests spawned from the Milo protest, including demonstrations with anti-Trump narratives and free speech sentiments. Suddenly Universities were exploding with the fear of these protests, countered by the fear of the fringe groups. Milo responded to these outbursts by saying, “Free speech belongs to everyone, not just the spoilt brats of the academy.”

He continued by saying his next speaking opportunity would include topics like Islam, feminism, Liberalism and the enemies of free speech. With the rise of the alt-right, ANTIFA and the hard left, there was tangible fear in the air.

Though not as drastic, Canada has felt the aftershocks of the free speech tremors, demonstrated in cases like Masuma Khan’s. Khan is an International studies student from Dalhousie University in Halifax, as well as a paid member of the student council executive at Dal (vice president). Just ahead of Canada 150 in July, Masuma Khan had put forward a motion that proposed to not participate in the Canada 150 celebrations. Her efforts were in the hope of showing solidarity with Native Canadians, and were well received. The Student Union ultimately opted out of the celebrations, choosing not to participate or host. This decision was met in significant backlash from right leaning groups like the Nova Scotia Young Progressive Conservatives, who argued that we need to “instill pride” in our nation as it is today. In accordance with her feelings of solidarity, Masuma took to twitter with these hashtags:

#Whitefragilitycankissmy@$$ and #Yourwhitetearsaren’tsacredthislandis

Though her intended audience was her support and activist groups, news quickly spread to all students around campus, and Khan soon received a formal complaint from a student on campus. He was offended (as someone who is white) she was coming to the conclusion about people like him, who are subject to an irreversible factor of biology. The student believed that it was not a productive way to have a conversation, and after some back and forth, he took it to administration. A staff member who agreed with the student then took it upon themselves to attempt to impeach her from student council. While nothing came of their efforts, it raises interesting questions, not only from the actual subject itself, but around what we can and cannot say. Similar questions have been popping up all around Canada, even right here at Laurier in November.

So that leads me to this: do we have free speech in Canada? Technically speaking, no. In Canada, we do not have the right to speak freely without any censorship or restraint, or in other words, our speech is “not absolute.” So, as Canadian citizens and students of Waterloo Collegiate Institute, do we possess freedom of expression? Well, the long and short of it is – it’s extremely complicated. As participants of a society, and of the even smaller community of highschool, it is necessary to sacrifice some of our freedoms in the pursuit of a thriving, healthy and peaceful population – or at least that’s what Canada’s stance is. One freedom we do have, is to question these restrictions. What do you think?