Arresting People for Speech

Should someone get arrested for something they say?  The short answer is: it depends.  If someone says they are going to commit an act of terrorism or a crime then yes, they probably should be arrested as a precaution.  Investigate them a little and make sure there is no actual credible threat.  That really is the only time that someone should be arrested for what they say.  The reason I bring this up is because recently another person in Canada was arrested for hate speech.

Hate speech is never right, but it is not something that should result in someone being locked up.  When we start to crackdown on speech we start down a slippery slope.  The case I’m referring to is referenced here.  Basically a guy in Montreal made some remarks on Twitter about Muslims (sarcastic remarks too, he was actually defending Muslims) and was arrested for them.  In the wake of the terrorist attack this seems like a safe thing to do but it is a knife edge to walk.

Arresting people for what they say (unless they are actively threatening someone) is never okay.  They might be saying horrific and hateful things but free speech is a value we can’t afford to give up.  Free speech is the bedrock of democracy.  Free speech is what allows you to counter the hate that someone is spewing and the minute you begin to undermine it is the minute you start down a road to thought-crime and dictatorship.

It might sound a little hyperbolic but there is president here.  Most dictatorships have rules around what can and cannot be said and breaking those rules can lead to death or jail time.  In our case what cannot be said are things loosely defined as ‘hate speech’ .  On the surface this seems like a good thing, trust me, jailing neo-nazi’s for spewing hate would be great.  The problem is that it is such a loose definition.  The problem is that people start getting accustomed to the idea of others going to jail for what they say.  Then when it starts to happen on a broader scale people are already used to it.

Where does the line get drawn?  That is the concern with this.  Putting a guy in jail for inciting hate against minorities is great, but what about putting someone in jail for hating the Prime Minister?  What if hate speech legislation is expanded to silence political dissent?  What happens when criticizing political parties becomes illegal?  What happens when the legislation is further expanded to include corporations (after all they are considered people in the law already)?

That’s the problem with this kind of stuff, it is dangerous.  We need to be careful and we need to speak up when free speech is stepped on.  It is not racist to defend someone’s right to say racist things.  Always remember that you may not agree with what someone has to say, but you should defend their right to say it.  Today it’s actual hate speech that is getting people locked up, but maybe tomorrow it’s speech that goes against the party line.

Just my thoughts on this, it’s something that gets me fired up, I really don’t like seeing speech get attacked.

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