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Letter to the Editor: Disturbing comments

I will let others discuss the merits of our council debating the issue of Senator Beyak.
Letters to the editor - with text

To the editor:

I will let others discuss the merits of our council debating the issue of Senator Beyak. I do wonder though if these same members of council would willingly accept criticism coming from higher levels of government directed at one of them individually.

Now before I proceed, I must be clear. This is not a letter of support for the Senator. It is unfortunate that this needs to be said so blatantly.

The main point of this letter is to comment on what I perceive to be very disturbing comments from two members of City Council who wanted a motion passed against the Senator. They likely made many remarks but I am only commenting on those reported in our local media. What I read should disturb anyone that believes that limiting speech should be one of the last actions taken by government, in a truly democratic society.

This is a quote from Councillor Pugh: “freedom of speech should only apply when the language used doesn’t hurt others”. Take a moment and think about what those words mean. So because a person's feelings are hurt, the person speaking should not be allowed to say what they wish to say. In other words, because someone disagrees, someone else must be silent. So if a citizen believes that Mr. Pugh is ill-equipped to serve on Council or uses other more insulting languages that could offend Mr. Pugh, their right to say it should be restricted? Is that what Mr. Pugh is suggesting?

But even take his first six words, “freedom of speech should only apply”. How is it free if Mr. Pugh has already defined what it can and cannot be? He seems to be suggesting that he or others can act as a court. Are they now the self-appointed word police or do we form a committee to review people’s words? Are certain phrases allowed or outlawed? Can people just be fined or can anyone lose their job, because the speech committee has decided that somehow the words of Mr. Smith, offended Mr. Jones?

People get offended all of the time for a variety of reasons; that is life. That does not mean you limit speech, nor limit debate. Your “feelings” are irrelevant to government decisions or actions when you are speaking about the “rights” of others. An individuals right, overrides your feelings or the slippery slope to 1932 Europe has begun.

Mr. Pugh should publicly withdraw those comments because they challenge the core of what a free democratic society stands for. Have you heard these words before: "I don’t have to agree with what you say, but I will defend with my life, your right to say it”.

As for hate speech, adequately defining what is hate speech is difficult in a letter to the Editor, but generally, the speech must increase the likelihood of violence against the group in question. That is a very simplistic definition. Members of council are not experts in hate speech. It is not up to Councillor Ch'ng, or anyone else to define what is and what is not hate speech and Councillor Ch'ng should not be implying that the Senator has committed a crime. If indeed the Senator did, where are the charges? We have a legislative process for that.

Elected officials should be far more cautious when using those terms. Feel free to be critical of Senator Beyak. You may even wish to say her words were unworthy of her position, some may or may not agree with you. But when you start telling us what is and what is not hate speech, you have elevated yourself far beyond the office you hold. It is unfortunate, but in these times, I repeat, I am not condoning what the Senator had to say, nor supporting her in any way.

Jim Mauro,
Thunder Bay