Politics & Media
May 20, 2024, 06:24AM

Freedom Of Expression Is Under Assault In Scotland and Canada

To progressives, free speech is about as desirable as gun possession.

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As progressives continue to narrow the Overton window as to what sort of speech is legally acceptable, those who value their freedom of expression, regardless of who it "offends," have good reason to fear for their freedoms. While Americans enjoy the free speech protections of the First Amendment, the citizens other Western nations, lacking constitutional safeguards, are subject to the whims of their legislators.

Thus, the Scottish people get the Hate Crime and Public Order bill—passed in 2021, but enforced only since April—that puts its residents at risk of a prison term if they say something deemed to be stirring up hatred at their own kitchen table. A third party now has the legal right to just hear about those words, take offense at what was said to someone else, and then report it to the police as an alleged crime.

As it's become a cliché to say "Orwellian" in these instances, let's call it "Soviet" this time, referring to the Soviet practice of encouraging its people to mistrust and squeal on each other. The Scottish government has urged its citizens to report any verboten language in the name of "promoting tolerance." When rights are stripped away for the "greater good," a higher goal must be offered as the incentive. And if Scottish citizens buy into this, they can spill the beans on their neighbors at Stasi-esque "official reporting centers," one of which is a Glasgow LGBT+ sex shop.

As if the Scottish police don't have their hands full managing actual crime, they'll now be empowered to take names down even if a statement isn’t adjudicated to be serious enough to be a "hate crime," and add them to a list that will be available to potential employers. The protected categories are age, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transsexual identity, and variations in sex characteristics. There's nothing in the law protecting women from being abused because of their sex, unless a particular woman was born a male.

Author J.K. Rowling, in part responding to the Scottish government minister Siobhan Brown telling the BBC that it would be a "police matter" to assess if misgendering someone on the Internet was a crime, described several transgender women—including prominent activists, public figures and some convicted sex offenders who self-identified as women—as "men." The Harry Potter author has yet to be arrested for such "misgendering," but it's still up in the air in Scotland whether or not people will be criminalized for stating simple biological facts. The police will decide that, which isn't a comforting thought. Try to imagine them, with minimal training, attempting to discern what a "reasonable person" would consider "abusive" or "threatening." Are fundamentalist Muslims in Scotland "reasonable" people who are reliably able to distinguish between criticism of their religion and "abuse"? And if they're determined not to be reasonable, what does that say about the government's treatment of its minorities?

While the law, in one section, does stipulate that it’s not an offense to express ridicule or insult to religious beliefs, it criminalizes speech that a "reasonable person" would consider to be abusive, threatening, or insulting." But would a reasonable person lump threatening speech, which isn't that hard to pinpoint, in with "abusive speech," which is far more nebulous, given the variation in the sensitivities various groups feel about any criticism? The language of the law is such the police will now bear the burden of interpreting a law with language too vague to understand.

There were over 8000 complaints filed in the first week after the Scottish law went into effect, many of them anonymous. As the police have stated that they'll follow up on every single complaint, the door is left wide open for anonymous harassment of anyone in the nation. Projections indicate that, if the current reporting rate continues, in less than a year reported hate crimes will outnumber the total of all crimes reported in Scotland.

Progressives got a taste of the crackdown, when within the first 24 hours, many of the complaints were directed at former Scottish First Minister Humza Yousef for a speech he delivered in 2021 in which he railed against how many powerful politicians in Scotland are white, even though the nation is 96 percent white. Employing familiar political language, the head of the Scottish government (since forced to resign in disgrace) complained that the complainants were exclusively "far right." Putting aside the fact that there's no evidence that it was just reactionaries reporting Yousef, hate speech in Scotland is hate speech, as defined (very loosely) by Scottish law, regardless of who's reporting it.

Yousef's cheap-shot reaction to this backlash was very Justin Trudeau-esque, which brings us to Canada's latest attack on freedom of expression, spearheaded by the same guy who's appeared in public multiple times in blackface, which means, in progressive circles, that one is a hardcore racist. Trudeau's government has proposed a draconian assault on free speech via Bill 63 (aka the Online Harms Bill) which has introduced the chilling new legal concept of the "pre-crime" via a stipulation that would allow a judge to place an individual under house arrest, forbidden from "the consumption of drugs, alcohol, or of any other intoxicating substance," if they're deemed likely to commit a hate crime in the future.

Bill C-63 has also proposed the establishment of the "Canadian Human Rights Tribunal," which would address complaints of online hate speech, as well as hate speech "perpetrated by other means of telecommunication." This is to apply retroactively, and anonymous accusations and secret testimony would also be permitted in a process under which complaints cost nothing to file. If a complaint is upheld, the offender can be ordered to pay compensation of up to $20,000, or if the panel deems the hate speech to be egregious, the fine can be increased to $50,000. As there's no limit to the number of complaints that can be filed against any one individual, there's no cap to the compensation a person might be required to pay.

In 2022, Trudeau approved a measure allowing his government, without a judge's order, to freeze the bank accounts of the truckers in Ottawa who were protesting strict Covid vaccination measures. "It's about keeping people safe," said Trudeau, as he announced more tools to imprison the truckers.

When authoritarian rulers withdraw long-held rights, such as the freedom to protest without having your money seized, it's always about keeping the people safe. 


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