Friday, August 15, 2014

Freedom to not Speak?

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;
     (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
     (d) freedom of association.

I want to be clear about one thing – I am a huge proponent of freedom of speech.  Not just because it is enshrined in our Charter (you can see section 2 of that above) but because of what I perceive as the necessity of such a freedom.  When a government limits what people can say and when they can say it, they are suppressing change.  Governments generally fear change and try to take steps to limit it at the best of times, and no method of suppression is more effective than taking away citizens' ability to communicate.  So all people need this basic and fundamental right.

I love to quote Evelyn Beatrice Hall , when she wrote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” in her work on Voltaire, himself a victim of censorship.  I think that sums it up far better than I ever could. The very basis of the freedom of speech ideal is that I have the right to say things that others disagree with, just as they have the same right toward me.

So when my fantastic wife and I were driving down a main street on our way to work earlier this week and saw a group of anti-abortion protesters lining the road with their pictures of dead fetuses, I accepted their right to do this.  It was appalling, disgusting and completely inappropriate.  The pictures probably gave little children (far too young to understand what the posters stood for) nightmares – hell they probably gave some of the drivers the same!  But I believed then, and still do, that they had a right to do what they were doing.

Wait for it… here it comes… BUT.  But just because you have a constitutionally protected right to do something does not mean that you should do that thing.  Raising awareness of your view can be accomplished in a fashion that does not disgust and alarm the rest of us.  Sure a bit of shock value can be a big eye opener.  Possibly being shocking will get you more air time, and get you more notice.  Maybe you will start an intelligent dialogue on the subject when people start talking about you. That’s a lot of maybes.  One too many for me.

The way to have a rational discourse is to have a rationale discourse.  The way to get attention to your cause is to show the benefits of your cause. Showing disgusting images to people on their way to work does none of that. I can’t imagine any person, driving in to work on that morning and seeing that display said to themselves, “Golly, I never thought about the blood and the bodies before. I may have been pro-choice or on-the-fence on this issue now, but by gosh now I am against it.”

I have to commend the great folks from who arranged what can loosely be called a counter-rally.  They did not try to stop the pro-life/anti-choice/terrible-picture-holders from having their say.  They didn’t even go out in support of choice.  They went out with placards covered in hearts and support with the message that people should not be intimidated or made to feel ashamed by bullies.  Their message of acceptance, respect and tolerance was a breath of fresh air in this ongoing debate.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I am personally against abortion.  I don’t think that I would ever even consider an abortion should I become pregnant.  Of course, I am biologically male, so the likelihood that I would ever be in a position to consider having one is very small indeed.  The likelihood that I even have the most rudimentary understanding of what it is like to be pregnant, or how hard the associated choices are, is as small.  Additionally, as a believer in the rule of law and something of a legal aficionado, I understand that abortion is legal in Canada, and our highest court made that decision almost thirty years ago. These factors, and my ultimately libertarian feminist views on things, make me firmly pro-choice.  I don’t think that reproductive rights are issues that the state, or anyone, should impose upon an individual – their body, their choice, plain and simple.