About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Where I Stand on Free Speech

Yesterday fellow blogger, Margot Kinberg, at her blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist put up a fine post defending free speech as she made her stand - Je suis Charlie. I stand with her. Since reading Margot’s post I have been reflecting on free speech in Canada and its relationship with religion.
I expect that simple sentence of Je suis Charlie to become the slogan of those in the world who support free speech.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states in Article 2:
      2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
I appreciate that they appear as fundamental freedoms within the same paragraph.
Our courts have said our freedoms are not in a hierarchy but exist together.
While we place free speech among our fundamental freedoms we still have within the Canadian Criminal Code a section on blasphemy:
 (1) Everyone who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
In 1935 the Rev. Victor Rahard, an Anglican priest in Montreal was charged under the section with committing blasphemous libel against the Roman Catholic Catholic church.
Among his statements he said:
The Roman Church is not content with the commandments of God. She wished to have her own commandments for the satisfaction of her ambition and the prosperity of her shop.
First of all it should be observed that these commandments be a false name. It is not the commandments of the church that they should have been called but the commandments of the Roman clergy.
Rahard called Catholic churches dens of commerce.
The trial judge said he must consider whether the words were "calculated and intended to insult the feelings and the deepest religious convictions of the great majority of the persons amongst whom we live". He convicted Rahard.
While no one has gone to trial under the section for 80 years and everyone expects that if a charge was laid that the provisions of the Charter on free speech would provide a defence it remains disconcerting that it is still within our Criminal Code.
In 1980 a charge under the section was laid against the distributor of the Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian. The charge was subsequently dropped.
I have decided to write to my Member of Parliament to ask him to lead in seeking repeal of the blasphemous libel section of the Criminal Code.
Bloggers with regard to crime fiction love words. We want the freedom to express our opinions of books and authors. Some of those books are bound to involve religious or irreligious themes. We need to state our right to express our opinions on those topics.
It will not always be easy to support free speech. Not long ago a Saskatchewan Indian chief, David Ahenakew, spoke to a reporter for the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix after a speech:
The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war. That's why Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn't take over Germany, or even Europe. That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the goddamned world. And look what they're doing now, they're killing people in Arab countries.
The reporter asked how Ahenakew could justify the Holocaust. The StarPhoenix quoted Ahenakew as replying:
How else do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over, that's going to dominate?
He was charged with hate speech under the Criminal Code. While his remarks were abhorrent and our office was not asked to directly defend him we would have been willing to work on his defence.
I ask each blogger and reader to make their own public stand in support of free speech. We need to do more than be part of a silent majority. Je suis Charlie.


  1. Bill - Thanks for the kind words and the link. Thanks also for this well-written and powerful post. Freedom of expression is, as you say, not always easy to uphold. But it is a fundamental right, and it must not be eroded. You've taken an interesting legal perspective on this issue too. It's a good reminder that legislatures and courts must be vigilant about encoding and upholding that right. And on a side note, it'll be interesting to see what happens if that 'libelous blasphemy' law is repealed.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Nations believing in free speech need laws that reflect that belief.

  2. Bill, well said. I come from a country where freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution but is seldom allowed a free reign by those who feel threatened, mainly the social and religious right. Intolerance against free speech across all mediums has increased in the past few years and we regularly have forced censorship of books, films etc., often with tacit support of those in power. Fortunately, the internet is proving to be a great equaliser.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the perspective from a nation that asserts free speech but is far more ambivalent in who it treats those that would seek to practise free speech. The internet is a potent source of free speech.

  3. Very interesting and thought-provoking Bill. Of course we support free speech, but some of that speech can be abhorrent. Do we draw a line? Exactly where? It's a question....

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. Many books have been written about the limits of free speech. A key issue for me is the incitement of violence.

  4. Interesting and thought-provoking post, Bill. It illuminates what a difficult topic Free Speech is.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. We value free speech but are challenged by the consequences.