Free Speech: At What Cost?

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in the last few months there has been a flurry of loud and angry debates on social media about what can be said and what ideas can be expressed for example the head of Mozilla was asked to resign because the board learned he'd given money to a campaign that opposed the adoption of same-sex marriage in California ayaan Hirsi Ali had her offer of an honorary degree from Brandeis University rescinded on the grounds that her views on Islam were unacceptable to Muslim students at the University and more recently of course LA Clippers basketball owner Donald sterling was banned for life from the NBA because of racist comments he made in a secretly recorded conversation all three cases have shown deep divides in the contemporary marketplace of ideas to help us understand the state of free speech we welcome in our nation's capitol rachel de costs she's a community organizer motivational speaker and Huffington Post blogger and with us here in studio Janice via mango professor of English at the University of Ottawa Alice McLaughlin professor of philosophy at York University and Justin trot Jain national policy director at the Center for inquiry and we welcome you three here in our studio and Rachel nice to have you on the line from Ottawa Janis I want to start with you because you've given a number of talks where loud demonstrations have met your attempts to give talks most recently I guess at Queen's University let's just start with this what do you think it is about your appearances that causes so much controversy well clearly my my talks are challenging a very much cherished and deeply held series of beliefs particularly feminist ideology because I have been questioning some of the major tenets of feminist ideology and I've also been trying to make the case that men's issues deserve to be heard as well and there's a certain element in the feminist community on campus that doesn't want to hear that and is finds it threatening in various ways I think said that do you understand the intensity of the reaction you run into when you try to advance your views sure absolutely I was a radical feminist when I was young it was a radical student I still believe in protest I believe that students have the right to to challenge very vigorously and aggressively speakers with whom they disagree I guess where I draw the line is actually shutting down a speaker which is what happened to me at the University of Ottawa I wasn't even able to begin the talk and I did eventually after an hour of interruption speak for about 15 minutes before the fire alarm went off but obviously the useful Q&A that we were looking forward to couldn't take place and I think discussions around these charged issues are really damaged when that kind of discussion can't take place so that's too bad okay Justin to you now gender issues are one thing you want to put a few more things on the list where these kinds of events take place well we're talking about recent examples very often we are seeing right-wing groups and right-wing perspectives that are often the target of censorship hasn't always been like this I mean if we go back to the 50s and 60s there was a time when it was the left and there protests against perhaps the Vietnam War there Prout their protests in favor of civil civil liberty legislations ending desegregated schooling that sort of thing that was the contentious idea that was subject to censorship but these days it is a criticism of feminism of radical feminism it is men's issues it is abortion debates my organization has been involved in debating abortion on campus we take the pro-choice side but very often these debates get shut down by well-meaning but unfortunately not well applying student unions that use the wrong methods to defend their their morals which they see to be superior to the rest of so whereas once upon a time it would have been if I can sort of characterize it generally a left-wing student radicals unhappy with a particular issue trying to shut down debate now you're seeing more of right-wing student radicals doing it well now of those student groups have in a weird sense become the establishment and so when there are events on campus and I gave the abortion debates but there are others where those debates are seen as an affront to the rights of women perhaps that they might create a dangerous space on campus then in the name of preserving a safe space these often left-wing groups will take it upon themselves to do things like bullying and intimidation and harassment which themselves constitute an affront to preserving a safe space on campus okay Alice we've mentioned a couple of examples off the top you've got the mozilla case the ayaan Hirsi Ali case the former owner or still owner I guess but maybe pretend potentially soon-to-be former owner of the LA Clippers we've heard this referred to as the culture of shut up do you think that's an apt description of the kinds of divisions we're seeing nowadays absolutely not I there are lots of things that contribute to a culture of shut up the end of net neutrality contributes to a culture of shut up government silencing of scientists contributes to a culture shut up state surveillance of private correspondence contributes to a culture of shut up students protesting controversial speakers that's an example of free speech it's not the end of free speech so I was only recently made familiar with Genesis exam experiences I had the chance to watch them on YouTube and what I saw warmed me I saw people who cared very much about gender issues so I'm identifying as feminists I'm identifying as men's rights activists vigorously wholeheartedly and determinately engaging with each other yelling not always being polite and as a result I know that Janice's work has received a much wider audience including a platform on this show I think this is the very opposite of silencing and it's how a society of free speech works I'm not sure you saw it that way did you no I most certainly wouldn't wouldn't say that I think that's a completeness characterization what happened at Queen's University was precisely that there were a lot of angry comments during my talk laughter heckling that sort of thing but the talk was able to go forward and and then there was a you know extremely heated but I think productive question-and-answer period afterwards that is the definition of free speech when a speaker is actually not able to go forward with the talk that is not an example of free speech in any way that's bullying and intimidation and it's I think to be deplored I've had emails from people afterwards who talked about how they had driven you know for 45 minutes because they lived outside of Ottawa to come and hear my talk they weren't able to hear it because it was shut down by a few students who felt that they had the right to determine what is clearly that oh yeah I would love to jump in thank you well I think it's important to talk about what we mean by free speech I care a lot about free speech I teach John Stuart Mill I'm committed to philosophy we started because Socrates of a silenced free speech means freedom from government interference and sanction it doesn't mean freedom from consequences and these consequences can include vigorous reactions criticisms protests unfortunately it can even mean that debate doesn't happen or doesn't go the way you'd want it to I think sometimes when they get in here because these caught I was at these events as well the consequences were violations of university policy okay policy on frees free speech policy on the non disruption of sanctioned events doors were blocked and fire alarms were pulled that's dangerous firemen feminists including me none of us are ever going to defend the pulling of a fire alarm if you can blame this would be if you can point to a single mainstream feminist thinker a defender who wants to who wants to defend the idea of using fire lens to so let me go simply apologize to them Rach has been unbelievably patient so far Rachel come on in here and give us your view on where are you on this the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of expression it doesn't guarantee you the right to have to dispel your your drivel really just untruths to impressionable minds with mic and amplifier and an audience of impressionable students what are you referring to there I I I listen to the YouTube video of of the professor at Queens and when student laughed it was because she was saying stuff that was not true and it draw a drew laughter for example that was their reaction to here any presentation of ideas that were just not based on any fact that could be backed up could you give an example of something that I found okay could you give an example of something that you found so egregious that it deserved to be laughed out or fire alarms pulled or whatever I don't agree with the fire alarms pulled but when somebody says that the statistics that we've been based on forever are wrong and therefore you know rape is not as much of an issue as it should be I think that's draws laughter if not crying because it's just so preposterous so if she wants to speak that's fine but she doesn't get to have the forum of our public universities paid for by my and your taxes to this to disseminate that information that's just not right public universities we all pay through tuition subsidies that come from the government many of us are students at these universities and have differences of opinion and we all pay tuition to attend them the thing though is if we can pull back for a second free speech starts from a very simple premise I may be wrong I am fallible in my opinion I mean you were just referring to what happened what Janice was saying is drivel you know I I don't think that I am in a position where I can decide for everybody's sake what's drivel and what's to be heard and when we have opponents who set themselves up as arbiters who block the door so that other students can't judge for themselves what's drivel and what's maybe a gem of wisdom I think there's a problem there first talked about how it was radicals who were against her so she's characterized people who were against her as radicals when they're just citizens with opinions that are offended by what she's saying and the characterization of radicals is already starting in that in that direction that that that she started actually absolutely I might add that many of professor faiman goes talks start by characterizing a whole swath of our colleagues as intellectually empty incoherent and dishonest this is exactly the sort of conversation move that's designed to provoke a fierce angry or laughing response I'm with Rachel on this if you set out to say things designed to offend and harm people you can't complain that your free speech is being violated when people respond with offensive anger and produce what I would certainly never complain that my free speech was violated because people responded with anger or or laughter my point about the Queen's Speech was that that was an ideal example of freedom of expression and of lively debate I don't care if people laugh at my at what I have to say and yes I'm deliberately provocative to some extent in my in my speeches because I want people to engage in an in a lively manner but to to absolutely shut me or anyone else down to prevent me from expressing my views is a violation of free speech and to say that the appreciation doesn't mean free ride though doesn't no platform to speak it doesn't mean you get to speak all the time it doesn't mean that public universities necessarily have to make a place for you or that if students at those universities want to protest you being given a platform to expound ideas they find harmful offensive insulting to their experiences that they don't have the right to object to that what I mean to say that the objection and absolutely shutting someone down who has been invited by a university group who has rented the space that that university groups dues go to pay for and who has been you know invited to speak to a group of students some of whom ought to hear what the speaker has to say to say that it's okay to shut that down that that doesn't somehow count as the suppression of free speech seems to me absolutely nonsensical where all of this might lead I want to see a safe space on campus preserve and people not being exactly the last you don't know where I'm going with that I want to see a safe space preserved on campus okay and I worry about the consequences we're talking about consequences if the route that we go as we went for example University of Toronto and almost at Ryerson where we have seen events taking place Janice for example and other speakers on men's issues coming to those universities and because of the threat of a protest the universities decide to charge often thousands of dollars of security fees - supposedly preserve a safe space but the consequence is that in the long run or that you are in fact rewarding people who engage in protests sometimes a law breaking protests where it actually does cross that line and if we do that we're actually sending a signal please keep doing this keep harassing people at musical sting and keep speaking I think we have to be very careful not to confuse criticism with control so you're suggesting you're perfectly open to criticism as long as you get to control the manner in which it happens the forum in which it happens and so on these students were using the the forums available to them street protests which is one of the most fundamental aspects of freedom of speech they are using every venue possible to them to debate vigorously exactly the ideas and concepts that profess there was absolutely debate I witnessed in I don't think you get to decide once as debate everybody shouts at everybody at the same time is that a reasonable debate is it a reasonable debate not necessarily is it a debate yes decide do I get to decide that all debate meets my standards of reasonable absolutely not I love a quiet calm debate which is why I don't usually engage in this sort of topic but do I think that all debates have to meet my standards for whatever reasonable debate looks like absolutely not me a scheduler she doesn't customer I want to get Rachel back in because Rachel you were I think you were involved in an attempt I guess a few years ago to prevent Ann Coulter who again is a pretty well let's just say controversial speaker out of the United States she wanted to see was given an opportunity to speak at the University of Ottawa you didn't think it was right that she should be allowed to speak there you participated in the effort to prevent it from happening you were successful you prevented her from speaking why do you think it was the right thing to do to prevent her from coming from responding to an invitation from the university to speak an Coulter stick is already known she blames all problems of America on minorities we know what that looks like and I spoke out along with other people saying I don't think that's a good use of our taxpayer dollars and I wonder if Ottawa you had thought this out because when it comes to alumni giving money and giving their co-op students jobs after for summer that's something that we think about so that was the right move and Ann Coulter's she wants to be invited to speak let them do it with the private sector let them pay for her speaker fees but I don't want my tax dollars being used to subsidize Ann Coulter's speaker fees what happened to the university hate that's he spews what happened to the university being a place in society a safe place as mr. Trichet calls it for controversial views to be heard and discussed there's a difference between the monologue and a debate what I saw at Queens University was a monologue by Janice that is not a debate a debate would be Ann Coulter and an antidote or a fact checker checking her every time she says something that makes no sense and giving the alternate explanation that's a debate that would be a great way for universities to welcome these radicals these so-called radicals and have a discussion but letting them have free rein is not a good way to educate our young people's minds these events can take place provided that you can put in place the controls that you think are appropriate to kind of constrain the nature of the event that gives me some pause you know Ann Coulter came to Canada she spoke in Ottawa on another and another venues to prove a point and she proved it she proved that we don't have the kind of robust free speech that we sometimes claim we do she got far more attention than she deserves I am NOT a fan of Ann Coulter I think much of not all of that she says is is despicable however what we've done is we've given her more of a podium to say these despicable things so if we're interested in actually understanding why people have these hateful views that they have I don't think that shutting them down and thinking that that makes the problem go away is an appropriate way to respond I think it's interesting that an alternate voice got called a control there so Rachael proposed that if Ann holder came to speak there should be two people speaking represented different perspectives and you said that you were finding the terms of an appropriate debate and fanning any other absolutely and so I think what's interesting here is we hear the language of a culture of shut up when people and perspectives were used to entirely having the floor either aren't given the floor are asked to share the floor with someone else or face the consequences have having the floor namely vigorous angry occasionally less than polite protests and I think we have to think carefully about how why we're questioning a culture of shut up is has shut up just entered this stage or is shut up being lobbied at people who aren't used to facing any consequences for their speech what's wrong with speaker speaks audience ask questions afterwards in a civil atmosphere I that again is my favorite sort of venue to attend and the kind of atmosphere I look for in a debate is it the only way to have a vigorous free speech when matters of principle at hand absolutely not the only constructive way to have it happen I don't even think it's the only constructive way I think we need to look at the history of civil disobedience and protest which isn't always nice isn't always rational debate isn't always confined to shows like the agenda our classrooms to see just how constructive and progressive from the point of view of social progress it can be progress doesn't always look pretty well I would certainly like to ask you how you would feel if you were giving a talk and you were shut down by a group of protesters would you say this was a wonderful example of freedom of speech if you never got to say your first sentence I would certainly not frame it in terms of freedom of speech how I would feel is I would feel shocked if that led to a much wider platform for my views including an entire episode of the agenda being dedicated to them I'd probably be pretty pleased about the whole thing and I suspect that's the case for you as well if every time you tried to speak after that students decided that you shouldn't be allowed to speak consider people who saw Genest and they said totally incest and all sorts of things like that one thing what I might do is think about some of the claims I'm making including that all of my colleagues and women's studies are intellectually empty and dishonest that feminists don't care that I said that women's studies as a discipline was it one time police one of the time so you asked me how I would feel I would feel shocked and I would feel hurt and that would be part of the reaction that the people were going through because one of the things that being shocked and hurt and facing the consequences of free speech does is forced you to confront the consequences of what you're saying you are making a vast array of claims about rape victims about feminists about women about those who disagree with you that are often specious arguments based on very little evidence or are twisted to be provocative and I think this perhaps a productive use of your conversation the protests would be to rethink some of what you're saying well that's what you really need to do you ask isn't that an example of controlling two of you no that's not if you start to say if you start to say that blowing a horn and beating on drums is a productive way of engaging with a speaker with whom you disagree then I'm not sure what role you think that intellectual exchange has at a university if university is not about the place where we work through ideas in a rational way not through emotion not through shouting not through accusations where you challenge what you believe to be false with evidence if you don't believe that then what is the university police an example of the way in which we deal with a feminist debate or the gender debate at the university setting and I wonder if we can just maybe broaden that for just a moment because somebody mentioned earlier it got raised a couple of times that there shouldn't necessarily be free speech doesn't mean that there are no consequences right to the words that you choose to use and I agree with that and and when we talk about a university though university is an interesting kind of beast because it's quasi private quasi public as I suggested earlier and I do think that it is as Genesis suggesting the location for the free unfettered kinds of debates we need to train youngsters how to engage and hear ideas that are disagreeable to them and react in a in an appropriate way but let's also remember even private companies can't do anything they want to their employees we have human rights codes so you can't punish somebody for being a member of a racial or religious minority but right now we can't punish people and to get some of the examples Steve mentioned about Mozilla and other companies that have done just that for having minority points of view no why is that I think that the right to free speech is a fundamental human right why isn't it protected just the way other kinds of rights are protected even in private workplace environment okay but it was never free speech was never meant to be free of consequence it was you say what you want but you take the consequences if what you say is stupid yes and Donald sterling found out all about that last week right but simply having a minority point of view in a particular workplace and I'm not talking about the sterling example I'm talking about Mozilla okay let me get to let me go back to Ottawa here Tom Flanagan who's also on this program and his example of where he said something perhaps not as well as he would like to have said it let's put it that way and then the reaction to that was this YouTube video that was uploaded with the headline Tom Flanagan okay with child porn and the virtual mobbing that took place after that Rachel I just wonder are you worried about the chilling effects that these kinds of virtual mobbing x' can have i mean i think it's great that people who were once kind of relegated to you know the back corners of the world and the barber shop and the church basement can now rise up and say what they feel immediately after something happens that's a great way to use social media and it's a way for the person who misspoke to readjust as soon as possible and clarify what he said so he had a right to speak he's misspoke and hopefully I hope he changed his his tune after hearing the comments that that came from from from his his miss speaking okay let me follow up with this and certainly one of the desired effects from Donald Sterling's stupid racist comments was that even private presumably people are going to think twice about saying those kinds of things and yet hockey fans at the very least and I'm sure a much broader audience beyond that will know that when the Montreal Canadiens player pique Subban scored in overtime last week for those who don't know he's a black defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens and he was subjected to thousands upon thousands of racist emails and tweets and so on some really filthy stuff if you're an if you're anonymous if you're not the owner of an NBA franchise if you're not an all-star defenseman for a National Hockey League team it's pretty difficult to police all this stuff isn't it Rachel it is it's impossible to but I guess what I'd like to say is that there are certain peep of dominant demographics who've never had a place that hasn't been safe to speak until now until the internet until people who have never had a space safe place to speak outside of the barber shop can now voice their opinions so it's a reshift annulled and people are going to have to learn that they can't just say anything anymore they'll have to answer for what they say and minorities who have never had a voice in in the dominant media now have a voice so I think it's a good thing I think the sterling the Sterling saga had a good ending and it's gonna open those dialogues that need to tap it and haven't haven't happened especially in Canada that we need to address these things we need to address these misconceptions about race about sexism and talk about it in order to move forward and it isn't pretty and it won't be easy but it's it's how we progress as a society so I think this whole thing is a great if it's used for dialogue and I think the hockey the NHL that especially needs to have that dialogue they're still kind of pretending like it's something that we can that's apart from them but it's part of that organization and hopefully these these wait a second I got a check hang out here so comment I got it I got a deposit to have that discussion I need to understand what you meant by it's part of that organization the Boston Bruins came out the next day and said these are not our fans who did this we disassociate ourselves from that when you're saying it's part of the organization are you saying that the Boston Bruins endorsed what happened to pique subin they didn't endorse but you can't say that these aren't your fans on their Twitter page is a whole go Boston Bruins these are might this is my team so we know that these are their fans we know that people had monkey noises that they yelled at when PK went to the box that night we know that there's still blackface people that go to to to NHL games so they do have an issue with race they're pretending like it's not their fans I don't think that's actually gonna work but hopefully that the fact that people are being caught saying it and that there's proof is a way for people to start talking about it and maybe hopefully move forward okay Justin what's wrong with boundaries surrounding this kind of hateful speech which I think you'd agree the Sterling case the Subban case that's pretty hateful speech what happened in those two instances is it wrong to put some boundaries around that kind of speech well boundaries are not wrong and I accept that there are legitimate boundaries to free speech generally things like slander and libel and incitement to to violence certainly I agree with those but but those aren't meant to curtail legitimate opinion and I think that's where I draw the line they're meant to protect people not opinion or ideas so I think the boundaries around protecting people should be drawn much more tightly but the boundaries around protecting opinions as though opinions have fundamental rights to be free from offense I think that's where that batter needs to be drawn much wider how about you on that Jennison yeah well that's my concern as well that this idea that ideas somehow have rights and the ideas deserve to be protected ideas don't have rights ideas should be should be vigorously challenged and and debated and what's worrisome to me and especially in the university setting where we are supposed to be able to debate ideas in a rational manner and and and what seems to happen instead is that there is a kind of irrationality that comes in that emotions suddenly matter as much as ideas and that if someone is made to feel uncomfortable or outraged or hurt by an idea that that's somehow a legitimate reason therefore to shout and scream and blow horns or or or do whatever that's where I really become very worried and think that you know we've really lost our way as a society if we aren't able to recognize it sometimes people people's feelings are hurt as we thrash out ideas I want to give a real-life example of something that happened actually on this program and get your take on it several years ago when Dwight Duncan was the Minister of Finance in Ontario he made some changes to a particular program in a budget that the group involved really objected to and we had a public town hall at I think at the Munk school on this and in the midst of our interview a number of people in the audience rushed the stage and they shouted him down and they opened up their banners and signs and we had to we had to go off the air I mean we literally had there was no point in continuing we had to go off the air and have them escorted out and then continued because the promise of course of this program is a safe reasonable place to have a conversation and a debate was that an acceptable thing that happened well I think there's your example actually brings up something nice and that's that there isn't always a clear distinction between ideas and people it wasn't ideas who rushed the stage it was people who were directly hurt by the effect of this program and the examples that Justin and Janice have both alluded to they're talking about ideas shouldn't have rights we're concerned with people protecting ideas but Donald sterling wasn't presenting a view about ideas he was insulting people the people who used racist slurs and black face against a hockey player weren't insulting ideas or expressing ideas they were hurting a person and if you did not if you are a rape apologist you deny a rape culture you say that victims of rape are responsible by their conduct or their address or so on you are hurting people so you're not just making people uncomfortable you're not just challenging their view you're not just opening up a provocative statement that might lead to an interesting conversation you are silencing them by telling them they don't matter they don't have value they don't have the same place at the table that you do there isn't a place at the table for them and throughout history the most powerful and brave response to the kind of message that says you're not valuable you're not smart you don't belong here is for people to use every means possible to express the counter view which is I belong I have a right to speak okay is it pretty it it does noise polite we got a couple of minutes left here Rachel taking offense these days seems to change all the rules it seems some people argue that once offended one doesn't have to explain why that idea is wrong offense is enough that's that's a view held by many what's your view on that offense is not enough it's good to explain the offense but sometimes it's easier to offend in a bumper sticker way of you know a couple of words than to explain why is offensive when you talk about blackface just to take an example it's not just that it's offensive it's that there's a historical meaning to it and it doesn't it doesn't fit on a bumper sticker and people don't want to listen to that so what they do listen to is somebody rushing this stage what does make the news is somebody saying you know rolling out of banner somewhere so if we had a forum to explain what it's why it's so offensive we would do it more frequently but often we don't have that forum so we have the sweet part kind of like you know bumper sticker cutesy way to react and that's unfortunate but that's the way the business works okay Jess you want media business well I just want to respond to what we said about ideas how they can silence people I mean that that is simply nonsensical on its face ideas cannot silence people ideas get exchanged to say that you know to make a comment about rape to challenge feminist statistics to talk about the messy facts of consent after two people have been drinking that in no way sends a signal to anyone that they cannot speak and and to to pretend that ideas have a kind of power to silence that they do not have in a free democratic society where people have equal rights is precisely to silence the free exchange of ideas and therefore to guarantee that we won't be able to to debate things in justice 30 seconds no freedom of speech I think throughout history and historical perspectives been brought up and I think it is important to remember historical perspectives throughout history it's been the tool free speech has of the marginalizing of the oppressed to be able to call him to question the status quo and to demand change that's been done by the left and banned by the right equally when necessary to demand change and I just hope that we're not losing that okay that's our time and I'm delighted to have welcomed all four of you here for this discussion and nobody pulled a fire alarm and that's great Rachel to cost the community organizer Huffington post bloggers out of the nation's capital Rachel good to have you on the program for the first time janice via mango professor of English at the University of Ottawa also first time for you Janice thank you so much thank Alice McLaughlin the professor philosophy at York University second time I think for you Ellis welcome back and Justin trudged a national policy director at the Center for inquiry second or maybe third time for you on this program or third time good stuff nice to have you all along support Ontario's public television donate at t v-- org
Channel: The Agenda with Steve Paikin
Views: 264,943
Rating: 4.6972914 out of 5
Keywords: TVO, TVOntario, The Agenda with Steve Paikin, current affairs, analysis, debate, politics, policy, free speech, popular culture, governance, social issues
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Length: 33min 25sec (2005 seconds)
Published: Tue May 13 2014
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