I think I am living in the proverbial “interesting times.”
The Toronto Public Library (TPL) Board kicked-off 2018 by bringing in a new policy on community and event space rental. While the new policy is meant to address discrimination and promote inclusion, it is infinitely more likely to quash debates on controversial topics, exclude minority voices and in doing so, distort the mission of the library to promote the free exchange of ideas.
Is it ever appropriate to crack sex jokes at work? I hope so - since I’ve been known to do it on occasion. But a recent one-liner made by a Canadian parliamentarian has prompted me to interrogate my risque behaviour, and reflect on the line that divides harmless suggestive bantering from sleazy unwanted innuendos.
When it comes to erotic talk at the office, is one person’s discomfort another person’s delight?
If so, how to tell the difference? And what should be the consequences when we get our signals crossed?
In the general public sphere, expression is subject to relatively few legal restrictions. Canadian law includes ‘content’ restrictions on obscenity, hate speech, defamation, and false advertising. There are also laws that regulate the time or location at which expression may occur and are concerned with coordinating expression with other activities in public spaces.
(Co-written with Anver Emon, Professor of Law, University of Toronto)
Everyone can get hurt. We are complex beings, with multiple attachments, and so we naturally are offended by insults, degrading comments, and uncivil speech. If such wounds hurt, should they be the subject of penalty or public censure? For intractable disputes, it is naïve to think that speech codes can serve to dampen, or even resolve, conflict.
Imagine that I am a teacher who has decided to teach my students about cultures other than their own. I want those students to understand that wearing a kirpan, a turban, a kipa, a hijab, or a niqab does not make a person less Canadian, less deserving of respect, or “abnormal.” So, I decide I will wear items belonging to my own cultural practices as a demonstration of how easily we can all interact with the diverse community around us. I choose, as a Muslim woman, to cover my hair with a hijab and cover my lower face with a niqab.
By Danielle S. McLaughlin / Posted Thursday November 2, 2017
(Co-written with Andrea Gonsalves)
Welcome to the club, Canada. On October 18, 2017, we joined the ranks of nearly every other Western democracy when Bill S-231 – the Journalistic Sources Protection Act (“JSPA”) – was finally passed into law, codifying a set of important protections for journalists and their sources.
It would be nice to think that free speech in Canada is in surpassingly good health, that it can resist attacks from authoritarians and ideologues, that censorship is unthinkable in all but the rarest of circumstances. It would be still nicer to believe that Canadian universities consistently provide the necessary conditions for free expression and free expression, artistic expression included.
Unfortunately none of these beliefs is entirely true to fact.
Debate around free expression today is fraught with confusion about true intentions and genuine meanings. Persistent and aggressive challenging of who has the right to define free expression, and an often intentional blurring of that definition can arrest discussion or send argument flying off into hyper-critical and combative corners of social media where it is often scattered and dispersed by bias and filters.
Lawyers have an integral role in the maintenance of the reputation of the administration of justice. However, in situations where the administration of justice is already in disrepute, the role that lawyers can play is not entirely clear. Clients may ask lawyers to provide advice regarding actions that violate the letter of the law in furtherance of making a change to law or policy. In these cases, lawyers’ professional ethics are challenged.