Free Speech Isn’t Really Free Anymore

Is free speech under attack?




Following the debate held by the University of Toronto on Bill C-16, I believe that the condition of free speech in Canada is waning.  

As many of you may know, a forum took place on Bill C-16, which is a bill that makes discrimination based on gender identities and gender expression illegal to the Ontario Human Rights Code. On the surface this may seem like a move that should be heralded, but Jordan Peterson and many others argue that the implications for this may include criminalization of those who wish to exercise their freedom of speech and anyone who refuses to go along with the ideology that gender can be non-binary. It should be noted that Bill C-16 passed with no public consultation on the eve of this forum. 

First and foremost, was the declaration from both Brenda Cossman and Mary Bryson, opponents of free speech advocator Jordan Peterson in the debate, that they did not wish to be there. This gave me a really uneasy feeling, because I had always thought that every topic should be debatable. Those statements made me feel like just participating in the debate, or even just sitting there, was shameful and deplorable. Social justice advocates claim that having a debate about the implications of the bill was equivalent to refuting human rights. It is disheartening that even the act of having rational debate is being shut down, with claims of bigotry, transphobia, etc. As if everyone should just go along with whatever is presented to us. Because, apparently, criticizing a bill and examining its effects on everyone means that you are transphobic and inconsiderate of others. As far as I know, human rights are equal for everyone, across the board, and these include freedom of speech. So if areas of a doctrine are in conflict with one another, I think that the premise is there for a discussion to take place. 

It can also be taken that those who are against the debate take freedom of speech as a threat to their narrative. Perhaps it would be more assuring for them to know that having the debate is not equivalent to spreading hate, nor are we all against trans people. Many of those who support free speech just believe that alien pronouns, such as “ze” and “zir” are part of an ideological regime that they refuse to participate in, because it does not align with the belief that gender is binary, as many have been taught essentially since birth.  And then there are also those, like me, who are willing to essentially address anyone by anything that they wish, but who are just advocating for free speech because it is everyone’s right, even the right of those you do not agree with. 

It feels increasingly like free speech is gradually being stripped away from those who do not concur with increasingly restrictive liberal mandates.  

Marilyn Jang, one of the students letting people sign a petition supporting Jordan Peterson, was one of many who encountered retaliation for advocating for free speech. Apparently when Marilyn was sitting behind a table with the petition in Bahen building, someone came up to her and proceeded to throw a piece of paper, with the word “shame” written on it, at her. According to Marilyn, the person did not say a word, and just walked away. Marilyn says that she does not get why the assaulter did not try to communicate with her and voice their opinions instead of resorting to this threatening demeanor.  

What’s more is that, on the same day, Marilyn found that her bike was smeared in rotten fruit, presumably an apricot. Not only is this an annoying and unnecessary mess to clean up, Marilyn also says that the bike was special to her because it was a birthday present from her father. Marilyn claims that the smell still remains on the handlebars and seat after cleaning. However, she says that she is not ready to pin the fruit-smearing on anyone, as there were no witnesses or proof.  

This incident, although somewhat isolated, validates the argument that free speech is under attack, and that efforts supporting continual discussion should be continued. Violence, discrimination, damage to personal property and any harmful behavior should be unacceptable, no matter which side that you are on. Next time, whenever someone disagrees with you, rather than defaulting to an immediate assumption (i.e. they have a personal prejudice towards a certain group), I wish that we can be able to communicate our concern without getting shut down immediately. Let’s be tolerant of dissenting opinions again.