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LETTER: The term "hate speech" must be used cautiously


In her Feb. 8 Gazette letter to the editor, Ms. Eisler refers to an Alberta Court of Appeal ruling for the UAlberta Pro-Life group. She claims that the Pro-Life group’s activities are hate speech because they use images to show the reality of abortion and may cause offence to others. In fact, the case was not about whether the event could be held but rather whether the U of A could pass on significant security costs to the Pro-Life student group.

The student group argued that this was not the case for other groups and was really an effort to sideline the event. The honourable Mr. Justice Watson of the Court of Appeal reviewed the case and does not mention hate speech. He does reference various points of free speech. The University also shows itself to be concerned with preserving free speech. The U of A discipline officer is quoted as saying, “Free speech is not a clean process where people will always take turns and treat each other with deference. We have to expect that profound disagreements over controversial topics may be loud and vigorous. The University should tread lightly in applying disciplinary processes when people are engaging in a conflict of ideas. We respect the rights of all parties to offer information to an audience and then leave it to the audience to choose whether they will access it and how they will be affected by it.”

The term hate speech needs to be used very cautiously or we might unwittingly throw away some of our most cherished freedoms. As the Justice quotes in the decision, “Freedom in thought and speech and disagreement in ideas and beliefs ... are of the essence of our life. The clash of critical discussion on political, social and religious subjects has too deeply become the stuff of daily experience to suggest that mere ill-will as a product of controversy can strike down the latter with illegality.”

Respectful discourse on many subjects should be occurring and it is a shame if we cannot confront realities such as abortion and instead abdicate responsibility to lawmakers. As citizens we should be open to being challenged and informed about other sides of controversial issues rather than sitting in social media echo chambers listening only to the views of those who agree with us.

Jessica Koopmans, St. Albert